Though I never thought I would be called into pastoral ministry, I have found such joy in helping people come to know God through His Word.
But I’ve also discovered there are several things that I hate about the ministry as well. So here’s a top ten list (in no particular order) of my most hated aspects of ministry.
10. The constant listening to my own voice.
Pastors primarily minister through communication which amounts to a lot of talking. We talk to a lot of people a lot of the time about a lot of different things. On Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, people come to our church, sit down, and listen to me talk. I talk on the phone. I talk in my office. I talk in homes of members. I’m a full-blown talking machine.
There’s a danger in constantly having people listen to you. You might come to think that people are just as interested in your opinions as they are in God’s Word. You can actually come to think that you sound smart when you talk about stuff of which you have almost no knowledge.
And if you’re not proactive, the only sermons you ever hear are ones coming from your own mouth. Without outside reading and sitting under God’s Word personally, the pastor turns into a dangerous thing – his biggest fan.
9. The temptation to stray from first century Christianity.
I am convinced that 21st century, American Christianity is much different from the Christianity experienced by believers in the 1st and 2nd centuries. A cursory reading of Acts seems to show a much different image of the church than we see around us today. I’m willing to be the oddball and say that I have no desire to run a church on nifty gimmicks and multiple programs.
I was called to lead a church, not a corporation. And even though I’m aware of business aspects of the church, I’m certain that a simpler form of church can thrive in America today. In fact, I’m willing to believe that there are a number of believers who are simply looking for a church which is actually offering nothing more than Scripture and corporate worship.
But the temptation to prioritize social media, promotion, and corporation-like responsibilities over prayer and Bible study is a continual battle. I hate that I am constantly being lured from the pastures of biblical ministry into the wastelands of church marketing.
8. The battle to trust the power of God’s Word
I mention this one next because it goes along with number eight. What is it that builds a church? Notice, I didn’t ask, “What is it that fills a church?” Filling a church with warm bodies is an easy task, which shows that the size of your church is not always an indicator of spiritual success. But building a church is a different story. What can you use to create a stable, spiritually minded congregation that truly worships the risen Lord?
It is only the Word of God. I know this. I believe this. But at times, I find myself questioning God’s method of church building. What if that visitor finds our services boring? What if the youth are underwhelmed by an emphasis on Scripture? What if people are looking for something more “exciting” or “relevant”?
But any spiritual (not numeric) growth in the church will always be a result of God’s Word at work in the hearts of people. And if we abandon Scripture or change it to a secondary level, what of eternal value could we possibly produce?
7. The horrible sin of church comparisons.
Pastors are constantly flooded with literature and advertisements that emphasize church growth. Not all of these are sinful. Some of them are even helpful.
But when churches begin to judge their success based upon their congregation size, and when marketers begin to capitalize on that definition of “success”, and when pastors boast in their number of congregants, then we have a clear case of Pharisaical arrogance.
Pastors struggle enough with whether they’re doing a good job or not. We don’t need the problem exacerbated by giving us false criteria that either puffs us up with pride or plunges us into despair. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I’ve compared our facilities, members, or musical abilities with that of another church. At times I’ve been overcome by feelings of superiority, at times by feelings of inferiority, but at all times overwhelmed by sinful pride.
We quickly forget that if we based Christianity’s influence on external, physical might (numbers, facilities, programs), Christ’s earthly ministry would be a dismal failure. I hate church comparisons.
6. The habit of turning everything into a sermon
In the tradition of our church, we have three services per week – Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. Typically, at each of these services, I am in charge of delivering a message from Scripture. Thus, as soon as one sermon is finished, I am preparing for another.
This constant push to expound God’s Word has advantages, but one negative side effect is that all of God’s little learning events in your life are immediately seen as potential sermon fodder. Sometimes I can almost hear God saying, “No, Jim! That wasn’t for them. That lesson was just for you!”
When God’s providential tests for our personal lives are only seen as lessons for others, we often sidestep true repentance and miss the full effect of Spirit-induced wisdom. I hate the fact that I’m prone to acting like an incessant sermon mill instead of an individual child of God that needs the direction of his Father.
5. The battle to prioritize prayer
I’ve mentioned this one before, so I’ll be brief. You’d think that a pastor, of all people, would naturally prioritize prayer during the week. But the flesh has a subtle way of depicting prayer as inactivity. There are other tasks that portray themselves as more critical to the day’s pursuits. “Sure, prayer is important,” they say, “But so is sleep. And you don’t do that in the middle of a busy day!”
I am constantly having to reorganize my weekly priorities for prayer, and I am always having to convince myself that “doing” is not as important as “being”. Working is pointless if we are not first resting in Christ.
Those are half of my top ten. I’ll post more in Part Two.