It is a strange thing we pastors do. We claim that not only is there a God, but also that this God has somehow called us to service. Many of us–at least, those who do it right–make incredible sacrifices in terms of earning potential, personal lives, and family relationships. We voluntarily take vows that require us to withhold information from our spouses; we accept people speaking to us with great disrespect, either because they are not believers or because they somehow think that we do not retain feelings when we put on the clerical collar. We open up ourselves to public conversations about our bodies, our tattoos, our hairstyles, where we go on vacation, and a whole host of other factors.
The calling is sometimes a great burden. And one of the problems is that sometimes people do not want to hear us gripe. Sometimes we’re told to keep it in because we are charged with being leaders, and congregations should not know of our pain, our struggles, our desires, our frustrations. Those outside the congregation don’t want to hear a pastor complain, either. Get over it, they might say. Everybody has problems.
Let me be clear. I love the people in the church I serve. I cherish the relationships and I respect the people in the community. I also understand that this is their church, not mine. I am to serve to the best of my ability, and to do so with a humble, grateful, and loving heart. Most of the time, that is very easy to do.
But there comes a time (at least one), I think, in every pastor’s career when she/he/they believes that God is speaking. If not speaking, revealing possibilities. If we’re doing it right, we pastors believe very deeply in God and seek out the signs and symbols that can help us lead a community. And maybe that sets us up for pain when others don’t share our vision, or tell us to slow down, or say that what we want to do cannot be done. It is hard to be a pastor who feels like the past is an albatross because everything has been tried before or has been done better than it can be done by us.
Here’s a hard truth. Churches like the one I serve could die within a generation. Our numbers are down. Our membership is older. The burdens of caring for a beautiful, but old building are weighing upon a congregation that has very little money to spare. Our identity as followers of Jesus Christ has been subsumed by our identity as building superintendents. And I didn’t go to seminary to be a building manager.
It is a strange thing I do. I harness my talents and my passion toward a story. A myth. A collection of doctrines and dogma that don’t always make sense. I voluntarily eschew money and career advancement to do what I believe I am meant to do. No one forced me, and I am so blessed to have the opportunity to do this, especially in my hometown. But I feel charged with continuing a legacy that was started in 1855, and I fear that without bold and hopeful action this legacy will die. The congregation will cease to exist, and the building will no longer house a community committed to following Jesus Christ. I will have failed.
Sometimes the calling is hard.