It’s October, a month set aside to honor sweet hearts and pastors. Recently, my thoughts have been turned toward how the two can and should go together. Here is my heart shared with you.
My dad and my father-in-law were pastors. My husband is a pastor. I have four brothers who are pastors. Add to that the long list of other family members and friends who are pastors and you can see that I have some understanding of you and your call.
I value you. I respect the role you have played in my spiritual development. I am grateful for how you cared for my family when sickness, surgery and death visited us. I’m thankful you know how to laugh with us.
I have spent my life in the parsonage witnessing the following:
1) Yours is a demanding and difficult calling. When I was a kid, being the pastor meant you were highly regarded simply because you were the pastor. Those days of respecting you just because you are God’s called are gone. Our Catholic brothers and sisters seem to still have a handle on this, but I don’t see it in many other places. I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why it happened. I’m just sorry it happened and that you are simply seen as “one of the gang” as you proclaim God’s word on any given Sunday. Because we see you as “one of the gang,” the word that God has given you often means no more than the words spoken by the person sitting next to us. Maybe it’s partly your fault. Even so, we have gotten very lazy in our treatment of you. We need to be reminded that you are our Shepherd and, as such, you are anointed and we are called to do you no harm. (Psalm 105:15)
We also need to be reminded that what you say will not always be popular and it’s then that you most need our support. “I solemnly charge you…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” II Timothy 4:1-5 (NAS) It’s official, rightly dividing the word is not for sissies.
Side note to the layman reading this letter: Yes I know we have some clergy standing in pulpits who need to be confronted. I’m sorry about that too but point #1 is not intended for them.
2) Yours can often be a delightful calling. I have loved most of the days in the parsonages I have lived in and visited. On percentages, our experiences are above average. Yes, I’ve seen and experienced the ugly – the hurt people who have a need to hurt others, but they are the minority. Unfortunately, they are also the loudest. That truth aside, loving people and getting into the trenches of life with them is very rewarding. They love you for being present in their difficulty. I know that because you were there for me. You become family to so many.
3) Yours seems to be an increasingly dangerous calling. And here is where my heart breaks open…
I am sitting in a lanai looking at the Gulf of Mexico as I write this. I lost both of my in-laws in the last year. They had been married 67 years before mom passed away. And what a story of love they lived! (My parents left me an identical legacy over 59 years.)
About thirty years ago mom bought a week at a time share on Sanibel Island. Her reasons were two-fold: 1) She wanted a place to get away with her husband…a place that helped eliminate the “where shall we go this year?” decision. 2) She wanted a place where she could invite one of her children along with their spouse every year because she knew first-hand the need for pastors to get away with their spouse. She recognized the danger zones if time away together was not experienced. She was a woman who mostly minded her own business when it came to her children but, when it came to honoring our marriages and our spouses, she was quick to speak and always spoke with great, gentle wisdom.
So, here I sit. It’s the first year they are both gone and it is our turn.
The beach is about 50 yards away and from here I can see the palm canopy that was erected this afternoon. In about fifteen minutes a young couple is going to stand in front of the great expanse called The Gulf of Mexico and pledge their lives and love to each other. I’m guessing they will mean it. I have never seen a more beautiful sanctuary.
About six weeks ago I answered the phone at home to find an unexpected job offer. I really wasn’t ready to start working although it was on my “to do” list for the first of the year. After being out of the formal work place for twenty years, I recognized it as the gift from God’s hand that it is. The following day, I reported for duty.
I’m working in an office that oversees about 135 churches. Outside of my very rusty technological skills, the job is right up my alley. I love pastors. They matter to me. I have an unavoidable soft spot for them in my heart.
The crazy preparation for our annual meeting has not yet begun so we are currently working on back burner jobs. One of my assignments is to begin digitizing the room filled with files. My instructions were to begin with the judicial files. And so I have.
Judicial files are those which often include a copy of someone’s credentials; sacred credentials that have been surrendered out of necessity. Not always, but most often, these are stories of marital unfaithfulness and brokenness…with you, the pastor. I know you are human but it still breaks my heart to look at the very long lateral drawer that is stuffed full of names like yours.
And I wonder where it went wrong…where you went from this sweet couple exchanging vows on the beach to a file of brokenness housed in a drawer.
Went from receiving a marriage certificate to losing an ordination certificate.
I know enough to know that was never your intention.
Maybe it started when you bought into the philosophy that you are “one of the gang.” You aren’t you know. Stop trying to be.
Several years ago a friend of mine lamented that pastors really don’t have a higher calling than anyone else. Her belief is that we are all called equally. And she’s partly right. She used Ephesians 4:11-12 as her point of argument. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Her reasoning was that since all are mentioned on equal ground, all must be equal.
As you know, she was also largely wrong and this is where you can never decide that you are just “part of the gang.” Like it or not, you are held to a higher standard. There is scriptural backing for this all throughout The Story. There is also common sense backing. If my dentist chooses (and that’s exactly what it is) to be unfaithful to his wife, guess what? Tomorrow he will still be my dentist. I may not want him drilling my teeth tomorrow but, if he’s the best dentist, I’ll go back. If you make the same choice? Tomorrow you are no longer my pastor. Not only that, you will have left a path of destruction behind.
So pastor, how are you handling your sacred certificate? You really do have to accept that your calling is demanding and difficult. You get to rejoice over the fact that your calling is delightful. But dangerous? It’s your choice. As I say often to my daughter, MAKE GOOD CHOICES!
In case you didn’t know, one of the greatest gifts you can give your congregation is for them to witness that you are crazy about your wife. Love her. Don’t belittle her ever and especially in public. Make time for her even if it means disappointing someone at church.
“Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose – don’t ever quit taking delight in her body. Never take her love for granted! Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills…?” Proverbs 5:18-20 (MSG)
GREAT QUESTION – Why would you? Please don’t.
Respectfully and prayerfully yours,