There’s a kind of unspoken phenomenon we’ve experienced and we’ve seen it with others, particularly pastors, and it’s this: They rarely, if ever, take off their ministry hats…not on Christmas or at a funeral or a car wash, not with friends, relatives or strangers. It’s illegal. Says so somewhere in the fine print.
A doctor can leave the hospital, a lawyer can leave the courtroom but where does a pastor go to lay down their persona?
There seems to be a unique conundrum in being a person who leads for Christ who is, simultaneously, a follower of Christ. “Pastor” is who they are, not a function they perform or a gift they bring to their spiritual community.
Imagine never finding the “off” switch. Like full-time entrepreneurs, most pastors feel the weight of responsibility for their church. They may have a team but in most cases, the buck stops with them. So the meter’s always running in their minds.
Whenever they enter a room they feel all eyes on them (whether they are or not.) And after years of being the “highest-ranking” Christian in most places they go, people look to them for the answers, the word of the hour, every hour of every day. Which means they have to be ready.
If the pastor has a larger church many in their local community recognize them out in public. More than once we were out to dinner and it wasn’t until we’d gotten all the way through our meal that a person sitting near us or our server would announce they attended our church or used to attend or a relative attended, etc. Then we’d go back through our interactions and wonder nervously: “Were we kind or on edge?” “Did we leave a generous tip?” “Did we show enough interest in them?”
A doctor or lawyer probably doesn’t think like that.
Pastors have a lot of expectations for themselves. Others carry expectations for them, too. They should always be humble, tolerant, happy, God-like, thoughtful, strong but not pushy, forgiving, positive, knowledgeable, manage their money but not be too rich. They should be spiritual, they should know our names, visit us when we’re sick and if we need them in a crisis they should always be available.
What does this kind of pressure do to a pastor’s soul? What does it do to a person who is so enmeshed with their role, they don’t know who they are without it?
What does it take for a pastor to experience their identity first as a person then as someone who leads a spiritual community? Who helps them stay human? Who helps them take off their ten-gallon hat, pull off their boots, and sit awhile in their own skin?
What would it take for us to allow our pastors to just be themselves when they’re not in their role or fulfilling responsibilities? Would we even know what that looks like or how to relate to them?
Maybe they don’t want to be just one of the folks. As pastors, we don’t always know what to do with ourselves without a microphone or someone needing us or looking up to us. Maybe we believe some version of the notion God depends on us to represent The Family 24/7. And there are some nice perks in being one of the clergy. You get access to people and places others may not. You might even get your own parking spot at the hospital.
Does the need to be an “example” ever end for a pastor?
We’re curious to know if you think a pastor can ever just be a regular person? Do you think they should be different, special, elite, always in uniform? If so, how does that happen in a healthy way?
Here are several simple practices that we employ all the time,
that can aid those of you that are ministry leaders:
- Share honestly with others (publicly with others & privately with a few) the tension you feel in always having to ‘be on.’
- Have several close friends that you can go even deeper with, and when you’re together, tell them you want to take off your pastor hat & just put on a human hat, and be a friend. Ask them where that might be hard for them, and where it’s often hard for you.
- Several times a week, as you are walking into a door to minister to others, in some official role, remind yourself that your role is nothing more than a uniform that you take on and off. Who you really are… your actual essence, is a very good, living soul, that God created long before your role, and will go on forever, after your role. That is who you really are.
- On your days off, whenever you go out in public, take off your temporary uniform and learn to relax and live into who you really are, underneath it all.
Eugene Peterson, who created The Message translation of the Bible, made this simple, yet profound statement one time, concerning the people in a church, and its pastor:
“The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does His work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called the pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.”