From as far back as I can remember I’ve been a perfectionist. Most pastors are perfectionists. I’m starting to think that a main reason God called me to be a pastor is to crush my perfectionism and set me increasingly free through the gospel. I don’t think I’d cherish Jesus like I do were it not for the past 9 years as a pastor. As I’ve said before, the pressure of being a pastor will either make you a better man or a worse man.
One of the worst things to hear as a pastor are disparaging comments about how you don’t work “in the real world.” I like how Steve Brown responds to this:
I can’t tell you the irritation I felt when someone would tell me that I didn’t live in the real world. I wanted to say (and often did), “You don’t know anything about the real world, you twit! I see more of the real world in a day than you’ll see in a lifetime. I’ve cleaned up after more suicides, stood beside more deathbeds, buried more babies, listened to more confessions, bound up more broken hearts, shared more secrets, and experienced more pain than you’ll ever know. Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”
Often unknowingly, some people can demean a pastor for not having a “real world” job while at the same time expecting their pastor to be Superman, to be perfect. Here is one humorous expression of the expectations that can be placed on pastors:
The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8 AM until midnight and is also the church janitor. The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years experience. He never forgets a name and spends most of his time praying to God. Above all, he is handsome.
He also knows when somebody is sick and needs visitation even without anyone telling him about it. He loves to spend time with his family and the perfect pastor has no problem with you dropping in unexpectedly. And he also spends most of his time in preparation to speak God’s Word. He remembers everyone’s birthdate and of course, their anniversary dates as well. Before and after services, he never fails to speak to each person present and will also take the time to listen to you for 15 minutes and pray for each person no less than 10 minutes after listening to them.
The perfect pastor always smiles and tells you what you want to hear. He also goes out to eat after church with each individual family, spreading his time evenly between all, and he also pays for all their meals. The perfect pastor eats nutritiously, gets his rest, exercises daily, and is always there to listen to you night or day. The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed.
The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees. He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched. He meets with the all the other pastors in town because they all have so much time on their hands. He also stays focused on the vision of the house. And he attends all the town meetings for PR’s sake. He takes family vacations and attends all the latest church and ministers conferences and listens to your favorite TV preachers and is completely up to date on each prominent TV preacher’s messages. He spends all day each Saturday preparing the Sunday sermon, and he focuses on his family too. He also doesn’t overburden the church finances, so he holds down a full time secular job as well. He never spends your tithes on his children’s Baskin Robins Ice Cream cones. (Author unkown)
To the pastors who are reading this, many of you are weary and burdened. You think you have to be perfect. Perhaps, like me, that has driven you your entire life. You think your people expect you to be perfect. And, though you don’t think this theologically, in your heart you just might live by the lie that you must do all things perfectly in order for God to be happy with you.
Pastors, quit trying to be perfect and let Jesus love you.
Your Father knew all about your sin, flaws, wounds, and baggage when he called you to shepherd his sheep. Jesus doesn’t demand your perfect performance, he summons you to find rest in his perfect love for you, and to let that deep, deep acceptance be what drives and transforms your ministry.
Being a pastor is a great joy, but it’s also really hard. You can spend the next 30 years as a weary, fake, trying-hard-to-be-perfect-for-Jesus-and-my-church pastor. Or, you can quit trying to be perfect and let Jesus love you, and you can watch how that will change everything in your life and in your ministry.