Go straight to selling insurance and save yourself and your wife the grief of being a pastor in the church. Since so many of us end up selling insurance, you are getting a jump on all the other seminary grads in your class and you will be much happier in the long run.
But given that you are “called by God,” I guess I should offer some serious advice. The above was an attempt at humor. Maybe you will get it after being the ministry for ten or so years. Not that all young pastors will have tough ministries. I seem to know quite a few who are doing quite well in the ministry. They love it. Things are going well. But given the odds, only a few of those who graduate from seminary will have the big prosperous ministries whereas the rest of us just get to wonder what that is like.
Most of us fall in the middle lines of small churches. We struggle to make ends meet. The ministry is hard on our marriages and families. We see the ugly under belly of the church far more often than we see the fruit of our ministry as so many pastors claim they see. We strive to be faithful to our callings but its hard when members of the church are telling us the body would be much better off without us.
We pray to the LORD that blessings would flow in our ministries, but the blessings are few and far between and after a while, we start praying that the LORD would open the door for us to support our families in some other calling. We long for the moment that we can tell the disgruntled member to stick it. Not that we actually would say anything of the sort. Fortunately, we have the LORD’s Spirit dwelling in us that keeps us from following the flesh when we would like to. We remember deep down that those disgruntled members belong to Christ as well. We wonder why God would bother with such wretched men and women of the church and His Spirit answers those questions on a regular basis in our own hearts. So we keep silent where the flesh screams for vengeance and follow the Spirit instead.
We strive to be faithful, preaching God’s word week in and week out, more often, knowing that with each sermon the Spirit of God is going to work on us far more than it works on the congregation. It takes it’s toll. We come down out of the pulpit, after being used by God, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot find a rock big enough to crawl under. We want nothing to do with the sermon we labored so hard to craft, nothing to do with the truth that scorched us so badly. Even when its a great sermon, we are spent and done for the day and hope for nothing more than sleep so we can recover just like Elijah after God used him to defeat the prophets of Baal. The congregation never sees the spiritual battle that took place in the pulpit, and before that, in the study, and most importantly, in our hearts. It leaves us like Elijah, saying “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
“The ministry is hard,” is what one fellow pastor told me. That was an understatement. It makes sense of the statements by those grey-haird professors in seminary who use to say, “if you can go do anything else besides ministry, then do so.” Now that I have grey hair, I echo their sentiments. But then there is that call of God. If the ministry was just another career choice, then it could be easy to walk away from. I know how to walk away from other careers. I’ve been a disc jockey in radio, in the military, a journalist, and a host of other small careers mixed in to fill in the gaps. I walked and God opened the door for me to do so. But He hasn’t since I entered the ministry some sixteen years ago. I’ve asked Him at times, “LORD, if there is something else I can do…“
The irony is that I’m highly qualified in certain skill sets that look good in certain circles of the work force, just as I’m qualified as a pastor. The problem: just like there are 200 pastors for every pulpit in my denomination, there are plenty of people jumping to fill in those circles where I’m gifted.
By God’s grace, He has kept me in the ministry. He hasn’t opened any doors and even though I feel spent, used up, empty, broken, sad, disappointed… I know the hand behind that calling. While the church can be hard, faithless, mean, unforgiving, lonely, and filled with a host of other maladies, the ONE behind the church is not. He is faithful, and loving, and kind, and gentle and merciful. He holds me up when I don’t have the strength to do so. He speaks through me when I have no desire to speak. He keeps me moving forward and helps me be faithful in this calling of His. When I enter that pulpit, that place of His calling, He comes and stands with me. He leads me on and gives me the words to speak that I don’t want to utter. He encourages me and carries me along. That is the blessing of my week. Through all the struggles and difficulties, He stands with me. That is what keeps me going.
So what is my advice to young pastors? Sell insurance. Otherwise, make sure that you are walking with Him and more importantly, that He is leading you where go. The church is a hard place.
I used to get mad when I would come across people who had been hurt inside the church, left to depart and never to return. I don’t get mad anymore. I understand. The church is hard and if you are going there for any other reason than the fact that He calls you there, you will be beat up and disappointed. In fact, you are going to get beat up if He has called you there, but the difference is the status of your heart as He tends to you through the fires of the ministry. If He hasn’t called you there… don’t go. Go where He calls you, because it is that calling that will keep you there striving to be faithful when the sheep have bitten you for the umpteenth time. Trust Him and look to Him. In Him you will find your joy. If you look for joy in your church, you will only be disappointed. Remember, our LORD and God is Jesus Christ, not St. First Church of the Spiritually Dead. To look to the church for any level of satisfaction, especially as it’s undershepherd, is breaking the First Commandment. You must look to Him and Him alone for all that you need, otherwise the bruises will mount up over time and drive you from your pulpit. In remembering these truths… we can enter back into the pulpit as we are called to do, to say the things the world despises but the LORD loves. When we look to Him for our guidance, we truly do mount with wings of eagles, staying strong and not growing faint because He is the One that maintains us. To enter the pulpit in any other fashion will lead to disillusion. But with Him, there is the strength we need to proclaim what men most despise. That is my advice to young pastors. Do not enter the ministry on your own strength and zeal, but on His. Otherwise, sell insurance.