As you guys know, I’ve arranged to host some guest posts here throughout the summer and I’m so excited because today I finally get to share the first one with you!
It’s a dandy, too.
You guys are going to love this one.
Steve Wiens is a writer-friend, as well as a pastor, and today he’s pulling back the curtain and giving us a behind-the-scenes peek into the reality of life as a pastor. Growing up as a preacher’s kid myself, I can relate so much to his words, as well as the personal struggles and rewards that are so closely entwined with life in the ministry.
Being a pastor is the best, worst job ever.
First of all, you have the dubious honor of attempting to speak for God on Sundays, and most of the rest of the week, too. When it comes to a layup like John 3:16, we come out smelling pretty good. God loves everyone, everywhere! I love that one, and I try to sneak it into just about every sermon I can.
But what about when it comes to the one where God piles one family in a large boat, along with all the animals, except the unicorns (who apparently were having coffee or frolicking in the hills or didn’t print their boarding passes on time) while the rest of the world drowns? I’m not sure where the hope is in that one. And why is it that this story is the one that gets painted on the walls of every kids ministry room in every church in the northern hemisphere?
Which brings me to the babies. Whenever I get to dedicate or baptize one of them, I cry great big pastor-tears. Whether they gurgle and coo when I hold them or let out a blood-curdling scream of anguish, I love them all. I baptized one of them recently who was wearing a little baby-sized fedora and bowtie. For reals. Babies are cute, but babies with fedoras? You had me at hello.
Which brings me to goodbyes, one of the weirdest parts of being a pastor. The church is a big family, the staff is a big family, and everybody loves each other, until they don’t. Then it gets really, really ugly. The knives that have been expertly inserted into my back from people who “feel God is calling them somewhere else but it’s mainly your fault” never get easier to remove. And there have also been times when I’ve had to ask someone to say goodbye because of something they did that was out-of-bounds. And I’m not always right with those decisions. I was a part of a team of people that fired my best friend. That was a long time ago, and we have since reconciled, but I think back on that one and I wince at how badly it was handled. Wince is too kind of a word.
It was horrible.
Which brings me to Carol, the very opposite of horrible. She’s seventy-three years old and she’s buried three husbands. When our church plant was just getting going, she expressed interest, but said that all the kids were probably going to be too loud for her, and the fact that we used printed liturgies instead of projecting large words on large screens was a genuine sin. But she stuck with us, and now she’s everybody’s grandma. She hugs me every week. She’s in a wheelchair because she has multiple sclerosis, and because her recent hip surgery didn’t go all that well. She stands as long as she can while we sing, holding the large-print liturgy that we print every week just for her, until she has to sit down. We will miss her terribly when she leaves us.
Which brings me to the young woman that wanted to meet with me to “talk about something.” I hate those emails. “Can we meet? I have something I need to talk to you about.” This can mean anything from the possibility that their cat is dying and they’re wondering if animals will go to heaven (they will), to the fact that they’re incredibly upset that I mentioned Rob Bell from the pulpit because he’s certainly going to that place he apparently doesn’t believe in. But when this young woman came in, she told me she was gay, and she was wondering if she was going to hell because of it. She told me how hard she tried to not be gay. She told me how hard it was to tell her family and close friends, and how some of them have never been able to look at her the same since. So I got to look at her in the eyes, and tell her that God loves her and being gay doesn’t have anything to do with going to hell or not.
We both cried for kind of a long time after that.
Which obviously brings me to Eugene Peterson, the pastor’s pastor. I recently won the lottery and got to spend a couple of days informally talking with him and his wife Jan (who I love, mostly because she’s funny and irreverent, but also because she said I look like Bono). He said many things that will take me years to unpack, but one of the things went straight through my ego and into my soul.
“You cannot be a successful pastor,” he said, with his low, gravelly voice. “You are a bundle of failings.”
He did not expound on that, nor did he make it clear whether he was using the “you” in the plural – like for all pastors – or whether he was using it in the singular, and specifically talking to me and my apparently obvious lack of potential for success.
Either way, I found it to be one of the most liberating things anyone has ever said to me.
And that helps me remember that the people that attend my church are a bundle of failings, too.
Which brings me to the fact that I love this job.
Except for those times when I don’t.
Steve is the author of Beginnings: The First Seven Days of the Rest of Your Life. You can visit his website at www.stevewiens.com, or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.