By Joe LaGuardia
An advertisement from a church looking for a new pastor read:
“Wanted: Pastor for small church. Must excel in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration, leadership, vision setting, missions, ministry, church growth. Also, ten years experience a must.”
A satirical ad, similar in tone, added: “Pastor must know politics, how to dry tearful eyes, handle every major life crisis, and have the answer to life’s hardest questions.”
All kidding aside, I know churches that expect all of this — and more — from their pastors.
I am convinced that full-time pastoral ministry is one of the last professions in the world in which a person has to practice multiple skill sets for a salary well below that of other professional occupations.
And I have heard stories from pastors in which they have not lived up to these expectations and experienced depression and anxiety. So, why do thousands still take this job?
Leading a church is exciting and fulfilling. We preach even if it means having to administrate sometimes, and we like to be present during life’s greatest challenges and celebrations even if we can’t answer all of life’s questions.
Yet, we pastors must be clear when things get out of hand. I knew a pastor in Atlanta who had his secretary schedule everything for him. That way, the pastor never had to tell anyone “no” when a request was made.
If there was a death, however, the pastor did everything to be present. He would cut vacations short or fly home. He would cancel seminars in which he was key-note speaker.
“The only time you are excused from being with family during a death is if you’re on a cruise in the middle of the ocean,” he stated.
Times have changed since that pastor led a church. Now, pastors are not the first people called during crises. In fact, many pastors find out about life transitions or hospital stays from second- or third-parties, or even social media.
Gone are the days when the pastor came immediately to the hospital in an emergency because many pastors have to negotiate their time with co-rearing children or holding another job to make ends meet.
Expectations still linger nevertheless, and I have a personal anecdote that still bothers me to this day.
Years ago, I got an email from a grandparent whose grandchild was in critical condition. This was before smartphones, so I didn’t intercept the email until mid-afternoon.
Also, I was busy all day caring for my son who had a high fever while my wife was at work. I checked the email right before we left for the doctor.
My plan was to check in with the family as soon as we got back home, but when I checked again I found that the grandparent left an irate email.
He was hurt. He felt abandoned. He asked where I was in their family’s greatest time of need.
Then: “Never talk to me or speak to me again. You are no longer my pastor.”
My church knows my persistence when it comes to relationships, so I didn’t give up. I tried to reach the family all week.
Despite my efforts, I haven’t heard from them since.
Although many pastors are now trained to set boundaries, give clear expectations, and adhere to well-developed human resource handbooks that establish contact protocols, we still try to be all that we can be.
Other times, we simply fail to meet expectations.
When most of us come to a new church, the first thing we do is find ways to make our church have more realistic expectations. It’s better for a church to have a pastor that sets boundaries than to be a church who gets stuck with all of the pastor’s therapy bills. Boundaries benefit all of us.