19 November 2012

What I wish my congregation knew

I have pastored in a number of contexts over the years - Geneva, Amsterdam, Denver. Most of the people in my congregation - especially in Amsterdam where I was senior pastor of a larger congregation - really did not know me all that well. They might have thought they knew me because they listened to me preach. But what you see of a person in front of hundreds of people is not what you get one-on-one.
       I wish the congregations that I pastored knew a few things about me (and about a lot of pastors if they would be totally honest with themselves). Here are some of the big ones:
       1. Leading a congregation (aka shepherding a flock) is exceptionally difficult, more difficult than most jobs. I remember the time that someone in my congregation joked to me that I have it easy - I only have to work one day per week and I get a full-time paycheck! Ya, right!
       2. I frequently did not know how to lead the congregation. Phew, I said it! (I feel better already). Strategic direction, spiritual formation are each difficult by themselves. Putting them together in a church is way more tricky than most people know.
       3. I wish that people did not see me as greater than I am and that people would not criticize so brutally. Some people in a congregation idealize the pastor. They think that what they hear in a sermon is the totality of who the person is. I wish that people realized that my poop stinks just as much as yours! I also wish that people would not lob grenades so fiercely because they did not like something in the church (usually the music!).
       4. Pastors (including myself) feel weird and awkward that we get paid for being Christian. Our paychecks are tied directly to the growth or development or happiness or whatever of the congregation. We feel embarrassed because we either make too much money or not enough money. Someone once said to me, "If you want a raise next year you better preach a lot of good sermons." I felt sick to my stomach.
       5. I wish that people knew I wanted to quit many times. I used to joke that when I left the ministry I would become a trash collector in Los Angeles. Why? Because I would deal with inanimate objects (trash) rather than people, I would get to ride on the back of the truck, and because the weather is always good in L.A.
       What I was really saying in a sarcastic way was that I wanted OUT a lot of the time. Why? Because I felt that the spiritual well-being of a community was on my shoulders. Because people's struggles and suffering gets to you. Because there are always people in the church who do not like what I am doing or how I am doing it.
       These are some of the things I wish my congregations knew. A handful of people with whom I have been close in those congregations knew that I was thinking and feeling these things. And I am deeply grateful for these friends, who cheered and consoled and encouraged and prayed. They are one of the primary reasons I did not quit.

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