Oh, to be a pastor. It is an honorable calling that carries a tremendous burden of responsibility with it. These days, we seem to interact with our pastors in one of two ways. We either treat them like yesterday’s trash or we put them on pedestals so high they need a cherry picker to climb aboard. Both extremes are wrong.
For this particular post, I want to focus on pastors and pedestals. Needless to say they don’t play together very well. A good place to start is with John the Baptist. While he wasn’t a pastor per se, his example of ministry is one that pastors could, and should, follow closely.
Preparing the Way
John the Baptist was the consummate itinerant preacher of his day. He spent long days and nights traveling throughout Judea, telling all who would listen to “prepare you the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” To be sure, John didn’t talk much about himself or his ministry. He made it all about Jesus. In fact, he made it abundantly clear during the waning days of his ministry that his public profile must decrease while Jesus’ profile increased.
We Christians view John the Baptist as one of our heroes of the faith. As far as heroes go, we should. Here is a man who dedicated his entire adult life to preaching the gospel. He even lost his head for it. And still, John was every bit as human as you and I.
What would you say if I told you that even this great man of the faith had his doubts? Check out this text from Matt. 11:
1 And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples, he departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities.
2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,
3 And said unto him, Are you he that should come, or do we look for another?
4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which you do hear and see:
5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
John found himself in prison after daring to cross Herod and the little missus. Like any human being would, he began to doubt his life’s work. After all, why would the LORD for whom he had worked so hard allow him to suffer as he did? Here’s the thing: John’s doubts were normal. Jesus wasn’t upset by them. In fact, Jesus pointed John back to the Scriptures to bolster his faith.
Pastors Are Human
Just like John, pastors have their doubts from time to time. Guess what? They have their sin issues, too. So why do we fall apart when we learn that a pastor has either gone off the doctrinal deep end or fallen into sin? Because we expect so much more of them. This is where the pedestal comes in. This is where putting our pastors on pedestals becomes so problematic.
Every step on the pedestal adds to the pastor’s burden. The higher his people his exalt him, the heavier the burden of their expectations becomes — until it eventually becomes too heavy to bear. Then it’s only a matter of time before the crash and burn.
I say all this to say that pastors are human beings. And by the way, so are their wives and kids. None of them are spiritual giants with super powers. They are men, women, and children just trying to get by — no different from you and me. It’s unfair for us to expect them to be anything other than human.
I had the privilege of pastoring a wonderful group of people in upstate NY for many years. My wife and I came to love them dearly. I thank the LORD for them (all these years later) for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that they never put me on a pedestal. They never burdened me with unreasonable expectations.
To all of you who sat in the chairs and listened to me every week, thank you for being so kind, gracious, and understanding. I made a lot of stupid decisions as your pastor. I did a lot of dumb things. And perhaps I even contributed to the shipwrecking of a few members’ faiths — to borrow a phrase from I Tim. 1:19. For all of that I am deeply sorry. Just know that my heart was always sincere. I did what I did, sometimes in ignorance, because I thought it best for your spiritual benefit.
To all of you pastors, do yourselves and your congregations a favor: climb down from those pedestals. Then break them into little pieces. Remind yourself that you really don’t have all the answers. Admit that sometimes you have your doubts. Listen to the wise counsel of your elders; seek the prayers of your church members; never be afraid to stand at your pulpits as broken men in need of the healing hand of the Savior.
Pastors and pedestals do not play together very well. So much so that they don’t belong in the same room. Don’t put your pastor on a pedestal. And if he’s already on one, help him down.