The Paradoxes Of The Pastorate

When I began to train and study for the pastorate, so many people said to me

After a couple of years, you’ll know what it’s really like‘.

It’s now been around five years since I took the call at our church and almost eight since I began that training and study. So, what’s it been like so far? What follows is not a complaint, a whine, a moan, or a gripe. It’s open and honest.

Last week we arrived at 2 Corinthians 6 at church and it seemed to encapsulate, generally, what it’s like working in full-time, vocational, teaching and preaching, people-facing ministry. No, I’m not trying to be Paul, but the things he said rung very true.

So, here are some of the paradoxes of the pastorate based on 2 Corinthians 6.8-10 and five years of ministry life.

Pastors are;

“treated as impostors, yet true”

How pastors can be viewed in such a polemical way by those in the same community is beyond me, but has been proven true time and again. Time and again in the last five years have people said, commented, implied, or insinuated that I’m not particularly effective at what I’m doing. In equal measure (thankfully) are those who encourage, edify, and continue to equip me. What continually confuses me is how this can come from the same community, after the same sermon, or after sitting and chatting with the same person (me). I never expected being the pastor to be such a polarising position, but, it seems, it is.

“unknown and yet well known”

Simply, ignored by some and yet prayed for, encouraged, and loved by others. Similar to the first contrast above, I’ve never felt so anonymous and yet so recognised in the same place and at the same time. Walking from front to back after the service brings with it as many recognising smiles and interactions as it does blank faces or averted gazes. From some it feels as if you hold a genuinely important place in their life (this is my pastor), to others that you are just ‘the guy who speaks most at church’.

“dying, yet alive”

Denying and dying to self and perpetually teaching, preaching, and modelling life is harder than I ever imagined. There is an inbuilt human desire to fit-in, to do what others are doing, buy what they are buying, provide what they are providing for wives and children, yet there is a call from God to be holy as He is holy (Leviticus 11.45, for example). It’s a constant battle to see what’s going on around you and not be drawn in, not fall into comparison or jealousy.

“punished and yet not killed”

Everything will be your fault when things go even slightly wrong, yet you’re still expected to show up next week. The punishment, unlike for Paul et. al, is not physical but comes via sporadic attendance, reduced giving, overheard comments, and outright criticisms. As the called and installed, trained and ordained minister you’re expected to take this (punished) and still show up next week and do a great job, be better, and give your best (and not yet killed). Perspective on why you keep showing up is key here, and without it I would have walked away many times:

“Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God?

Or am I trying to please people?

If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ!”

Galatians 1.10, NET

“sorrowful yet always rejoicing”

Nobody sees the tears or the anguish during the week that a people-serving role brings, yet you need to show up and lead a church of people into worship each week even if they have upset or offended you. People are, without a doubt, the best thing about pastoring a church. Seeing people get it, seeing people use Scriptural wisdom and principles that you have imparted to make major life decisions is humbling, and walking with people through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows is nothing but a privilege. People are also, without a doubt, the hardest thing about pastoring a church, too. Nothing has the potential to make you as sorrowful as people do, and nothing has the potential to make you rejoice as people do.

“as poor yet making many rich”

Fact: the skills, experience, and education your pastor has would have then earning (conservatively) double in another field…all the while whilst making his people unbelievably spiritually rich in Jesus. That old phrase of how the last thing to be sanctified in a person is his pocketbook seems to be true for many. Sadly, Scripturally this is so wrong (Galatians 6.6, 1 Corinthians 9.13-14, for just two examples). No, your pastor shouldn’t be the richest person in the place, but, conversely, should be able to live as the community does. There’s a more focused look on this principle here:

“having nothing yet possessing everything”

You don’t drive the nicest car, wear the fanciest clothes, take the most luxurious vacations, or own multiple houses…but you have what really matters (John 6.68-69).

Again, this isn’t a complaint, a whine, a moan, just an observation from a passage recently preached and a little life experience. I love the privilege of pastoring and to be able to do it vocationally is a life-long dream come true. It is, on a weekly basis, the best job I’ve ever had and the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

I’m hoping to get it all into a book that I’m in the process of writing:

“The First Five: Things Nobody Tells You About Pastoral Ministry”.

Like most who write I struggle with thoughts of ‘but who will actually read it‘, so, if you think you would, if there are things you wonder or want to know about vocational ministry, take 30 seconds and let me know below with a comment or, if it’s more personal, a message.

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Published by James Travis

Pastor of Saar Fellowship in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Married to Robyn and Dad to our two boys.

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