• As I post my columns from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette we have reached February 2010.

I hear a lot of funny stories about pastors.  Like those hilarious baptism accidents, “colorful” mispronounced words, and the pastor who forgot to turn off his cordless microphone when I… uh…he…I mean he…when he went to the restroom.

But some pastor stories aren’t so funny.  I hear about pastors under incredible stress, Pastors getting fired and struggling pastors who were called by God and began their careers with enthusiasm and joy but years down the road find themselves miserable and burned-out.

Being a pastor has never been easy, but many things have changed in the last fifty years.  Fresh out of seminary, I served as the youth pastor at a church in Mississippi.  There was never any discussion about vision and mission statements and what we were going to do next.  We just waited for the next box from Nashville that contained curriculum, mission emphases and the Bibles we were to give away as part of that year’s evangelistic effort.  The pastor preached, visited the sick and everything else came in the box.   Of course, that is an exaggeration, but you get the idea.  In a church culture, each denomination “did their thing” and everyone went along.

But we no longer live in a church culture – even in northwest Arkansas.  With each subsequent generation, fewer and fewer understand denominational traditions, church-speak and basic Christian beliefs.  Meanwhile, our culture is changing exponentially.  Family structure, technology, demographics, values, assumptions about authority and knowledge and spirituality…the list goes on and on…are all changing faster than we can understand.   And our churches are a crucible holding all these changes.  Even in  smaller congregations there are drastic differences in music appreciation, spiritual growth, learning styles and expectations about the role of clergy.  In this rapidly changing environment, churches can feel anxious.  And as tempting as finger-pointing can be, dumping that anxiety onto a pastor is unreasonable.  Similarly, neither should a congregation be ashamed of the hard struggle to translate what is true and life-changing into the ever-changing voices that demand our attention every day.

As citizens of our rapidly-changing, post-Christian world, let me invite you to do something:   give your pastor a break.  No minister, no matter how gifted, can demonstrate expertise in media technology, bereavement response, denominational distinctives, vision-casting, alternative worship, Biblical exegesis, family counseling, leadership development and congregational forensics.  Yet we still imagine that our pastors should have all the answers, just like they did when they opened the box from Nashville.

So encourage your pastor with edifying words and frequent prayer.  Help your pastor attend conferences on innovative leadership and personal spiritual renewal.  Offer your unique expertise.  Speak the truth in love.  Meanwhile, your church must take some risks and try new things in order to be relevant to unchurched or de-churched families, so participate positively in your pastor’s efforts to embark on new territory (even if you have to venture outside your comfort zone).  Beneath the busy and even frustrated person who is your pastor, there is a faithful and committed man or woman of God, striving to reveal Christ to the world.  Please give them a break.  And while you’re at it, give yourself one too.