What we are attempting to do here is walk a fine line between the fun of humor and exaggeration, and the conviction of truth and righteousness. They do intersect, though it's difficult not to veer too much to one side or the other.
The Lord called you to preach the gospel and you answered. You went off to a Bible college or theological seminary of one kind or the other, and you got yourself some degrees that you now display prominently on your wall. You finally got past those tiny churches, which many consider boot camp for the pastoral ministry, and now you are uptown in a fine facility with your name boldly plastered on the sign out front as the (ahem) senior pastor.
Have you "arrived" in the ministry? Well, sir, here are some of the ways you can tell:
- You have a Bible published with your very own commentary notes. "The Official Jerry Big-Shot Bible."
It still has the basic 66 books of the Holy Scripture, of course, but no one is buying it for that. They are purchasing it for the wonderful, scintillating, incisive—and insert a lot of other dynamic adjectives here!—notes at the bottom of each page.
How in the world Martin Luther pulled off the Reformation without his own personal version of Holy Scriptures is anybody's guess.
- You have two secretaries. One who works for you and the other who works for her. Your secretaries sometimes lord it over the rest of the office staff since they work for the head guy, but hey, that's life and it's to be expected. After all, they take phone calls for you from leading pastors around the country, publishers of major printing establishments and denominational executives. They are in high cotton and if they're a little prideful, well, who wouldn't be?
- You have research assistants to study the Bible for you. You can recall when you had time to meditate on a specific Psalm, to cross-check Scriptures that came to mind while doing your daily Bible reading or check out the root of that Hebrew word. You used to enjoy taking a full morning in your study. But those days are behind you. You're just too busy for that anymore. So, that young intern sure comes in handy. His sermon ideas have given you some messages that have been well-received, too. He's going to make someone a great preacher one of these days. Hopefully, not too soon. You are depending on him too much.
- You get invited to large events to speak. Or, if you don't, you leave the impression you do. And you never get invited to the small churches and small events, because to be blunt about it, those people know you are "out of their league" now that you have arrived. If you were invited to Mount Pisgah at Route Four Podunk, you would have to fudge and tell the pastor how much you would love nothing better than doing this, but your schedule just will not allow it, and thank you for calling and have a blessed day.
Surely the Lord will forgive your little lie. You were just trying not to hurt the guy's feelings, after all.
- The media calls for your "take" on events of the day. And you find yourself practicing in advance for their calls, which you know will be coming.
You love getting phone calls or emails from friends far and wide saying they saw you on CNN or Fox and what a great job you did. You find yourself hoping that your own members see the same things. One appearance on a national news show will earn you a hundred goodwill chips, to be cashed in the next time you need extended time away or support for a pet project.
- You no longer have to attend those preachers meetings in your own county. Everyone there knows you'd certainly be there if you just were not so busy flying hither and yon to speak or to advise presidents. These days, you no longer know those pastors anyway, so attending their meetings would be awkward. Best to spare everyone the embarrassment by avoiding them altogether.
- The mayor treats you like the CEO of a major employer in the community. The funny thing is that you soon discover he wants your popularity to rub off on him the same way you want his public recognition to enhance your status. So, you help each other with this little symbiosis.
- You've almost forgotten what the inside of a hospital room or nursing home looks like. You have other people doing the actual shepherding of your congregation. You're above that sort of thing now.
The only time you get to the hospital now is when one of your key guys is in critical condition. They make their little jokes that, "I must be in bad shape because the head pastor is here!" but there's a lot of truth to it, and the reality is there is not a thing you can do about it. It's just the reality of your life these days. Success has its price and one of those prices is you can't be everywhere, and you cannot do everything. Something has to give and it's the actual work of pastoring. After all, anyone can visit a hospital room. Your gift is in vision-casting, motivation and leadership. Big stuff.
- You camouflage your dereliction of pastoral duties by fancy terms. Like vision-casting, motivation and leadership. Like the larger ministry, reaching the world for the Lord and serving the greater kingdom.
Meanwhile, the pastor of the smaller church down the street is doing the actual shepherding of some of your members. They actually call him. Their words vary, but mostly they sound like: "Pastor Johnson, if you're going to be at the hospital this week, could you run by and see my daddy? I'd ask my pastor but he's so busy." Or, "Pastor Johnson, I wonder if you have a few minutes to talk with me about a problem? I'd go to my pastor but he's off at the meeting of the World Alliance for Global Alliances."
- And finally, you know you have arrived as a big-shot pastor when you lie awake at night, unable to sleep because you are missing the actual work of pastoring your people.
You envy the pastor down the street.
Now that you are somebody, your days are spent planning with your executive staff, flying to high-level conferences on important issues, hobnobbing with celebrities (hey, they need witnessing, too!), writing your books and doing your book tours, and pontificating on important moral issues of the day.
If that floats your boat, go for it. Someone has to do it, I suppose.
But if God called you to pastor His people, you just might want to take a look back down the road and ask yourself where you took that fatal detour, that side road that led you to 10,000 perks but far away from the actual shepherding of God's people.
Personally, I would rather be a pastor of the Lord's people than to dwell in the White House for eight solid years, than to have a widely watched program on Fox or CNN and than to be on the bestsellers list every year for decades.
Only those called to pastor can understand this. The rest will be tuning up their resume in search of the First Church of Bigtown.
I hope you find what you're looking for, friend.
Joe McKeever is retired from the pastorate but still active in preaching, writing and cartooning for Christian publications. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.
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