When I first signed up to be a pastor it was with a sense of excitement, anticipation and commitment to a call to ministry – recovering the lost, making disciples, caring for souls, partnering with Jesus, making a difference for God’s kingdom. But along the way I got sidetracked. Most days I found myself in an office, behind a desk, doing a religious job. I was handed a job description – “running a church”. I was a program director when what I really wanted to do was to get out and minister to people. To help in what was once called, “curing souls”.
But what happened to me is all too common for pastors – I forgot who I was and what God’s purpose for my life actually was. I got caught in “pastoral drift”. My sense of calling became blurry amid the business of running my church. It wasn’t as though I’d lost it, I just could never find the time to get to it. Church business got in the way. It demanded my full attention. I had meetings to attend, planning to do, finances to raise, budgets to balance, emails to answer, calls to make, problems to solve.
But to be honest, I wasn’t an innocent victim of this drift. All this church business and busyness massaged by ego. I had to admit I liked it. It made me feel good about myself. Important. I got attention. I was needed. My busyness legitimized me as a leader in the eyes of my peers and congregation.
Gradually ministering outside the church all but petered out. I lost touch. I was no longer hanging out, sharing my faith with unchurched people. I wasn’t visiting homes, sharing meals, listening to their stories, entering their lives, praying with them, pointing them to Jesus, curing souls. This became a source of much tension, frustration and guilt. I know I’m not alone in this. This is a common malady for pastors of churches of all sizes, small as well as large.
Of course, I was a realist and knew that part of my job involved managing the church business but I had to learn to do it in the same way my wife and I ran our house: There were essential chores and duties that were necessary – routines, order to be kept, bills to be paid. But running our house was not what we did. We built a home, grew our marriage, raised our boys, practiced hospitality, pursued our lives and our callings.
On the one hand this meant recovering my true identity and calling – coming to grips with what I was made for and what I wasn’t. On the other hand, I had to become a team leader. As a small church pastor this meant being a player-coach. This brought to the fore another challenge: giving up a certain degree of control! This meant learning to trust laypeople to help run the church. It also meant I had to give up my perfectionist ways and allow others to exercise their talents and gifts. My job description shifted from being the busy jack of all trades to becoming a coach and an equipper.
Being a pastor is more than a religious job. It’s more than being a pulpiteer, the manager of a religious business, an attender of meetings, a people fixer, a problem solver, a master motivator, a people keeper, a Bible answer-man, an indispensable spiritual giant that makes things happen, gets things done…
A pastor is first and foremost a “curer of souls”. Spiritual directors in the broadest sense, helping the people inside and outside the church, to connect with God’s purposes for their lives. Leading a community on the journey of implementing Christ’s victory and seeing God’s kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Have you let something or someone else define who you are as a pastor? Only God can define who you are and what you’re called to do.
Think back to when you were first called. Are you on that path today? Have your hopes and dreams materialized? What are you willing to do in order to get back to your first love? If you’ve drifted away from it what’s one thing you can start doing right now to recover your true self and calling?