The Naked Thoughts of a Pastor...
I thought I would take you spelunking down into the heart of a pastor. I don’t know if you want to know what dwells deep down in the cave of the pastor’s soul. I don’t know if these caverns will offer you a glimpse that helps or hurts your pilgrimage of faith. I don’t know because I don’t think pastors often feel the freedom to share openly and so we don’t know what would happen if they did. There isn’t good intel because there aren’t many case studies; sufficient data hasn’t been compiled because we don’t have the lab rats who have surrendered themselves to research for the benefit of the next generation. It’s dangerous to share your naked thoughts before a clothed world, especially as a leader of “the clothed ones”. A “man of the cloth” dare not over-share and remove the “cloth” and with it the clout.
But, nonetheless, here are some of my naked thoughts. I’m sorry if they unnerve you. I assure you, they unnerve me all the more; they happen to be happening inside my chest cavity...
- I can’t believe how other people affect me. I know this could be touted as a badge of honor, but it is a double-edged sword. It is the key to the shepherding instinct and it is also the key point of entry for the enemy to devour your innards.
- The undulations of people’s emotions deeply impact the quality of my life. I wish it were not so. I wish I could exist painlessly apart from the goings on of other people’s stories, but alas, my day rides the roller coaster of people’s ever-changing circumstances, and their actions and reactions to that set of circumstances.
- I am racked with doubt on certain days as to whether anything I’m doing is making any sort of “deep difference”. I see the superficial difference all the time, the pats on the back, the “good sermon pastor”, etc. Those things are a dime a dozen. But the anchored life change over the long haul, the setting of your gaze to the plow and not looking back, the enduring and abiding change wrought by the Spirit of God…that is rare indeed. Am I a voice of one crying in the wilderness? Does what I do matter or am I all wrong in my approach?
- I am embarrassed to admit this. I shutter to share, but there are times when people say they won’t be at church for the weekend—especially when I’ve heard it a couple times from a couple of different people in a short period of time—I feel impending doom cover me like ominous, depressing clouds. I know my spirit should not be daunted by people not attending church because they are going up north for a color tour, or taking a couple weeks off to hunt for mushrooms, or checking out for a season because their kids are in sports, or—and this one is killer—they are just tired and need a week to catch their breath. This should not affect me as it does. I should understand people’s needs and the complex lives they lead and live. I shouldn’t look toward the weekend with doom thinking that everyone is bailing and the movement is in jeopardy, but I struggle to not go to that place.
- I tire of hearing people’s stories. There is nothing I love more than hearing the backstory of someone’s life, and yet I find myself burdened to carry the weight of someone else’s disappointment and regret. I feel guilty that I don’t know everyone’s name let alone their story. I feel like my brain is seized at times like a computer screen frozen in place, crashing under the weight of overload. I know that I’m not alone and that others are doing things I can’t and listening to lives that I can’t and leading people that I can’t, but there is this nagging sense that people are mad at me because I don’t talk to them enough or inquire of their lives enough or meet with them enough or care about them enough. I can’t shake this feeling that people are mad at me. Sometime I even wake in the morning dreading my day because all I can think about is “how many people I’m going to let down” compared to the “few that I’m going to help”. I will hear people say in my head, “You spent time with them, but not me! You helped them, but you didn’t help us! What about me? Are you ever going to get in my life?” I live with these voices screaming at me. I know that I do what I do for God, but knowing that doesn’t always make these feelings of being a disappointment go away.
- I struggle with being mad at people for their presuppositions and angles and agendas that they project onto me, push onto me. I can hear it in people’s questions and their statements. I hate it when people share with me their experiences and want me to carry on those experiences. They want me to implement their “pet ministry”. They want me to love the bible study that changed their life as much as they do. They want their ideas and their good memories to be perpetuated and propagated through my ministry. If they are about Worship, they want to peddle their wares of worship, if they are into bible study, all roads lead to bible study…and not just any bible study, but the particular bible study that changed their life because that is the best one in the whole wide world. If they are into social justice, I must be an activist with a firm grasp of compassion ministries because the bible clearly says that true religion visits the poor and the orphans and the widows…all other religion is rubbish. People tend to think they are unique, like they are the only one who is sharing with me their opinions about what is best and what worked for them and what should happen next and what would change everything, if only… And all the while, I carry the myriad of opinions not wondering at all whether they are all good, they are indeed, but wondering obsessively about which ones I should heed and champion, if any, knowing that if I choose one, I won’t choose ten which translates into 1 person loving me and 10 people hating me. I wish God would just tell me what he wants, but I don’t get a memo from him like pastors do on TBN unfortunately. I’ve been waiting for that day, but until them, I have to listen to people, seek the Lord and His Word, consult with wise counsel, and come to a decision based on discernment. There is no silver bullet, though I think others think pastors possess one.
- I have a hard time sleeping during certain seasons of ministry. I’m tired beyond description, but I can’t bed down for some reason. My mind is restless with thoughts of implosion, thoughts of personal incompetency, thoughts of potential miscommunication that leads to miscommunity, thoughts of mistakes and failures that are inevitable. I get scared that I’m missing something, forgetting something, living in denial of something. I fear that I’m out of balance and that my kids are witnessing my gradual demise. I’m overwhelmed by the plethora of decisions that demand clear thinking, godly perspective, unbiased leadership, sharp intelligence, masterful management, and humble-hearted teamwork without faking a false humility to get a desired outcome. Sometimes I lay in bed and I can’t make sense of what I’m thinking because it’s so bizarre that it isn’t tethered to rational thought. I go from fearing there is sin in my life to wishing I could fly to Europe to wanting to go into my kids bedrooms to pray over them to role-playing meetings that I’m going to have the next day and what I’m going to say if they say this or that. I will have “meetings before the meetings” that last longer than the actual meeting. The worst part is that most of what I was quixotically dreaming up was a waste of time because reality didn’t play out according to my worst fears. I toss and turn in a personal torture chamber of my own making.
- I worry about my age and if all the aforementioned weaknesses are telltale signs of the immaturity and prematurity of my leadership. I wonder if other leaders are even-keeled and stable because of something they’ve discovered with age that I have yet to stumble upon in my youth. I wonder about all the things I don’t know that I don’t know and what affect that is having on the people under my care. I need a sage to speak into my heart, but in his absence I mentor myself, sage myself, father myself, pastor myself…and I don’t always know if what I’m telling myself is the truth or my version of it. I don’t know if I have what it takes on certain days and for some reason the affirmation of the masses doesn’t help.
- Because of the drain and strain on my identity, I sometimes look for love in all the wrong places. Sin becomes more appealing and temptation is ratcheted upon so many notches I wonder if anyone else is being run through the gauntlet like me or if this is unique to pastors. Anger courses through my veins making me want to punch something, swear at something, and damage something. Jealousy overcomes me as I see other people living in the apparent lap of luxury and coveting their life of ease and recreation. Lust burns in me telling me that I’m missing something, that I’m wanting something that I rightfully deserve, needing something to tell me, “I like you. I want you.” And when you’re beat down and hungry for peace and joy and a life of substance, it’s amazing how vulnerable you become to sin of all shapes and sizes. You feel like you’ve done your time, paid your dues, laid down your life and now it’s your turn to be happy, your turn to sow your wild oats, your turn to chuck caution to the wind, your turn to be selfish…like all the people you’re meeting with and trying to hold together that are living for themselves. There comes a time when you want to live for yourself. You are so empty, so dry, so needy yourself that temptation whispers into your ear: “I’m here for you and I’ll take care of you.” These whispers are all around me all the time and I fight them off like hungry piranhas. The problem is that you’re so tired from fighting for everyone else, that you struggle to muster the energy to fight for yourself. It seems like life has become nothing more than moving from one battle to the next. And when something says to you: “Stop fighting and come over here and find rest”. It’s alluring. All this to say: Pastors fight temptation like nobody’s business.
I could go on…suffice it to say that I hope my cave doesn’t make you cave in. I share my cave partly because it helps me fight for what I know is true under what appears to be true. I stand naked before a clothed world beckoning them to join me in dealing honestly with life as it is, not as we wished it was. I long to lead a band of people toward stark raving honesty, not spit shined duplicity. I know of no other way to stay honest myself and breed that honesty in those around me than to bear witness to my own life in a candid instead of canned way.
Thank you in advance for treating my thoughts with grace.