I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 5 and a half years. Over the course of my 5 and a half years working in the local church I have considered myself to have been a student of pastoral ministry the entire time. Some may say 5 years in ministry means I should know a thing or two by now, but in all honesty (may seem cliche) I feel like I know less now than I thought I knew when I first started. Don’t get me wrong, God has taught me plenty of lessons, but he has taught me more about my inadequacy and my shortcomings than I ever could have imagined when I first started working in full-time local church pastoral ministry. I now know I need to seek the Lord in His Word and in prayer constantly to be answering the question “What do I do about this or that?” Although I still often feel undeniably inadequate to answer the “What do I do questions,” I have learned a thing or two about what a pastor should NOT do or be. You could say that my time in ministry has taught me to identify some myths I often hear about pastoral ministry. Here are a few of those myths (12 to be exact)…
The greatest myth about pastoral ministry: “Pastoral ministry is not hard work.” Quite seriously, I have no idea where this myth came from. Possibly it came from a stereotype of lazy ministers, or maybe it comes from a false conclusion that because pastors aren’t coming home with mud on their jeans they must not be working very hard- I’m not sure! What I am sure of is that if a pastor is not working hard then I would be concerned about his spiritual state, because a lazy pastor is a disobedient one. We have examples all over the New Testament of shepherds who worked harder than almost anyone! Paul writes in Colossians 1:29, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Notice that this work is a Holy Spirit inspired and grace-filled work, but Paul calls it “toil!” Paul struggled as he worked hard for the sake of glorifying Christ His Savior and all pastors are commanded to do this as well. In the pastoral epistles, Paul goes on to encourage Timothy “to labor and strive” in gospel ministry. I can honestly say that I do not have a lazy colleague, and they all work hard in their respective spheres of influence and I’m so thankful to God for that. If you ever hear somebody say “A pastor only works on Sunday,” then that person hasn’t a clue what it means to labor in the gospel as an under-shepherd serving the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
Myth number 2- a pastor should just sit in his office and read books all day. Personal study and prayer is undoubtedly a huge bulk of how a pastor should spend their time, however, it is a myth to think a pastor is somebody who just sits in their ivory tower with their head buried in the books all day long. One pastor friend of mine frequently says helpfully, “The interruption IS the ministry.” Sure, a pastor should set out to accomplish the administrative goals necessary for the day, the study goals necessary for their sermons, the paperwork needed to address different ministries in the church, but the moment a pastor is interrupted in these areas by a truly needy member of the flock then they must step aside from their work to address the more urgent need right in front of their eyes. I’m not suggesting that every felt need or issue is actually one that is urgent I’m simply acknowledging there are some, and throughout the week they will come up on an almost daily basis. A pastor does not blow off people because they haven’t yet finished their study, but they realize what or who is interrupting their study is actually the ministry the Lord wants them to do in that moment. Think about Jesus for example. How many times are we told in the gospels that Jesus was heading to a certain location when he stopped to care for the person in front of him? This happens all the time in the gospel accounts.
Myth number 3-a pastor should always be sought out rather than he reaching out to those in his congregation. Surely there are times when the pastor needs to be sought out-how in the world can the pastor know every single time a member of his flock needs particular care? There are necessary times when a member of the congregation will need to reach out to the pastor for advice, or counsel, or prayer, or whatever… The myth is that a pastor should ALWAYS wait to hear from others rather than him being proactive in seeking to care for specific members of the congregation. Some pastors struggle with this simply because of their built-in personality type. For example, many extroverts are more likely to seek out a lunch with a ministry leader than an introvert would, and so sometimes different personalities are just more naturally reaching out to members of the church than others. So, whenever we as pastors recognize a tendency to avoid people and not seek them out we need to pay even more attention to this area of ministry, and we need to ask God to grow us and mold us to be more like Christ in this specific area. Reaching out to others requires vulnerability and humility, but as we humble ourselves and are humbled we actually grow in our spiritual walks and therefore we grow in our ability to minister to the congregation.
Myth number 4- pastors aren’t really people. People don’t say this, but they function as if this were true. One of the things you HAVE to know about your pastor is that “Pastors are people too.” You will eventually know if you aren’t viewing your pastor as a person because you will find yourself not praying for him, you’ll be shocked by his shortcomings and obsess over them, you will not extend grace to him or his family, etc. We need to realize pastors are people too for multiple reasons, but the biggest reason is because we need to make sure we aren’t elevating the pastor to a place he doesn’t belong. The pastor is an under-shepherd which means everything he does is as a fallible human being who is simply seeking to serve an infallible, perfect, holy, and almighty God. When you realize this then you will reach out to him. You will pray that God will bring your pastor an accountability partner, you will pray for your pastor’s wife, and you will learn to minister and care for your pastor even as they minister and care for you.
Myth number 5- If you are a good preacher and communicator then you should be a pastor. One of the qualifications for a biblical elder is that they must be “able to teach,” and so I’m obviously not minimizing the importance that the pastor is able to teach and preach. What I am saying is that just because a man is a good communicator and does well in preaching that this somehow excuses other areas where he may not be living up to what is to be expected of a biblical elder. I shouldn’t have to point out that many talented preachers and biblical teachers have had track records of blatantly disobeying God in key areas of their lives which made them unfit for pastoral ministry. The leaders of a church need a vetting process to gauge how a pastor truly is doing in all areas of qualifications for pastors, laid out in the pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, before they elevate a man or keep a man as the preacher of their congregation.
Myth number 6- a Pastor doesn’t truly need a Sabbath day rest. Unlike most church members, the pastors of your church work one of their fullest days of the week on Sunday. When does a pastor get the Sabbath rest they need? Well, the pastor does need a day off for rest in the Lord, but since they don’t really receive that on a Sunday they must make a concerted effort to do it on a day in the middle of the work week. Currently, my day of rest is every Tuesday. One of the temptations for churchgoers who have an issue that needs addressed is to think that because they are working on the day of their pastor’s day of rest then that means the pastor is/should be working also. But, if it is your pastor’s Sabbath day of rest then he needs that, and so barring a very real emergency that needs attention on that precise day you should allow your pastor to have the rest he needs with his family at home.
Myth number 7- a Bible degree qualifies you to be a pastor. I’ve been in both bible school and seminary, and so I know firsthand that there are many who believe that having a bible degree makes you an expert in the field of pastoral ministry– I do not believe this is really the case. Seminary is a helpful and monumental privilege, but I have unfortunately met some with bible degrees who you would not want as the pastor of your church for one reason or another. On the flip side, there are some who have no degree in Bible, but would make for wonderful pastors for a very long time. The simple truth is that there is plenty that can be learned in seminary, but there is also plenty that you cannot learn just from seminary. Similar to how steel is strengthened by fire, I would say pastors are strengthened when they are thrown into the fire.
Myth number 8- A pastor’s most important time commitment is to the church. Actually, a pastor is called primarily to be the head of their household. A pastor who is married is called to love their wife, and to raise up their kids in the ways of the Lord. A pastor’s family should not feel as an afterthought, and a church family should not put that sort of stress onto the pastor. The pastor will need to make conscious decisions to put their immediate family before anything else, but an understanding congregation and elder board can certainly help guide their pastor in this way.
Myth number 9- the pastor shouldn’t get paid a decent salary. I’m not arguing for pastors to get paid a TON of money. What I am saying is that being paid for ministry is not a problem at all-it’s actually a good thing. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 reads, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ,’The laborer deserves his wages.'” 1 Cor. 9:14 says, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” The Bible supports paying pastors, but the Bible safeguards and protects congregations from pastors who are “lovers of money.” This is why 1 Timothy 6:10 says “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Being a lover of money is the problem-not money in and of itself, so a preacher who preaches and ministers out of a love for money is a HUGE problem, but a pastor who is paid by his congregation is not.
Myth number 10- Pastors are super-christians. There is no such thing as a super-Christian, but for some reason many people believe their pastor is the one who is supposed to do all the evangelizing, discipling, counseling, entertainment, setting up, tearing down, being nice all the time, always being at places when people need them, etc. etc. Who is able to do all of this all of the time? NOBODY! A pastor is a man who has been set aside by God specifically for the work of the Gospel. They are called to preach the word in and out of season and to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Nowhere in Scripture are we given the idea that New Covenant Pastors are somehow “first-rate” Christians while their congregation is somehow “second-rate,” yet many people hold to and live out this exact attitude. The actual fact is that you have spiritual gifts your own pastor may not even have, and so in some ways you will excel at doing things not even your pastor is great at doing!
Myth number 11- Pastors are disconnected from the world and don’t understand life outside of the church. I have met some pastors who this is actually true of, but we should lament this reality and also recognize most pastors do not fit this stereotype. Sure, pastors will not as easily understand the daily struggles of working in a secular environment- because they work for a Christian institution, nonetheless a pastor is able to understand living and working in a world completely broken by sin. A pastor can and should know how to relate to people from many walks of life. A pastor might even possibly be “cool!” I like to think I’m somewhat cool and I’m a pastor! Also, a pastor might be somebody who understands the roughness of living a life detached from the realities and blessings of being in covenant with Christ. The stereotype of a cookie cutter pastor who was raised in a perfect “Leave it to beaver” family, and who has sparkling white teeth, always smiles, never sins, and is essentially the perfect dorky Dad is an unfair and unbiblical stereotype that we shouldn’t believe. Just ask yourself-did the apostles fit this description? Did Paul fit this description? Did Jesus fit this description?
Myth number 12- The pastor has a more direct line between him and God. Throughout church history we have seen a number of ways people have bought into this lie. People have believed they actually must seek a pastor, or a priest, so that they can be in the presence of one who will bring them into a more direct line of communication with God. People have wrongly believed a pastor provides them with a more sure answer to their specific prayer need or request. The truth is that we all as believers have an equally direct line of communication between us and God, because the veil that once was in tact has been torn down at the cross of Christ. We now have no separation between God and man, because the God-Man, Jesus, bore the wrath of God and made it possible that we can now enter into God’s presence! We now, in the New Covenant, no longer need a temporary man as a mediator, because all who are in Christ have him as their mediator between them and God.