Do you remember what it was like when you first became a pastor? Do you remember the zeal you had? Do you remember how you thought you couldn’t love people any more then you did then? It’s kind of like having your first child. It is so incredibly powerful (in a good way) to be responsible for the salvation of so many lives. Actually, we’re responsible for their care not their salvation. We really can’t save anyone and if we think we can, we truly overrate ourselves. So how does one go from being passionately excited, like a racehorse, simply wanting to “see people saved and change the world” hopefully impacting a community, to someone who pulls the ripcord on that church in a matter of three short years? If you are hard-headed enough to endure the third year and beyond, the statistics still point to an average tenure of only six years, which is hardly enough time to make a significant difference.
Very similar to police officers, pastors, often after a decade or so in the ministry, become poisonous cynics, convinced that many are against them and that no one wants to change for the good. They quite simply get tired of the seemingly constant struggle to move the church forward. Due to the inevitable vocational pain (trauma) that comes our way, one of the things that can happen is that our passion fades. Unfortunately, as our passion fades, so also does our compassion. So, while compassion is the partner to passion, if we fail to properly manage the normal negative things which come our way as pastors, the fuel (passion & compassion) for making a difference, simply runs out. Then, if we’re not aware of what is happening internally, we’re ready to start over again with a new congregation believing that different members and a new venue will bring different results. I wonder how many pastors actually thought that the answer was changing churches only to discover that the only thing different was the names! Remembering the average tenure for a senior pastor in America to be only four to six years, how many times does that nightmare start over?
Patience Saves the Day!
While simply wanting to “see people saved and change the world” is certainly an honorable goal, not everyone sees it quite the way we do as pastors. After all, we have a full-time job thinking about reaching the lost, preparing sermons and planning for growth etc. while most of the congregation is trying to make ends meet, get their kids to sporting events etc. Although, if you’re a bi-vocational pastor, you do understand this better than many. But consider this: It is easy to become cynical when our congregant’s lives get in the way of our vision. When our passion and compassion start to fade, it becomes easier and easier to label the membership the enemy. This is especially true when we perceive the congregation to be much less spiritual than we think we are. Listen, I know these are not easy things to think about, but more than likely your seminary or bible school never even came close to touching these topics and that is why some of you are on your second, third, or even fourth go-around in pastoring churches. You may even be starting to see signs of wear and tear on your family.
Too often, after a pastor faces enough opposition, gets worn out from the struggle or was just wounded too badly in the last congregational skirmish, logic goes out the window and the people the pastor fell in love with a few short years ago become the very ones he or she wants to get as far away from as they possibly can! We can quickly go from, “The church completes me” to “The church depletes me!” The calling didn’t change; so what happened?
Is Your “Tank” Full?
Psychologists tell us that emotional trauma is cumulative. In other words, we have a “tank” if you will, that when it gets full, we kind of trip the breaker. Without understanding how emotional trauma affects us and how to manage its effects, or empty the “tank,” we become damaged goods believing that the only solution is a new location with different people. Comedian George Carlin said, “Inside every cynical person there is a disappointed idealist.” That is why it is easier to change churches than it is to work through the painful issues that will ultimately make us better ministers and shepherds.
3 “D” Glasses
As pastors, we either plan for our emotional survival or the enemy of our soul will plan for our emotional demise! For me, personally, and also for the officers and other pastors I teach about surviving their careers, I developed what I call my 3 “D” legacy framework. The outline of the 3 “D’s” is: Disconnect, Distract, De-Stress! The short version which I will expand upon in the next article is that most importantly for those of us dealing with vocational pain and trauma is that we MUST disconnect from that which we are so intertwined with. Just like a battery never disconnecting from a device gets drained, it can actually get drained to the point of damage that it will no longer take a charge! We need to disconnect! To really disconnect we need a distraction. We need something not related to the ministry that has a positive effect on us and our family. And in order to de-stress, we need to be disconnected for a long enough time to make us better. AND if we are diligent in the 3 “D’s” we may get to exercise the fourth D, Dismount. In other words, we will be able to dismount our assignment or career on our terms leaving a legacy vs pulling the ripcord. Never heard this in seminary, did you? More to come! Don’t miss the next episode.
For more on this topic, go to the Emotional Survival for Pastors podcast at PastorJohn.net