I once heard a fellow minister talk about attending marriage counseling with her husband and being instructed to make a list of the things she wanted her husband to understand about her. She challenged us to make a similiar list for our churches, so that they can better understand us. Several years later, I have finally prepared my list of things I wish my partners in ministry (chiefly, my congregations) knew about me*:
- My Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFP. Basically it says that I am an introvert (I am energized through quiet reflection and then give that energy to you), I am empathetic (I feel very deeply and how you feel affects me), and I tend to internalize things. In short, what happens between us will stay with me for a long time. I will dwell on it. I will feel my own emotions and I will feel yours. I will reflect on it for days, weeks, months… even years. Don’t ever assume that I don’t care about what’s happening. I care more deeply than many of you could ever imagine. My brain is simply hardwired that way.
- Ministers are always “on”. Even when we are attending social events, parties, or recreational events, we are always ministers and pastors. It would help us if you understood that when we’ve just spent the day teaching Bible Study, conducting home and hospital visitations, and then wrap it up at a parishioner’s family cookout, we are always in “work mode.” The long hours, always being “on”, and the pressures associated with is why ministers are one of the physically unhealthiest groups in America. It takes it toll–and just knowing that you know the pressures we face every day can go a long way to easing those pressures.
- Worship planning is a balancing act. Sure, you didn’t like the new hymn we sang today. But Sarah did. We are drawn to God in a lot of different ways–what feeds you spiritually may not feed another. Instead of telling me all about the things you don’t like–consider telling me instead about the things that do feed you. If I know what helps you come closer to God, I’ll try to use it more often. But if all I know is that you don’t like Trees of the Field, and Sarah has just gushed on and on about how much it inspired her to go out and tell others about God, who do you honestly think I’m going to pay more attention to? Keep criticism constructive and focus more on the positive–it will help me strike a better balance as I prepare for worship.
- I need prayer. When is the last time you prayed for your pastor? And when you were angry at her for some reason, did you pray for her more than you complained about her? Or did it go the other way?
- I have shed a lot of tears for you. I am strong. I am expected to be strong. I am an optimist–that’s just how I’m programmed (blame God or thank God–depends on your view of optimism). I will always see the best in people and will always look for evidence of God’s presence in this world. But this doesn’t mean I don’t worry. It doesn’t mean I haven’t felt the pain of conflict or agonized over the toll it takes on us all. But I wasn’t called by God to be a naysayer. I was called to proclaim God’s kingdom… so after the tears dry, I will always turn my attention back to Kingdom work. Always.
- I have spent a lot of time wrestling with God. There is a reason that one of my favorite stories is about Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabok River. Heaven knows I have wrestled with God most of my life. Heaven knows I walk with a perpetual limp, like Jacob, as evidence of those wrestling sessions. The stands I take in my faith life may not always be popular, but they aren’t taken lightly. They have come after years and years of struggle and contemplation and pondering (remember #1?).
- But I don’t have all the answers. I am a preacher, a minister, a pastor, a full-time servant of Christ… but I don’t have all the answers. God transforms us. If our prayer and scripture study isn’t changing us, we aren’t doing it right. God has transformed me quite a bit in my life–things I was once so certain were the “right belief” or “right doctrine”, God has changed my heart about. I am passionate and outspoken–but I don’t assume I have all the answers and I don’t assume we will always agree. However, I do expect us to always be respectful and loving in how we treat each other. Condemnation and judgment have no place in the lives of Christians. Jesus took that responsibility away from us so that we wouldn’t be burdened by it.
- I don’t need you to agree with me to walk with me. God gave us each a free will and a reasoning mind. I learned a long time ago that I don’t need to agree with everyone I walk with–I just need to be able to see the face of Jesus in them. So, I sometimes walk with people who aren’t like me at all. I sometimes walk with people who think differently than me. Sometimes I have spirited debates with people who think different… and that’s okay. Because learning to love one another through our differences teaches us to learn to love our enemies (pretty sure that was one of Jesus’ “things”). But if we can’t love a fellow believer who thinks different, then how in the world are we going to go that extra step and love an enemy?
- I have nightmares about telephones. Refer back to#1 and #2–I often go 12 hours or more in a day, and we introverts are famous for disliking telephones. Whether I’m in Bible Study, prepping for Sunday’s message, praying for the congregation, visiting the sick or shut-in, in a meeting, etc…, my phone is turned off. For safety and legal reasons, I don’t answer it when I’m driving. I don’t take the phone with me when I’m visiting–I leave it in the car. I know we live in an age of cell-phones and instantaneous results–but I work in a vocation that demands I be present with the people I am with. This means that I can’t be answering the phone constantly… and being expected to return a dozen phone calls a day is a nuisance since I am usually not in a place where it is convenient or even possible to do so (remember–this is West Virginia. Cell signals are tricky things in these mountains.) It would be a real blessing and a mercy to me if you would show me the grace of patience when it comes to telephones. You have no idea how badly I need it.
- I spend a lot of time prepping. I invest 15-20 hours a week in sermon preparation alone. I spend two hours prepping for each Bible Study Class (I teach two). Add into that all the other weekly obligations: two hours for worship prep, daily visitations (approximately 2 hours a day), meetings (approximately 2 hours a week), and time spent on the phone (approximately 1 hour a day). Then add the daily personal spiritual disciplines I must maintain in order to do ministry: 1 hour personal Bible study, 1-2 hours daily prayer, 1-2 hours of spiritual reflection (such as prayer of examen, spiritual writing/reading, etc…) and at least 8 hours of Sabbath time a week. If you take the low estimates of that–it totals 72 hours a week!!! That’s not even including all the training events, ministry events, and community events of which I need to be a part.
- I’m tired. I don’t know how you can look at #10 and fail to understand why I–and pretty much every other pastor–are tired. But seriously–we are tired. When we have to turn down an invitation or aren’t able to be at every thing that is occurring, please be understanding. So much or our own personal lives are sacrificed so that we can be in service to others. Ministers with spouses and children sacrifice a lot of family time. And for the most part, all we ask is that you understand.
- I can really use your help. When you call me because Jane was taken to the hospital, it would really help if you would go to visit Jane. When you call me because you’re worried that Joe hasn’t been in worship for the past three Sundays, it would really help if you would call Joe and talk to him, tell him he is missed. When you feel it’s important to tell me that Dan is angry that we didn’t observe his birthday in worship, it would really help if you would call Dan and wish him a happy birthday. If everyone in the church were doing a part of the visitation,outreach, and evangelism, it wouldn’t be such a burden on me… and I wouldn’t be as likely to disappoint you when I missed Jane at the hospital, or didn’t call Joe as fast as you would’ve liked, because the immediate need would have already been taken care of by you!
- “Come to dinner sometime” is not the same as “Come to dinner Wednesday at 6:00pm.” Open-ended invitations aren’t really invitations. Telling me to “drop by for dinner sometime” is a politeness… but it’s not an actual invite. It feels weird to drop by someone’s house at dinner time when you haven’t been expressly invited, so please don’t get upset when I don’t “drop by”. If you really want me, ask me to attend a specific dinner. “Come to dinner Wednesday at 6:00pm” tells me you really want me there, that you have planned to have me over, and that you will ensure I have a space at your table and with your family when I come.
- I love you very much. I’ve saved the most important for last. For a long time I struggled with what Jesus said in Luke 14:26: “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple.” Does Jesus really want us to hate? But my life in ministry has taught me that Jesus wasn’t talking about hating in our modern context–he doesn’t actually intend for me to hate my Mom and Dad who love me so much and have sacrificed so much for me over the years–but I am expected to make a sacrifice in order to serve Christ. Sometimes that sacrifice is my family. And since I am a true-blue Appalachian, this is downright painful. Extended family is a top priority to us and I’m not sure people outside Appalachia can really understand what I’m talking about–but it feels like I’m carving out my heart when I can’t be a part of family events. When I have to miss the family Christmas party because I need to be at a Carol Sing with my congregation, or when I can’t celebrate birthdays and other landmarks with my nieces and nephews, there is a pain deep in my soul. But you have become my family. What I have sacrificed God has given me back. So–when people get so angry at me that they leave the church, it hurts deeper than you can ever imagine. When I see you angry at me, spreading gossip about me, or stirring up resistance to me, when I get hateful letters, or overhear those nasty comments I was never supposed to hear.. I feel as if my own mother and father are disowning me. I love you because you are my family–but sometimes it feels very one-sided. Sometimes I feel as if I am disposable to you… I’m sure that’s not the intention, but it is how I feel. I just hope you know how very much you mean to me and how very much I have given up so that I can be here with you.
*This list is specific to me.
Tune in next week for Part Two: The Things For Which Your Pastor is Most Thankful!