So you want to be a pastor?

Today I posted a link to an article by Dave Bruskas over at Resurgence entitled “10 Bad Reasons to be a Pastor.” It is a good article for anyone who may be considering pastoral ministry and I think that each of his reasons are worth consideration.

Reason number 6 in the article was, “you want to spend fewer hours working.”  Here is what Bruskas has to say about this,

Pastoral ministry isn’t so much a job as it is a lifestyle. The pastor is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have some set hours, a day off, or vacation. It just means you’re likely to be interrupted by emergencies on a regular basis. The hours are long. The work may not be physical, but it is emotional and spiritual, and it is all-encompassing and exhausting.

I thought that I would weigh in with my personal experience in this matter.  There are lots of articles today describing the difficulties of pastoral ministry and what pastors wish their church members knew about the hardships of their vocation.  Some of these articles are very helpful and some of them amount to pastoral whining.  Ministry is hard work but so are the jobs that everyone in your congregation has.  Vocational ministry has difficulties that are unique but so do other jobs.  When I am tempted to have a pity party I try to remind myself about the hardships of the bankers, farmers, construction workers and health care professionals in my church.  They work hard and have frustrations too, so it helps me to get over mine.

Here is a little background that will help you understand my remarks in this article.  I grew up on a farm and know a few things about long hours, unpleasant tasks and physical labor.  After high school I joined the world’s finest fighting force, otherwise known as the United States Marine Corps, and spent the next six years experiencing long hours, intense physical activity and long deployments away from home and family.  After the Marine Corps I held several jobs ranging from 12 hour shift work in a manufacturing plant, to construction work with an industrial maintenance firm, to a cable technician doing everything from crawling under houses while installing cable to line work in a bucket truck.

It was during this time that God called me into ministry where I worked 40 plus hours a week in a physically demanding job as well as bivocationally pastoring a rural congregation.  During this same period of time I also saw the need to further my theological education and began taking a full-time load of classes at night.  I’ll just briefly mention the untold hours in college and seminary spent studying, researching and writing papers.

Now I am the full-time pastor of a medium-sized Southern Baptist church and I believe it would be fair to say that I spend 50 to 55 hours a week directly involved in church related activities on average.  Keeping time in the ministry is somewhat difficult because as the author notes, you are really on call 24/7/365.  I receive calls in the wee hours of the morning when one of my members or their families has had an emergency.  I get calls on days off from church members whose world has just come crashing down around them.  My family has had vacations and trips cut short by unexpected accidents and deaths.  I have had to miss some family events because of church related needs.  I can’t tell you the number of times my wife and I have discussed whether or not we should go away on some trip because brother or sister Smith is in the hospital and the prognosis doesn’t look good.

Contrary to what some believe, sermons do not magically appear on Saturday night.  Sermon preparation should take you several hours per week. If you are one of the dying breed who preaches two or more sermons per week as I do then you can  increase those hours accordingly.  Factor in the meetings you will need to attend and the visits you will need to make and you can fill up a week pretty quickly.  I won’t even get into the evenings that you will spend counseling or the Saturdays that you will spend in church activities.

I suppose I could keep writing but I think I’ve shared enough to make it clear that if you want to spend fewer hours working the ministry ain’t for you.  Are there some lazy pastors out there who don’t use their time wisely? Probably, but they are a minority in my experience. Being a pastor is far from the most physically demanding job that I’ve ever had but it is definitely the most challenging. The hours are long, and as the article states, “The work may not be physical, but it is emotional and spiritual, and it is all-encompassing and exhausting.”  Stay away from the ministry if you think it is easy.

It’s difficult but gloriously rewarding so let me end my ramblings this way.  If you believe God has called you into the ministry, don’t let the long hours and difficulties scare you away.  If you feel called, let me borrow a phrase from one of those other armed forces, it will be “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Yes, it’s hard but I can’t imagine doing anything else.  You will be with people on the worst days of their lives and you will hurt for them and weep for them, but you will also be with people on the best days of their lives and get to share in the most wonderful experiences you can imagine.  You will have the inestimable privilege of preaching God’s Word to his people and seeing lives changed in the process.  There is nothing greater than being trusted with care and oversight of the one thing Christ loved enough to give his life for, His church.  If God has called you, he will give you the grace and strength to bear up under difficulties that come your way, but if you are an aspiring preacher, go into it with your eyes open.

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