I think all pastors live with low-grade guilt. I know I do. I’ve searched in vain for a fellow pastor who has written on this sort of thing. So, I figured I’d take a swing at it.
I have low-grade guilt because I want to always be there for all people—especially all the people in the church I pastor. But I can’t. I want to attend every event, reply to every e-mail, return every call, visit every hospital, do every funeral, officiate every wedding, counsel all who struggle, meet with all who want to meet… but I can’t. Funny thing is, no one is pressuring me to do so (okay, maybe a few). It’s almost purely self-inflicted guilt.
Of course, I’ve encountered some who don’t understand. I received a letter a while back from a couple who let me know in no uncertain terms that I was an “unapproachable pastor” that was hurting the church. So they were bidding Grace adieu and moving on to find another church home where they could have a relationship with the senior pastor. Then there was the guy who cornered me after a service, basically demanding a counseling meeting with me. When I pointed him to our campus pastor, he declared, “Oh, so you’re like the Pope!” And he let everybody on social media know his feelings, too.
On and on I could go. And for one who carries low-grade guilt about this sort of thing, comments like the above are an absolute knife to the chest… and a knife that is left there.
I’ve adopted Andy Stanley’s mantra to “do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” Helpful, but doesn’t fully scratch that guilty itch. So I try to take comfort by reminding myself that I’m not the Messiah to anyone. Take heart, my pastor friend, neither are you. And you shouldn’t try to be. There is only one—Jesus. Even he set boundaries on how available he was to the masses (Luke 4:40-43).
I’ve observed that any pastor who tries to be the Messiah for all people in his church, even a small church, burns out in catastrophic ways emotionally, spiritually, physically, ministerially, and maritally. Rarely does he survive and continue in ministry… or in his marriage.
I get to be the senior pastor of a church of four campuses and 2,500-ish people. I preach five services every weekend. I am a husband of one and a father of four who are ten years old and younger. I am relieved that the majority of the Grace family understands my role and doesn’t pressure me to be a Messiah.
But still… that dang guilt.
So why am I writing this? Therapy, I guess. It’s yet another way to try and deal with this guilt. And hopefully my pastoral brothers out there find it strangely helpful. I don’t have many answers, but sometimes it’s encouraging to simply know one is not alone in the struggle.
Either way, here is my attempt to encourage you, my pastor-brother:
* Refuse to be the Messiah. Jesus already bled for the church. You don’t have to.
* Share your boundaries with people and stick to them. If you don’t, people will determine your boundaries for you.
* Best you can, develop a team of staff and volunteers, then delegate and entrust the folks and their needs to them. In fact, in a way folks may not understand, you are doing the best for them by doing so.
* Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.
* If you get kickback for not being there for everyone, entrust yourself to the Lord. If you want to explain yourself, do so. But don’t feel pressured to explain yourself to everyone. Some people will never be satisfied, no matter what you say or do. So don’t get sucked into that vortex.
* As a final straw, if the pressure to always be there is crushing you, and the church has developed a sense of entitlement that expects you to always be there, you might need to consider moving on. But no matter what you do, no matter where you go, that low-grade guilt will remain. Own it, but don’t let it own you.
Here is my encouragement to the church folk: Take it easy on your pastor. He loves you deeply, but he cannot be there for you and everyone else. Believe me, he LONGS to be there! In fact, he lives with deep-seated guilt that he can’t; and it’s guilt that might even wake him up at 2:00am. I hope you’ll honor him and his limitations. And if he provides direction where you can receive love, care, and needs met by other credible and qualified pastors/others (and perhaps even by pastors/others more gifted and qualified to meet your needs than him), trust his heart, his love for you, and take advantage of his direction.
Aah, this was therapeutic indeed… at least until tomorrow.
Thanks for reading!