Your pastor doesn't lie, but they don't always tell the truth either. I've been doing ministry for about 10 years in 4 different States in churches that range from 200 to 20,000. So I feel like I've got a pretty decent handle on the general pastoral experience, and I gotta tell you, there are some universal things most pastors won't say to your face but think all the time. So, I'm going to take a huge leap and tell you about how I’ve felt as your pastor over the last 10 years. What comes next isn’t something I’ve said on stage or any platform I’ve been given, but some things I’ve worn like scars on my heart for a long time. I think speak for most of us in ministry because someone should tell you, and it won't be us.
1. My sin keeps me up at night.
I’m not perfect. Never have been, and I’m not close now. But because I am in a position of leadership, I’m supposed to be better. Not perfect, but better. The definition of leader kind of requires me to be a step or two ahead of you in the area I’m leading. But at 2am I think about the things I should have said better. I think about the lie I told. I think about the anger I have in my heart. I think about how often I’m failing you and how much I disgrace God. I just want to cry and apologize to all of you for not being the pastor you deserve.
And what makes it worse is I know God has grace for me. I know the answer is Jesus on the cross. But it’s as much of a battle to accept His forgiveness as it was over a decade ago when I gave my life to Him. I might have surrendered my life to Jesus, but my heart keeps wanting to take that role back up. And because of how much I love God and how much I want this church to succeed, I feel like I’m a liability more often than an asset. I just keep waiting for someone to walk into my office and finally recognize that I shouldn’t be here.
2. It breaks my heart to see you go.
The average person will make about 29 meaningful relationships in their lifetime, but only 6 of them will stay for the majority of their life. You make most of those friendships in late high school and throughout college. That means once you graduate, you'll probably make a few new friends, but you'll have 6 people for the rest of your life.
That's not true for church staff. Churches can be a revolving door of people, with huge spikes during seasons of chaos like during COVID-19 and the George Floyd trials. That means I will likely lose a friend every couple of years. I lost someone that I poured my heart out to, shared meals with, and had some profoundly meaningful moments together. They decided to go to another church because their youth program is better. Or maybe they had to move for a job. The worst is when they tell me that they no longer feel like this is "their church" anymore.
To you, it's just a change in worship space. You're going from one church to another, like you would go to a different gym or favorite restaurant. But for me, I'm losing a friend and I'll have to grieve the loss of that friendship.
3. I would do just about anything to love you better.
Do you know most theology books suck? Like they aren't that fun to read. They're dense, and they reiterate the same point 6 different times. Admin work isn't fun either. The spreadsheets that keep ministries on budget and managing the members' log are a terrible way to spend a Tuesday.
But that's the cost of loving you and I will always pay it. Being your pastor means I do those things because it will lead you to love Jesus better. My sermons will feed you more because I read that book. The spreadsheets will keep the kids' ministry running well for another year. Logging in member data will lead our congregation to function more like a body of believers than an audience for a show. I don't love doing those things, but I would learn any new software and read any book so that I can be the best pastor for you.
4. I wish you loved God as much as you loved complaining.
Here's the deal. I know you want the music lower, the lights higher, the kid's ministry quieter, the bible studies bigger, and the preaching shorter. I know that this church isn't the picture-perfect place you thought it was when you first started plugging in here. I was aware of the faults then, and I'm aware of them now.
I want lots of things too. But the main thing I want is for you to get caught up in the life change that Jesus brings through our church.
Amazing things are happening. Sinners are turning to Jesus for the first time, families are being reconciled, and we are reaching people with the good news that only Christ can bring. But all you care about is what isn't right. I really wish that you would focus on the good and stop drowning it in the bad. Thankfully, God is still in the business of using imperfect people an environments to give himself glory.
5. If it weren't for Jesus, I don't know that I'd still be doing this.
According to the latest polls, 40% of pastoral staff are at risk of burning out, and 91% have experienced seasons of depression or near burnout in the last 5 years. That means about half of your church staff are a gentle nudge away from leaving the kingdom work. This is true of small churches and mega-churches alike.
And that's because ministry is hard. It requires time and effort. It takes your heart and soul. It usually means I have to be a tech geek, a theology professor, and a mental health counselor. It sacrifices time with my family and can even keep me from having a regular sabbath. If it weren't for Jesus keeping us going, I don't know if I'd make it to next Sunday. Most of my friends in ministry keep mementos. Not because they enjoy hoarding praises but because when the chips are down, it’s Thursday at 4pm and you’re debating whether you will show up on Sunday, it’s those little things people give you that remind you of the amazing thing that only happens when you pour your life out for others.