Cartoonist Gary Larson inked quite a word picture in a cartoon. It is a picture of a big male deer with a target on his belly. Another deer looks at the target and says, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”
While we all feel like Hal from time to time, think of those in full-time church ministry. It seems like pastors these days are on everyone’s scope, both inside and outside the church. Mainline media sensationalizes ministerial moral failures and television evangelist’s “misuse” of money faster than a speeding bullet.
Many people and institutions accuse pastors of being judgmental and not relevant to today’s world. These accusations are right in some cases. However, the few awkward examples that everyone hears about are not representative of the exemplary pastors you never hear. The truth is that 97% plus (my guesstimate) of pastors are working diligently to make the world a better place. Are they perfect? No. Do they make flawless decisions every time? No. Do they walk on water? Hardly. Consider this
Pastoral ministry is a wonderful calling but sometimes a terrible career. I love being a pastor because it’s my calling. However, the career part is more challenging. Years ago, my wife Becky and I were at a time-share presentation in Maui, Hawaii. The salesman asked what I did for a living. I said I was a pastor. Then he said in a disappointed manner, “Oh, that means you have a low-stress job.” You should have seen Becky. She laughed and said, “You don’t go to church, do you?” She still recalls that incident like it was yesterday.
Englishman Phil Hines tells a story about Jesus walking along the road one day and seeing a man crying. When asked what was wrong, the man replied, “I’m blind,” so Jesus healed him. Further along, He met another man in tears and asked him the same question. He replied, “I’m lame,” so Jesus healed him. Then He encountered a third man weeping. In response to Jesus’ question, he replied, “I’m a pastor.” So, Jesus sat down and wept right along with him!
Pastoring can be a thankless job inside the church, too. Talk about pastoral target practice. If he speaks too long, “He puts us to sleep.” If he speaks too short, “He hasn’t prepared.” If he raises his voice, “He’s shouting.” If he speaks in a normal manner, “You can’t hear him.” If he’s absent, “He’s always on the road.” If he’s out visiting, “He’s never at home.” If he’s home, “He never visits anyone.”
If he talks of money, “He’s too fond of money.” If he doesn’t talk about money, “Nobody knows what he is up to.” If he’s too young, “He lacks experience.” If he is old, “He ought to retire.” And what if he dies trying to meet all these expectations; “Nobody could ever take his place.” Now that makes me twitch. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
You might think that pastors talk about church stuff when they meet. No, pastors are human beings just like you. When a group of pastors meets together, they often joke in a fun way about pastoral stuff. Let me give you a free pass into “our” kind of humor.
A visiting minister was very long-winded. Worse yet, every time he would make a good point during his sermon, a member of the congregation responded with “amen” or “that’s right, preacher,” he would get more wound up and launch into another lengthy discourse. Finally, the host preacher started responding to every few sentences with “amen, pharaoh!” The guest minister wasn’t sure what that meant, but after several more “amen, pharaoh!” he finally concluded his very lengthy discourse.
After the service concluded and the congregation had left, the visiting minister turned to his host and asked, “What exactly did you mean when you said, ‘Amen, pharaoh?’” His host replied, “I was telling you to let my people go!”
Here’s another story. A rural pastor was livid when he confronted his wife with a $225 receipt for a new dress she had just purchased. “What made you do this?” he exclaimed. “I don’t know,” she said. “I was standing in the store looking at the dress. Then I found myself trying it on. It was like the devil was whispering to me, ‘Wow, you look great in that dress. You should buy it!’”
“Well,” the pastor persisted, “you know how to deal with him! Just tell him, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’”
“I did,” replied the wife, “but then he said, ‘It looks great from back here, too!’”
Well, as they say, the retirement benefits of pastoring are out of this world. However, what can you do to support your local pastor on this side of heaven? The Scriptures say, “Appreciate pastoral leaders who give you the word.” “Honor those who work so hard for you, who have the responsibility of guiding you; overwhelm them with appreciation and love.”
If you do what the Bible says, you might erase that target on Hal, the pastor. Remember, God gave some as pastors to help you and aim you to God, who helps and empowers. In other words, pastors are here because you’re here.