Edited by Jack Wilkie
The life of a minister is one of those things that’s hard to understand unless you’ve lived it. The weight of responsibility of setting a Christ-like example and preaching correct doctrine is not something we take lightly. Beyond that, we have the unique challenges of maintaining our personal lives and working on our imperfect relationship with God while carrying the weight of helping others in their personal lives and relationships with God.
So, I asked my ministry friends to share things they wish church members understood about the life of a minister. I wanted to give them the opportunity to say things that give a glimpse into the mind of a minister, things that they wouldn’t necessarily say from the pulpit or in conversations with members. The following is a collection of their comments, categorized by the main topics that seemed to emerge from their suggestions.
(I want to make it clear that these aren’t being shared to complain or criticize or cast a negative view of ministry. We love what we do – it’s the best job in the world. Instead, the purpose is to share things that church members might not know or realize about the life of a minister. Awareness helps, as the members who understand the concepts discussed below are often those who are most helpful to our work and the biggest encouragement to us and our families.)
- I wish they knew that I think about them and their families even after I come home from work. I never leave my job at the office. I’m practically on call 24/7 and even on my days off.
- I wish they knew that we aren’t employees. We are fellow laborers who are constantly under a microscope, unlike themselves.
- Preachers wish that their congregations knew that he isn’t paid to preach.
- Preachers wish that their congregations knew that he works hard at what he does.
- Preachers wish that their congregations knew that he measures success in changed lives.
- If a member intellectually teaches that a preacher is not a pastor (unless the congregation has a dual elder-preacher thing going), then they shouldn’t practically expect the preacher to do the job of a pastor.
- I wish church members would not be overly proud that they don’t call me a “pastor” even though they treat me like one.
- I wish church members would define my work the way that Scripture does.
- If you have a problem or something you don’t like, come talk to us and not elders or other members.
- We can tell when you don’t like us or our preaching.
- I wish members knew how deflating and disheartening it is for a minister to hear gossip and rumors about him or (especially) his family.
- We wish you would hold yourself to the same standard that you hold us.
- It’s hard not to take everything personally.
- Constructive criticism is much easier to take from people who regularly encourage us.
- I wish they knew that we have struggled. That we are not perfect.
- We live with James 3:1 hanging over our heads every day of our life. We are imperfect. We need grace as much as the next person.
- Read through Hebrews 11. In that amazing list of godly people were murderers, harlots, liars, drunkards…please forgive and/or tolerate preachers who struggle with addiction, depression, obesity, introversion, or a poorly worded sermon from time to time.
- I wish members knew how preachers struggle with sin, selfishness, loneliness, and how they can never feel fully vulnerable without fear.
- I wish church members would not hold me to a higher standard than God does.
- You discourage me when you don’t show up for services and you could.
- We wish you knew how much it hurts the body when you (a member) don’t think it’s important to be there when we’re gathered.
- Preachers wish that their congregations knew it isn’t HIS congregation.
- Preachers wish that their congregations knew that he really cares about each of them.
- I wish church members would talk with me about spiritual things on days not Sunday and Wednesday.
- I wish church members would realize that though we may not always see eye to eye, we’re still on the same team.
- I wish church members knew that there are very few times when they’re not on my mind.
- We want you to know how often we think and pray about you at home.
- I wish they knew the love and energy that it takes to be a minister in the Lord’s church.
- I wish church members would realize that my family is my first ministry.
- I wish church members would realize that preachers should not have to live any less comfortably than they do.
- I wish church members would realize that the lesson steps on my toes while I’m writing it and preaching it.
- I wish church members would not act like that I’m the only person who lives in a “glass house” (Heb. 4:13).
- When we lose our job, we lose our friends, our home, and most of the time are forced to move to a new city or even state.
- It’s ok to be friends with the minister and his family. Ministry is lonely. It can especially be lonely for the minister’s spouse and children. Friendship is one of the best gifts a congregation can give.
- I wish people wouldn’t censor themselves because I’m a minister. Speak to me like you’d speak to anyone else. For a couple reasons – 1) I like having real interactions with people that aren’t necessarily ministerial. But also 2) It’s hard to minister to a projection of a person. If you aren’t your true and honest self, I can’t minister to your actual needs.
- Invite the minister and his family to have lunch with you Sunday after services. It could be McDonald’s and you don’t even have to pay. But the fact that you wanted to spend time with them will mean a ton.
Again, these are not shared to criticize or complain, but to give a glimpse into our hearts and minds. We love you and care about you. We desperately want to be faithful to God in serving Him and you. It’s because we care that it hurts when we are brought down. It is because we care that we carry the weight of our responsibility with us 24/7.
I want to thank all of those who shared thoughts for this post. I hope their words give you a greater perspective in your interactions with your minister(s). It’s a hard work, but a little bit of shared perspective and empathy can go a long way toward keeping us going.