10 Things You May Not Know About Your Lead Pastor
A few months ago, my younger brother, Bobby, asked if I would send him a list of things
most people may not know about their lead pastor. He leads a men’s bible study in Arizona and wanted to provide perspective for his men with some “inside information.” I gave him this list without any commentary. In response, he said it was highly informative and suggested I write a book about this. Sorry bro. No book. Just a blog.
Before I start with my list, let me clarify several things. First, I love being a pastor and am honored to serve where I serve. I am loved and appreciated. Second, I am not complaining or looking for sympathy. I live in an area with hard working people that are employed at the Naval Shipyard, are active military, or work at other occupations. They have their own types of work stress and environments that I cannot fully understand because I don’t work in those fields. This is just the world that I am familiar with. I hope it brings a measure of understanding. So, in no particular order, here we go.
1. Sunday’s keep coming. It’s our game day that we spend all week building up to. The old joke with pastors is, “They only work one day of the week!” Haha. Not funny. Teaching pastors usually spend on average 12-16 hours a week preparing for a 40 minute sermon. Add in a funeral or another sermon and it can make for a mentally draining week. On top of this, I usually spend about 2 hours on Saturday night rehearsing my message so that I know the message inside and out. Teaching week after week has been described as giving birth on Sunday only to find out you are pregnant on Monday. I have stretch marks to prove it.
2. Toasted on Sunday night. With our new building I currently teach two times each Sunday. In the past it’s been up to 3 times and if our church continues to grow we will have to add a third service again. I read a secular communications article years ago that stated that a 40 minute speech is equivalent to an eight hour work day given the physical, mental, and emotional energy spent. I don’t know if that is true or not. However, I’ve painted plenty of houses over the years and usually put in 12 hour days in doing so and I am more exhausted on Sunday nights than my average paint workday.
3. Criticism of our teaching hits us at our core. This is probably the biggest wound you can inflict on your teaching pastor given all the preparation, prayer, and energy invested in a message. This doesn’t mean that each message will be a home run or shouldn’t be critiqued for content and accuracy. In fact, I am critiqued in detail every Tuesday if the message was engaging, accurate, clear, and delivered well. Some Tuesdays are not very enjoyable. I welcome this because I always want to improve as a communicator. Scripture is clear that those of us who teach God’s Word are held to a higher standard. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Rightly dividing the Word of God is one thing, but being told by someone who has been a believer for over 20 years that “I’m just not getting fed” is difficult to take. Here is a helpful hint most pastors would agree with: Resist the urge to tell your pastor, “Oh, you should listen to ______! Man, they can really teach the word of God!” Even with the purest of intentions, your pastor is hearing, “Your teaching sucks!”
4. I never said that. There have been numerous times when the Holy Spirit moved in a service and someone was convicted about something I never said. Such as, “Your sermon moved me to call my father and ask his forgiveness!” Interestingly, I never said anything about forgiveness but who am I to interrupt what the Holy Spirit wants to do. On the other hand, I’ve had people mad at me for something I never said too. A friend of mine was upset at me for over a year when she finally decided to share why. When she told me what I supposedly said, I remembered the sermon, pulled out my notes and showed her what I said. In reality, she came in late and only heard the last part of what I was sharing. Without the first part, the meaning changed completely. She apologized for being mad at me for so long. You might want to re-listen to the sermon online to see if you heard correctly.
5. Most pastors and pastors wives have few friends at church. I am blessed to have close friends on my staff and a handful of friends within the congregation. I know many Senior Pastors who have very few friends within their church. Being hurt in ministry tends to make us be more guarded. Having a few close friends get upset and leave the church will make us even more guarded. A number of ministry articles have written that the loneliest people in church are pastors wives. Because of their God-given wiring to be protective of their husbands they can be easily hurt, wounded and therefore very guarded. Thankfully I have a wife who is private and doesn’t have a need for a long list of friends.
6. We are on call 24 hours a day, everyday of the year… including vacations. It’s part of the job no matter the size of the church. Every time my phone rings I think my blood pressure goes up a bit. You never know when you need to run to the hospital, provide emergency counseling, or hear tragic news and respond accordingly. While my staff only calls me for emergency reasons while I’m on vacation, I’ve had a few of those calls. I know there are other people that are on call as part of their profession too. Pastors are part of this group.
7. We struggle with fear, temptations, lust, pride, etc. too. The last time I checked I am still related to Adam and Eve. I am always amazed with people who are surprised that we struggle with similar issues in life. Whether it is the Apostle Paul or Martin Luther, spiritual leaders struggle with sin issues. The reality is that spiritual leaders have a much larger bulls-eye on them than most. Satan knows this and the attacks are endless. I have experience a consistent pattern over the years. Whenever God is blessing our church with salvations and life-change in people, the more I face intense battles with temptation. That is why I am so honored and appreciative when people tell me that they are praying for me. I am dependent on prayer and spiritual protection because I know that if I fall into sin it will impact hundreds of others because of the role God has called me to. So keep praying for your pastor and their family!
8. When someone is mad at the pastor they are mad at the church. This is what my mentor, Wally Norling, told me one day as he was preparing me to become a Lead Pastor. As a youth pastor, if someone was mad at me, they rarely left the church. But as a Lead Pastor, they rarely stay in the church. It’s one of the reasons why I believe in shared leadership in the local church. I don’t try to make every decision. But I do weigh in on doctrinal positions, vision, mission, and strategy though. Not doing so is an absence of leadership. Wally was right and the weight of it is real.
9. When people leave it hurts. When I went through depression and burnout last year, the hurt from those who had left our church piled up to the point of almost putting me over the edge and out of the ministry. During a very low time, my friend Jeff gave me the personal cell phone of the longtime pastor HB London. After retiring from the pastorate HB served as a Pastor to Pastors at Focus on the Family for many years. I was honored to talk with him. When the topic of people leaving the church came up he told me, “I don’t know of any pastor who isn’t hurt when people leave their church. I’ve been out of the pastorate for many years and when I run into people who left my church many years earlier, it still hurts.” So when people tell me, “don’t take it personal” they probably will never understand.
10. Expectations are extremely high. Whether people say it or not, Lead Pastors are expected to be great communicators, leaders, models, servants, counselors, parents, spouses, visionaries, evangelists, shepherds, and employers… ALL THE TIME. You may not believe it but we feel it. We are consciously or subconsciously compared to famous pastors, previous pastors, and other local pastors. It takes a great deal of contentment and maturity to be okay with just being who you are. I am thankful that I am surrounded by gifted pastors on my team who accept me for who I am, strengths and weakness and all. I am also thankful that I am in a church who seems to accept me for who I am too. But the truth is, these expectations remain.
Whenever I sit down with someone, I try to learn more about them so I can understand where they are coming from. I hope this article helps you understand your pastor a little bit more. If anything, I hope this will encourage you to pray for your pastor like never before.