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The Way of All Flesh
Some burdens are common to all pastors. Let's examine them and pay particular attention to the ways they are carried by the small-church pastor. You will see how easily pastors can break under the strains of the ministry.
#1---The Ministry Tends to Isolate You from Others
Rats! I had blown it again!
I was enjoying a conversation with the affable, jovial man sitting next to me on the plane. We talked about our families, joked about the weather, and weighed the benefits and liabilities of living in various parts of the country. But then, he asked THE QUESTION: 'So, what do you do for a living?' And I was stupid enough to tell him---'I'm a pastor.' (There's got to be another way to say it. 'I'm an educator.' 'I'm in Growth and Development.' 'I administrate a nonprofit organization.')
Suddenly, his face got red. He had been peppering his speech with some rather salty language. He abruptly lost interest in talking with me, answering my questions now with only a polite 'yes' or 'no.' When the flight attendant came around with the cart, he asked me if it would be okay if he ordered a drink. It was obvious that in his mind I was no longer one of the guys. I was (cue the heavenly music) a holy man. And one has to treat a holy man differently.
My mind went back a few years to when I was a college student. Taking a bus trip, I found myself sitting next to an attractive young woman. She was being extremely friendly with me---until I told her I was studying to be a minister. She sat bolt upright in her seat and I could read her mind from the look on her face: 'Oh, no! I'll never get out of purgatory now! I just tried to flirt with a priest!'
Your identity as a pastor erects a wall between yourself and others. Some who have had bad experiences with ministers will be waiting for you to lie to them, beat them over the head with a Bible, let them down, criticize them, or hit them up for a donation. One of the highest compliments a person with this mindset can pay you is, 'You're okay---for a preacher.' You have to resist the urge to respond, 'And you're all right, too---for an accountant.'
Others will view you as if you were a delicate and fragile knickknack. They feel they must tiptoe around you for fear of breaking your communion with God. They will try to shelter you from the evils and day-to-day realities of life, thinking such things would shock, upset, and offend you. They don't realize that, like G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, you became a minister precisely because you are well acquainted with the darkness in men's souls, not because you are trying to run away from it.
Still others will believe that you are something more than merely human. In their minds, pastors inhabit a higher spiritual plane than 'normal' people do. Some will be genuinely surprised that you get discouraged, tell jokes, catch the flu, become weary, watch TV, or have personal problems. In fact, some don't want to learn these things about you. They won't get too close to you for fear their illusions will be shattered. They want to believe in something and that something is you! (By the way, this may explain why they pay you what they do---they expect you to be able to multiply loaves and fishes for your family.)
Speaking of your family, the ministry can even separate you from the ones who should be closest to you. Not only will your schedule ensure that you will spend a lot of time apart from them, but you will feel totally justified in doing so. After all, isn't The Lord's Business more important than playing dolls with your daughter or going to a movie with your spouse? And didn't Paul say all the servants of Christ should be single, anyway? If your family is feeling lonely or neglected, that's just the suffering they must bear for the sake of the Gospel.
Even when you have the time to spend with the family, you may find that you don't want to. You are so burned out from people contact that your spouse and children look just like another committee that wants a piece of you, more counselees to advise, or a group that wants you to work up the energy to 'fellowship' with them. Like Greta Garbo, the reclusive actress, all you want is to be alone. Unfortunately, you may just get your wish.
As a small-church pastor, you will be alienated even more from others in your congregation, not only because you're a minister, but also because you are an outsider. Small communities are very suspicious of, if not hostile to, outsiders, particularly outside 'experts' who have the potential to change the cherished status quo. You'll find yourself being kept at arm's length. Things you say will be taken with an extra large grain of salt.
Also, members of your congregation may not feel much of a need to get to know you on a personal level. The tenure of small-church pastors tends to be very short. Therefore, you're like fickle Aunt Mary's latest boyfriend. Why should anyone in the family bother getting to know him when, come this time next year, he'll be gone, replaced by someone else?
Your congregation will not realize that you need friends. They are a group that has a closed system of long-established relationships. When church members need someone to talk to, or have to find help in a crisis, or just want to go on a picnic with someone, they don't have to think twice about whom they are going to call. They'll call the same people they always have, the same people they always will. They have a ready-made support system. It hardly ever crosses their minds that you don't.