I am playing hooky from church this morning. Years ago that wouldn’t have been an option. Churches can be sticklers about their pastors being there on Sundays. Does the Miami Heat expect LeBron James to be there for all their games? They do, huh? OK, well maybe that’s not a good example.
As a counseling grad student in the mid 80’s, I couldn’t imagine being an assistant pastor on a church staff. Ten year later I was unable to imagine NOT being a pastor on a church staff. In 2005 after twenty years of pastoral ministry in several large congregations, I slipped out the backdoor of church work and into private practice as a therapist. I didn’t abandon my faith or even my church, just my full-time work there and my sense of a clear and established identity as a minister. I would no longer be Pastor Ramon.
Having been out of clerical garb (suit and tie) for many years now there are several things I don’t miss about being a church pastor and many things I do miss. For example, I don’t miss staff meetings and committee meetings. Lord only knows how much of my life in those two decades was spent in meetings at large rectangular tables. I’m convinced that when we get to heaven there’ll be no committee meetings and no paperwork. In fact, when you die and wake in the afterlife, if you’re in a conference room and someone at the head of the table is passing out an agenda, guess where you landed?
I don’t miss petty conflicts, politics, and the spirit of entitlement. I don’t miss manipulation disguised as exhortation or image trumping substance. I don’t miss outward appearance substituting for inward reality, salesmanship calling itself evangelism, or performance changing its name to worship. I don’t miss legalism posing as godliness and hypocrisy getting a hall pass.
I don’t miss looking at my department’s attendance figures on Monday morning to determine how I should feel about my worth and effectiveness. Good self-esteem can be elusive for pastors in a church or a department that is growing – or should be. I don’t miss my effectiveness as a minister being measured by how many backsides I can get into pews or plastic chairs for an event. I don’t miss my value being reduced to statistics on an Excel spreadsheet.
But there are things I profoundly miss now that I’m not a pastor. I miss the camaraderie of being on staff with gifted and caring men and women united for a common cause. I miss playing on a team and doing life with them as family. I miss going into battle with a band of brothers. I miss both the deep mutual support from going through crises together and I miss the fits of laughter that lightened the daily load.
I also miss being a shepherd to a group of people. One of the blessings and privileges of being a pastor is that people invite you into the most profound moments of their lives—whether times of celebration, stress, or grief. I’ve baptized young adults in the ocean at sunrise and united young couples at the wedding altar. I have buried not only senior saints but preached funerals for young people who left this life tragically and much too soon. Often I have been on one hospital floor celebrating a birth with new parents and then taken the elevator to the ICU waiting room to be with grieving children.
Lastly, I miss seeing miracles up close and the transformation of people’s lives when infused with hope, faith, and love. I miss regularly seeing broken people repaired by grace. I miss watching souls grateful for their healing rise and care for the wounded. There is nothing quite like the front-row seat to humanity’s drama that being a pastor provides.
And sometimes, many times, I miss my old chair.
What do you miss most about the ministry? What are some things you could live without?
Photo courtesy: Miles F. Wilson