Can Pastors Have a Good Time?
Is it possible to have a good time when the pastor is expected to be (a) a self-starter, highly motivated, and task oriented, (b) competent in administration, (c) an empathetic listener who is able to drop everything and listen insightfully and intuitively to each individual who stops by unannounced, and (d) one who listens deeply to God’s Word, able to communicate it in a relevant, interesting fashion to each age and cultural group who listen to the Sunday morning message (and to do so week after week, year after year without repeating oneself)? How does one have a good time when funerals, illness, and personal crises are not restricted to office hours?
There is enormous satisfaction for me in my work as a role model, equipper of the saints, and servant.
In my experience, it is easier to have a good time as a pastor if I keep in mind the expectations that God has of me.
A ROLE MODEL
The apostle Paul makes it clear that the Christian leader is to be a role model. To the pastor, Timothy, he writes, “. . . set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). 1 Where does the role model go for a pattern? “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
Would pastors’s job descriptions change if they were framed around the following two questions? (1) What example should the pastor set in those five areas? (2) What example does Jesus give in these areas?
How do you speak about others? There are times when leaders must speak candidly about an individual’s weaknesses and strengths. However, apart from such necessary conversation, a pastor can help to create an environment of grace and affirmation by refusing to participate in negative speech about others.
Would people’s lives be healthy and balanced if everyone in your church followed your example? I find it helpful to remember that I am a role model in the day-to-day decisions I make about how to spend my time. For example, when I plan meetings, I try to think about how many evenings a week a spouse and parent should be away from family.
This does not necessarily mean a forty-hour week, or a life uninterrupted by calls for help. In the congregation I serve, there are executives, professionals, and tradespeople whose work routinely calls upon them on evenings and days off as well. According to Paul, I am a role model to them, in our shared life of dealing with unpredictable work demands.
Some calls can be referred to office hours, but not all calls for help can wait that long. It is possible to have a good time, even as one’s leisure plans are interrupted, if one remembers that the pastor is not the only one in the congregation who faces such interruptions, and that the method of handling those interruptions is a lesson to the congregation. I am greatly assisted by Jesus’ example of balancing time alone and time spent in service of those in need (Mark 1:29-39; Matt. 14:13-33).
As the leader of a missional congregation (Matt. 28:19-20; 2 Pet. 3:9), how does mission show itself in your volunteering and in your social choices? The church is entitled to look to the pastor as a role model in being a missional, inviting presence in nonchurch contexts, as Jesus was (Matt. 9:9-13). I find joy in a diversity of relationships outside the congregation I serve.
Do people feel valued and listened to when they have been with you? Of course, the pastor is much more than a feel-good therapist. To speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) is an art form that I am still learning. Unfortunately, candor lovingly given is not always received in the same spirit.
Success (Gen. 39:3-5), insight (Dan. 1:17), and favor in the eyes of those you serve (Dan. 2:46; 5:29) are gifts from God. Stay close to him (John 15:1-5). If someone is going to be upset with my candor, I would prefer to look back on the incident as having flowed out of a time when my relationship with Christ was intimate and strong, rather than out of a lack of spiritual sensitivity borne of inattention to that relationship.
I interpret this to mean, first, that I must set an example in my personal spiritual life—the time spent in prayer, Scripture reading and memorization, and in other spiritual disciplines.
I wonder whether Paul also calls me to be an example in the faith I have in God. I find inspiration in the example of the father in Mark 9:14-29. He asked Jesus to heal his son. Jesus replied that healing required faith of the one who sought the miracle. The father’s response was to bring his lack of faith to Jesus as well. There was enough faith for Jesus to be willing to answer the prayer for healing. I don’t need to feel inadequate in faith, so long as I am taking to Jesus all my questions, needs, and inadequacies.
Romans 10:17 says, “So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through preaching Christ” (Good News). A pastor can feel helpless when confronted with death, illness, unemployment, or injustice. Early in my pastoral ministry, one of my mentors told me, “Speak the Word of God into the situation.”
The same mentor advised me to preach the whole counsel of God by expositorily preaching every type of biblical literature in a cycle. There are sixty-six books in the Bible, waiting to be mined for their messages of correction and hope. The danger of topical preaching is that of repeating oneself. Let the Scripture passage, not your personal opinions, drive the message. As I explore one book of Scripture after another, I find great joy in message preparation and presentation.
The call to purity (“clean thoughts,” Living Bible) is critical. Moral failure happens in congregations, and it happens to pastors. This is nothing new. It is safe to say that most likely did not intend their lives to take that course.
How do you plan to avoid that which tripped others up? To whom do you go for advice (Prov. 11:14; 12:15)? What mentoring and accountability relationships do you maintain? Who has the right to question you about your priorities? With whom are you being honest about what is happening in your life? Who is God’s iron, keeping you sharp (Prov. 27:17)? To whom are you that iron?
Curt Swindoll advises the formation of honesty relationships.
Your honesty group shouldn’t include anyone who’d be professionally or financially impacted by any mistake you might make. . . . [T]hose in business know they’re indebted to their clients, their boss, their subordinates, or even professional and legal counsel. 2
For a pastor, this advice presumably means accountability relationships outside the congregation.
In sum, it is my experience that when I live consciously as a role model, I find greater balance and satisfaction.
AN EQUIPPER OF THE SAINTS FOR MINISTRY
The pastor is on salary. Does it follow that the pastor should do as much of the work in the church as possible?
To the exhausted pastor, Paul’s answer is a resounding no! Rather, the call is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12; cf. 2 Tim. 2:2). Each individual has received spiritual gifts from God to be used in serving others (1 Cor. 12). When the pastor does every task in sight, the members are being deprived of opportunities to exercise the gifts God has given them.
Before I became a pastor, my profession was challenging and well-suited to my natural abilities. However, the highlight of my week was my work in the church, using my spiritual gifts. My service of the faith community was life-giving for me. How much more can this be the case for someone who is trapped in an unsatisfying job? There are few things that give me as much pleasure as when I am able to assist someone to find a place to serve with their God-given spiritual gifts, and when I subsequently see them experience joy and energy in their service.
Which tasks should the pastor do? As a role model, he or she should begin with the ones for which God has given spiritual gifts. That said, there are tasks that fall to the pastor outside of his or her gifts. My wife reminds me to use those tasks to empathize with those in the congregation who have less than satisfying work responsibilities. Of course, I keep my eyes open for someone who would find joy in those roles.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and taught them to wash the feet of others: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
Following Jesus’ example, no task is beneath the leader. While the body principle of 1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that a pastor should not do everything, and should focus on the areas where he or she has spiritual gifts, there is no shortage of ways in which the pastor can show a servant attitude by doing what needs to be done, however menial the task.
In church controversies, unless the issue involves faithfulness to Scripture or the Confession of Faith, I try to remember to be in a mediating position rather than an advocate for one point of view. When I pray for God’s leading and when I trust God to guide the church’s decision, I am less anxious about the outcome.
Can pastors have a good time? There is enormous satisfaction for me in my work as a role model, equipper of the saints, and servant. And to top it off, I receive a regular paycheck!
Yet, it is worth considering that a person who answers “yes” to the above question is likely to have a healthy work environment. The church I serve is a gracious, affirming faith community that is concerned for my well-being and for that of my family. As I write this, I am on a study leave, sent by the church with the instructions that I am to study, to recharge, to spend time with my family, and to rest.
Such communities provide a context in which pastors can find deep fulfillment in their service and ministry.
- Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version.
- Curt Swindoll, “Personal Accountability: Five Suggestions for Preventing Personal Failure” (Insights, Oct. 2003, Insight for Living Ministries, Vancouver, BC).