- Which is better? Living in a fishbowl or feeling like a fish-out-of-water? Fortunately, there is an alternative.
My memory of the incident is hazy. I recall the sound of shattering glass. And the soaked shag carpeting. And all of them lying on the floor gasping. And my dad screeching into the driveway while I hid in the garage with a brown paper sack containing my pajamas. I was on the run.
I have believed in Christ for 37 years. I have served as a minister for 30 years. I have pastored my current church for twelve years. And my Christian life has happened at an unprecedented moment in history. Like young Christian Bale watching global events unfold around him in The Empire of the Sun, I have seen the end of Christendom and the beginning of God’s next [unnamed] adventure. Consequently, I have learned a thing or two over the years– especially about being a pastor.
Your pastor needs to be treated with the same respect offered to anyone else. Despite the stress of our changing religious landscape, your pastor was not called and equipped by God to be your piñata. Your anxiety and frustration is understandable but your pastor is not responsible for decades of global religious changes. Your pastor cares as deeply about your church as you do. Seek a collaborative and symbiotic relationship with your pastor. Be friends, partners and co-laborers as you work joyfully together to the same ends.
Your pastor needs affirmation and encouragement. Just as all church members are called to encourage one another, the same is true for your pastor. And it could be that your pastor is especially in need of affirmation and encouragement. Consider this passage from The Message: “Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?” (Hebrews 13:17)
Your pastor is not perfect. But guess what? Neither are you. But there are occasions when you pastor needs to hear the truth. Perhaps they said something inappropriate or missed an opportunity for ministry. Instead of grumbling or gossiping, speak the truth to them…but spoken in love (Ephesians 4:15). There are ways to help someone with a mistake that leaves no doubt that you love them. Practice this. Many Christians have been church-goers for most of their lives and have never developed this skill.
Your pastor needs to be treated as a Christian who has been given the same Spirit as every other church member. I have written several columns about the heresy of the “designated Christian” and a class-based redemption. While the churches of Christendom could function adequately by relying solely on the spiritual potency of the clergy, those days, thank goodness, are over. Every believer has been given the same Spirit of Christ and all gifts of the Holy Spirit are of equal value. It is time for mature Christians to stop abdicating their spiritual potency and accepting the lie of a second-class spirituality.
Finally, your pastor needs a church, too. Most pastors I know find groups outside their congregations for prayer, support and understanding. When I suggest that it would be great to find these things in our own churches, my fellow pastors usually laugh loudly. There is heartbreak and frustration when pastors are erroneously expected to be “super-Christians” without the supportive church environment that God has ordained. A church should be a safe, gracious and empathetic place for everyone, including your ministers.
Yes, when I was five years-old I dumped over our family aquarium. And though I only remember pieces of this catastrophe, one image is embedded in my mind: those beautiful little fish flopping desperately on the floor. They were out of their environment and were struggling to survive. Does that describe your pastor? I hope you are able to demonstrate God’s loving-kindness to everyone…even your pastor.