It's hard, but most love it
All the research and study about the pressures of pastoral leadership may leave a wrong impression. Most of the pastors and church staff members that I have known over the past thirty-five years love their jobs, a term I use reluctantly. More specifically, they love their calling and for the most part experience deep gratitude for the privilege of kingdom service. In fact, the largest majority of them can't envision doing anything else.
That doesn't mean churches and all the levels of denominational support can't learn a few things about caring for and encouraging their spiritual leaders. Neither does it imply that service in the church is easy. More and more of the data gathered by any number of reliable tracking organizations affirm the unique character of church work and the wear and tear typically experienced by those who answer his call. The recent findings of a LifeWay Research study are just one example of our denominations concern in the areas of pastoral health. If you'd like to review them, go here.
Several power factors comprise the impetus for loving something that is known to be so demanding and complex---
1. The Biblical truth that God does call people to his service.
2. God's provision and promises to those who are obedient to his call.
3. Biblical instruction regarding the specifics of spiritual leadership.
4. The witness of redemptive history that God guides those who serve.
5. Opportunities for personal spiritual growth in the demands of serving.
In total they spell endurance, the spiritual virtue of staying the course even when hardship and difficulty prevail. They are the stuff of ministerial longevity.
That as many as 250 individuals who have sensed God's call but have left pastoral service is one of the arresting demographics about the pastor cohort. As a fact, most pastors, me included, have thought about walking away at one time or another. But, his grip is strong and most of us weather the immediate storms and press on toward the prize of his calling, as Paul so strategically confessed in his letter to the church at Philippi (Philippians 3:14). Two hundred and fifty out of the estimated 300,000 church pastors may seem a light attrition rate. Yet, this number reflects the tragic family and church conflict pressures most pastors experience day in and day out.
On a personal note, I was privileged to lead four Southern Baptist congregations. Each was in a highly transitional community that required leadership for change and church growth. They were three, five, fifteen, and twelve year tenures. These churches had great potential and were willing to stretch the boundaries of their tradition to more effectively influence their communities. Yes, there were moments of intense conflict. Yes, I thought about leaving on a number of occasions, perhaps every Monday. But, the profound depth of his calling and his generous provision enabled us to fulfill that calling until he directed us to another ministry challenge. Of course, this isn't about me or my particular gifts and strengths. They are about the total faithfulness of his provision. And, I loved every moment of it. As in, every single moment.
Did I need some help along the way? You got it. In pastorates that i loved there were challenges bigger than my education and experience. Looking back I see mentors and colleagues like Steve Rutledge (DOM, North Greenville Baptist Association), Ron Palmer (State Convention Director of Sunday School), Darrell Thompson (pastor friend), Ernest Carswell (Pastor, FBC, Taylors, SC). and others who were there to provide counsel and encouragement to stay the course.
The Apostle Paul often referenced the hardship of kingdom service. He wrote about chains, imprisonment, beatings, ship wreck, and bearing the marks of Christ. He also wrote about the prize, finishing the race, the high calling of Christ, the joy of his calling, the fruit of the Spirit, spiritual strength and power, and on many occasions, the production of endurance in the Christian life.
But, none of the hardships, including a debillitating thorn in the flesh, diminished his love for Christ or the work to which God had called him. He knew that God worked for his good because he loved him and was called according to his purpose. So, he endured the hardships and challenges because the one who called him was faithful.
That's why pastors love their job. It's because they love him. And, they know what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians---
He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV
It's the reminder that guides us all through the challenges and hardships of life as a believer, and especially those called to Christian service. It was the source of Paul's endurance, and every person reliant on him---
God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus
Christ our Lord.
1 Corinthians 1:9, ESV