Things I Miss Most About Being a Pastor And Things I Don’t

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

POSTED ON February 11, 2014
  • Pappa Murf

    Excellent article Ramon. I’ve spent more than a few hours pondering my own list of “miss/don’t miss” pastoral experiences. If I were to boil it all down to the bare essence, what I miss most about full-time pastoral ministry is knowing I am walking the path God called me to walk. Since leaving the ministry I’ve certainly experienced the square peg/round hole syndrome in just about every vocational step I’ve made. Not saying I can’t do anything else but when you walk away from your calling, there is a void there that nothing else can fill. Believe me, I’ve tried.

    • Ramon Presson

      I understand. There are many skills & abilities in being a pastor that transfer to other career fields in jobs, but it’s not quite the same. There’s often the feeling that something is missing. There is a legitimate grief and disappointment in that. I believe authentic contentment must allow elbow room for disappointment, grief, regret, and even sometimes anger. But it’s vital to not get stuck in those lest we become immobilized by either discouragement or bitterness. In my book “When Will My Life Not Suck? Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned” ( in chapter 8 I talk about The Three Comparison Traps of Discontentment:
      #1: What I Have Now versus What I Should Have (or What I Deserve)
      #2: What I Have Now versus What I Once Had
      #3: What I Have Now versus What Others Have
      (Note that “what I have” is not referring to material possessions but life experiences & conditions)
      A focus or preoccupation on one or more of those is guaranteed to trap us in discontentment because the present can never be good enough for us.

  • A random stranger

    Music. I miss the inspirational music. I miss leading worship. I knew I was gifted in it, but I guess maybe time is up. Can’t get hung up on IF things were different though. I would like to do it again, but that fear of being around Christians who are not real with each other just keeps me at distance. No ‘yes’ people, no competing for positions, no kissing butt to get anywhere. I think of that and that desire to be involved with church music disappears quicker than anything.

    • Ramon Presson

      I know it’s disappointing when one part of an experience prevents or spoils the enjoyment of another part of the same experience. Like leading worship for example. And there’s a LOT more to it than the “There are hypocrites in the grocery store but that doesn’t keep you from going there to buy food, does it?” That analogy is stupid & irrelevant for someone ( pastor or lay person ) who has been spiritually abused or emotionally wounded in the church, especially if it’s happened more than once. It becomes a matter of trust and feeling safe. Forgiveness always precedes restoration of trust. Forgiveness (which is always about something that has happened in the past) is not the same thing as Trust (which is about our feeling safe in the present & in the future.) I can forgive you for wrecking my car but it may take a while before I feel safe handing over the car keys to you again.

  • Violet

    great post. really enjoyed reading it!

Ramon Presson, PhD, a licensed marriage & family therapist, is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin. He is a newspaper columnist and with a dozen books in print, he is the most published practicing therapist in Tennessee. From 1989 to 2004 Presson served as an assistant pastor in large churches in North Carolina South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. Ramon has had the unique privilege to work alongside with, be mentored by, and later co-author several books with Dr. Gary Chapman. Ramon’s newest book is titled, “When Will My Life Not Suck? Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned.” Ramon & his wife, Dorrie, and two teenage sons live outside of Nashville, TN. He can be reached at