I remember exactly where I was and when it happened. I was 11 years old and I was in my pastor’s house on a Sunday afternoon. I was friends with his son so I went over to spend the afternoon with him. We were sitting in their living room relaxing when my pastor came down the stairs wearing, get this, shorts. I promise you, I didn’t know what to say for a minute. I had not had much exposure to pastors at that point, but I was pretty sure that shorts-wearing was somehow against the pastor code in whatever book describes what a pastor was supposed to wear. In my short life, I hadn’t been around many pastors, but I just assumed that pastors always wore shirts and ties, and preferably suits along with it. Today, as I write this, I’m sitting in my shorts, as a pastor for most of the last 20 years. I’m glad I got over my concern about pastors in shorts.
My childhood innocence, though, is not really that unusual. Everyone has their own expectations and even misconceptions about pastors. So, in the plethora of opinions that float around out there about who and what the pastor is to be and to do, I thought it might be helpful to tackle a few common misconceptions about the pastor and how they are to live their lives.
1. The pastor’s job is to do ministry.
This is a big one, and it’s particularly present in the American church. So many in the church think that this is why they “hire” a pastor. Those of us who are members of the church have the responsibility of attending and occasionally serving, but the pastor is the one who is called to do ministry. And yet Ephesians 4:11 seems to disagree. It reads, “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.”
This text points out that God gives a variety of different leaders to the church and, although they have many different kinds of responsibilities, they share a common responsibility to equip the church to do ministry together. In other words, it’s not the pastor’s vocational responsibility to do ministry. This doesn’t mean that the pastor is somehow exempt from doing ministry. But it does mean that this is not what pastors are paid to do. Instead, I think it’s helpful to think of ministry not as a pastor’s vocational responsibility, but as their familial responsibility. In other words, every member of the church family has a responsibility, as part of the family, to do ministry, and the pastor should lead in that model. But their unique responsibility related to their job as a pastor is to equip the members of the church so that they can all do ministry together.
2. The pastor can’t have friends in their church.
Even after I became a pastor, I believed this one. The thinking goes that developing friendships among those we serve as pastors inhibits our ability to be authoritative, potentially causes pastors to favor their friends and ultimately exposes the pastor to risk as their life is more visible to the congregation. The idea that pastors should not have friends in the congregation comes from an unfortunate view of the church that sees it more as a corporate experience, rather than that of a community one. Beyond that, according to research, a majority of pastors regularly feel discouraged and lonely. It is no surprise that pastors feel lonely when we tell them they cannot have friends in the church.
For those of you who are not pastors, you should know that there is a good chance that your pastor regularly feels discouraged and lonely. Encourage your pastors to have deep and lasting relationships in the church. It will contribute to their health, and to the health of the church. Remember that pastors are not exempt from Galatians 6:2 that reminds us of the need to care for each other in the body of Christ. It says, “Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
3. The pastor only works two days per week.
This is a really common joke that I hear. The idea behind it is that pastors only work on Sundays and Wednesdays, the two most common days for churches to gather. And it is true that there are some lazy pastors who do not work hard. My experience, though, has been that this is not true of the average pastors. Most pastors that I know work incredibly hard, and do so sacrificially, knowing that they could make more money in a different job.
I remember a friend of mine, who was a pastor, telling me about getting a phone call from a church member while the pastor was on vacation. The church member insisted that the pastor deal with a specific situation, which was not time sensitive, regardless of his vacation. The church member said, “You’re still my pastor whether you are on vacation or not.” Technically the church member was correct. My point, though, is not to parse the church member’s perspective. I wanted to point out that this phone call is not unusual. It’s typical for a pastor to handle calls, visit members, have people stop by their homes and respond to urgent emails late at night, early in the morning, over the weekend and on vacation. I can’t remember the last time that I was on vacation and did not end up dealing with some part of the church’s business.
To be clear, I’m not complaining about this. I love what I do, and most pastors that I know of love what they do. It’s a privilege and it’s often enjoyable for us to do what we do. But it’s important to remember that the vast majority of what pastors do happens outside of the most public parts of their pastoral lives and, the majority of the people they see and the situations they deal with feature people in the midst of pain and brokenness. The work of a pastor is not just long, it is painful and difficult. I remind our young pastors of this all the time. The moments in pastoral life where we are enjoying and celebrating are often few and far between. The nature of our job is that we will spend most of our time with the broken and hurting.
Pastoral work is a high calling. It is a privilege and a blessing. But it is often misunderstood. These are just a few of the ways we misunderstand the nature of pastoral responsibility, but it’s helpful to untangle some of these misunderstandings in an effort to demystify the pastoral role.