It’s a common question. It’s is a question that comes up in the most general and basic of conversations. You could be at a party, meeting someone for the first or in the chair getting your haircut. The question arises: “What do you do for a living?” For most people when they answer question the response is one that is met with probing or clarifying questions, not when I answer.
You see when I tell people what I do it strikes fear in their heart, I tell them: “I am a minister.” All at once a wave comes over their face as if they are shocked that a minister would come out from behind the pulpit and Bible commentaries to venture out into the world of sinners and commoners. Eye contact lessens as if people don’t want me to peer into their soul and see them for who they truly are.
Generally, there are three basic responses that I receive. The first I call “the confession.” People will begin to tell me about how long it has been since they have been in church. They usually like to comfort me by saying “but I still believe in God.” They tell me about how busy they have become or they just moved.
The second type of reaction I call “the comparison.” When this takes place, people immediately begin to tell me about their religious preferences and experiences. If the person I am speaking to had not interjected what I call “God talk” yet, they promptly add it to the conversation. They will tell me about their minister’s sermons from the previous Sunday to prove to me that they were listening and that his/her teaching was effective. Someone actually turned on the Bible on CD while I was receiving a haircut.
The final type of reaction I call “the confrontation.” When this happens people usually try to “shock” me with their theological beliefs or lack thereof. In general, they are not looking for a fight rather they are informing me that they do not believe in the same way they think I do. Most are surprised when I tell them that I agree with their interpretation or that faith is difficult and struggle is normal. One person asked me “so you’re not mad that I don’t go to church?” It broke my heart that she thought that my reaction would be anything other than loving, open, warm and kind.
Ministers preach and talk at length about grace and forgiveness but I have heard too many heartbreaking stories about where good faithful Christians did not live up that mark.
Once a woman told me about her lack luster church attendance. She had stopped going to church because the worship service she was attending was not connecting with her on a deep, spiritual level. If she had just told me that part of the story I would have been fine and we might have continued our conversation about her religious experiences or maybe abandoned that track and began a completely new conversation. Rather she began her conversation by informing me “I really don’t go to church that much, I mean I am not a devil worshiper or anything like that but I just don’t care for the service at my church right now.” Since when did not going to church for Christians become devil worshipping in a minister’s mind? Is that the dichotomy that exist– Worship God or you are a devil worshiper? Is this the perception that people have of ministers? Do people really think that I am a perfect, pious, self-righteous, judgmental person who goes from place to place condemning people for their lack of faith and church attendance?
Sadly, that is an accurate description of about one percent of the ministerial population, but not me.
Ministers are human beings; we are people just like you. We go to the store, we shop online, and we try to make ends meet month to month. Ministers have taken on as their call or duty to ensure that the message of Jesus Christ is promoted and propagated in the world. Yes, many ministers are educated in theology, divinity and pastoral care, but knowledge of the Bible and having good skills in the pulpit does not make one perfect. Yes, ministers are seen as the spiritual leaders of their congregations but to place the label of perfection places a great weight on minister’s shoulders.
Ministers don’t walk around singing “The Old Rugged Cross” and quoting scripture, rather ministers have to find a way to get the kids to softball practice, homework completed, dinner on the table and make that two-hour evangelism committee meeting on top of writing a sermon, making visits and the seemingly endless needs of a congregation and ministry.
Am I perfect? No, far from it and I don’t claim to be.
I listen to music other than gospel or “contemporary Christian”
I make mistakes just like everyone else.
I sometimes don’t pray as often as I should.
Does this make me a less effective minister? I don’t think so, but it does make me human. Christ came to the Earth to restore people to wholeness and mend people in their brokenness. Nowhere in the Bibles does Christ command his followers to be perfect, rather he understands that humans are flawed individuals seeking completeness.
So the next time you see a minister tell him/her that you hope they are well and not too stressed, especially during the holy times (Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter). Don’t treat them any differently than you would treat anyone else. So as you can see, you and I aren’t that different after all.