By Jacob Stump
I recently celebrated seven years as the pastor of our local assembly. In the past seven years I have made many mistakes and have learned many lessons. At times I have fallen woefully short of the man God has called me to be, while at other times, through God’s grace, I have accomplished great things for His Kingdom. I am blessed to be surrounded by wonderful people-people who truly love God and who serve Him with passion. I thank God for my church family every day; I could ask for no better. Of the many lessons that I have learned over the past seven years, one lesson stands out as having been more painful than most. And having heard stories from pastors across many different fellowships, I do not believe I am alone in this lesson. What is the lesson? It is the occasional dehumanizing nature of ministry. By dehumanizing, I mean the habit of some churchgoers to relegate their relationship with the pastor to merely a part of their Sunday morning experience. The pastor is so associated with the church building that these churchgoers subconsciously dehumanize him or her in their minds. It is a painful truth that to some people, ministers are just another brick in the church wall. They feel he or she should be there, as part of their religious life, to perform official ceremonies, perform baptisms and baby dedications, and comfort them when they are in pain.
It is a compartmentalized relationship that rarely extends beyond the church walls except when their needs demand it. When their relationship with the church ends, their relationship with the pastor ends. It matters not how much he prayed with them or how often he has visited their homes during times of hardship; all of this is casually forgotten in the light of some perceived offense or in the search for something new. This of course leaves the pastor feeling hurt and confused. The God-given nature of a pastor is to seek a relationship with everyone who walks through the church doors. He wants to help them and desires what is best for them. He cannot know how he is perceived by those that he minsters to. There is no way to tell if a person truly appreciates his service or if they merely see him as an unfeeling appendage of the church. The minister prays for each individual. She counsels and endures sleepless hours with the belief that the relationship is as meaningful to others as it is to her.
It is assumed that the love is shared equally-and thankfully, most of the time it is. But in that minority of relationships where the minister is just an official caricature, the relationship is based upon needs instead of mutual respect and trust. In these instances, the pastor, like the church, is only there to serve a purpose. The pastor meets a need, like a check in a box. These people tell themselves, “I’m a good person because I have a pastor:’ Check. “When I’m in trouble there is somebody I can call:’ Check. “I have somebody praying for me:’ Check. The problem with a relationship that is based upon needs is that needs are fickle. Needs change. And relationships that are based upon needs are just as fickle. Once the need changes, these people tend to leave the church without considering the feelings of the pastor who cared for them. Often they leave without even saying goodbye. Some might go as far as to send a terse text or email: “We’re leaving. No need to call:’ Why should they feel any compulsion to say goodbye to a brick in the church wall:’ The minister watches as the person that he poured his soul into thoughtlessly walks away. This leaves him feeling used and disheartened. Inevitably he will blame himself for not having been a good enough pastor, when in truth there is probably nothing he could have done differently.
It is the dehumanizing element of ministry. So what is a minister to do:’ She must wipe away the tears that nobody sees, plaster a smile on her face, and put the pain behind her because there are new visitors in need of God’s grace. She cannot grow bitter or allow the hurts caused by the inconsiderate church members to affect her ministry to those in need. Some roads are dead ends but that is no excuse to never take one. When we find ourselves in a dead end, abandoned by some insensitive member, we must turn around and go to the next road. We should accept the hard roads but focus on the good roads. Most of them lead us to beautiful places. For the church member, if you are blessed with a pastor who loves you, who prays for your children, who is there at the altars when you are in need, know that he is a man with all the same emotions that you have. Pastors are not just a face in the Sunday crowd. Their lives extend beyond the doors of the church. They laugh, smile, and weep just as you do. They are God’s servants and they desire to be your friend.