When ministry becomes a job, the pastor/preacher skates on thin ice. Too many pastors lose their souls in the tedious, seemingly endless demands of their calling. Disillusionment is a dark set of lens that distorts life, filtering out all the color. I recall times when I longed for an eight to five job in which I could clock out at five and forget the work for an extended range of blessed hours. Few pastors receive the wisdom that ministry is not just done; ministry is carried in the soul. It is inescapable. The Apostle Paul admits to the Corinthian believers after listing all the external hardships of ministry, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern [the Greek term for anxiety, worry] for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). Notice closely. “The pressure of my concern.” Pastors carry an internal pressure because of their love for and worry over the church. She or he faces it daily.
Ministry as job poisons preaching. Most pastors face the weekly task of sermon preparation and delivery. When the sermon becomes a professional task and loses the energy of a biblical and Christocentric mission, the pastor, frankly, has to “fake it.” The pastor begins handling very holy realities with unclean hands and a hardened heart. Authentic spirituality is lost in the coldness of heart and in the urgent need to prepare another Sunday sermon. Tempus Fugit. This soul condition is one of the hardest to bear without cracking up, or leaving the call. I don’t want to “fix” the condition in this post without calling pastors to honestly own it.
I remember the Sundays when it came time for me “to do my job.” Reaching down to click the ON button on my lapel mic sending unit, I recall thinking expletive thoughts. I knew I was a fake. I felt like a commodity in the evangelical commercialism of it all. I was the ‘good Bible preaching’ vending machine and the people put in their money to get another well-packaged expression of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” My church had become a mini-mall for evangelical goods. Christians everywhere were free to do comparative shopping.
Is it any wonder that when USAmerican commercialism became a church-growth template, ministries to depressed, burned-out, disillusioned, anxiety-ridden, inadequate feeling pastors escalated? The old Bible-mined, Jesus’s parable-shaped realities of patient growth, incremental transformation, staying steady and faithful in the face of apparent failure, and, yes, even smallness were lost in the “no money down, buy now” hype of religious marketing. Wow. When you filled in the blanks of a small, paperback discipleship manual with the correct words, you were a bona fide disciple of Jesus! Who knew?
Let me suggest one action step toward pastoral recovery. I don’t mean that this is the only step. Seeking help and counsel for a burdened soul and wounded heart is very wise. Yet, try this. Find a church sanctuary with a large cross with Jesus on it. A Catholic church is usually open all day. Go before the cross and kneel. Contemplate Jesus, the Good Shepherd (Pastor), there on that wretched wooded thing. I imagine that cruciform realities will begin to stir in your heart. These realities will begin to gather up and reorder your heart. Cruciformity versus commercialism: the battle is joined. As Eugene H. Peterson writes, “We cannot live well if we are not preparing to die well.”