Between Prison Cells and Pedestals

If any normal person has a bad moment and, say, yells at someone in public, that’s one thing.

If a pastor in a small town does it, well, that’s something different.

My bad moment happened last year while I was coaching my son’s baseball game. Somebody tell me, what is it about youth baseball? Yogi Berra once said, “Little league baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.” There’s truth to that comment—little league takes big-hearted carpoolers off the streets, puts them on the bleachers, and morphs them into snarling sportscasters.

Last year, on a warm night in July, it turned me into something akin to John McEnroe. The coach of the opposing team was at third base while his team was at bat. Every time one of our players made an overthrow or bobbled the ball, he’d wave his hands and send his runners an extra base. And then another. His base runner at first was making it to third on a single because the six-year-olds on my team were, well, six-year-olds, and they hadn’t learned to play with the majors yet.

By the third inning I was hot. The kids on my team were getting more and more discouraged, and the coach at third seemed to be getting more and more aggresive.

I lost it. I took a few steps toward the coach, and growled, “You having fun?”

He looked in my direction. “What?”

I kept going. “You’re sending your kids on everything. Does that feel good?”

He replied, “You got a problem?”

“Yeah, I do. You’re making my team feel like garbage.”

He took a couple steps toward me, and I took a couple steps toward him. Our sunglasses ended up about three feet away from each other. We chattered at each other like a couple of angry squirrels while a few young eyes watched in awe. For about three minutes, I was the biggest kid on the field.

We eventually turned away from each other and huffed off to our respective dugouts.

I eventually cooled down. I apologized to my team after the game. A couple weeks later, I bumped into that coach at a Dairy Queen and I asked for his forgiveness as well. But I fielded comments from our community for the next few weeks.

I’ve always wondered how other pastors view themselves, but I feel like an extraordinarily normal guy. I know my flaws. I know my inabilities. I know my tendencies to sin. The first time someone suggested that I become a pastor, I chuckled and responded emphatically, “Are you kidding? I’m not the pastor-type.”

I still feel that way a good share of the time. Not a week goes by that I don’t hear another pastor pray, or preach, or counsel, and think to myself, “Wow, he’s good…I wish I could do those things as well as he does.”

What’s more, I’m painfully aware of my bad moments, even the ones that don’t manifest themselves through my words. I know my thoughts, feelings, and motivations, and, trust me, they are very raw and unrefined sometimes.
All that to say, I think I was the only one on the ball field that night who wasn’t surprised that I had it in me to yell at someone.


Do I wish I hadn’t yelled at that guy? Yeah…absolutely! I wish I could take that memory out of my son’s head. I wish I hadn’t ruined the other coach’s night. (He really is a decent guy.) But, now that it’s all said and done, I’m thankful for something that came out of it: I showed my community that I haven’t figured out how to live an error-free life. I’m human, and as such, prone to bad moments.

I do believe that our leaders, spiritual and otherwise, need to be held to a higher standard. It’s cliché, but character does count. But so does a genuine display of humanness. Someplace between prison cells and pedestals, there’s room for authentic trying, and failing, and then trying again. There’s something so basic about leaning on and savoring the free grace of God—sometimes that’s all I feel I contribute to the mix. Perhaps that’s enough.

I’m curious: How do you view your pastor or spiritual leaders? Would you freak out if they did something radically NON-PASTORAL, displaying their humanness? What would you do? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think of pastors, spiritual leaders, and their need for grace.


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  • R.G. Bernier

    Every single one of us needs and more importantly, requires grace, sometimes all the grace our Savior can possibly give. Yes, those placed in spiritual authority are and should be held to a higher standard however, that certainly doesn’t mean perfection. Great read and reminder my friend.

    • Zeke Pipher

      Well said, Dick! Thanks for leaving a comment, friend.

  • Nancy French

    Nice. Once we were asked to be youth pastors at a church during a time of transition. Has your wife read the part in Red State of Mind that deals with the “f word” and music at the Holy Spirit weekend??

    • Jamie

      Yes, Nancy, I did! It was one of the many moments in the book where I found myself simultaneously laughing out loud and nodding my head in an “I know this place” kind of way. Loved your perspective. Loved the book.

      • Nancy French

        Hey Jamie — thanks for reading the book! You can see how I’ve managed to get out of most church duties by acting so terribly. LOL.


  • Gary Binder

    Thanks Zeke! Good words….. I always appreciate your transparency. I had to chuckle at your response to “becoming a pastor”. It’s probably a more common response than most people realize. Enjoy your summer!

  • Sunny V

    Sure am thankful my pastor doen’t appear perfect, I’d have to wonder what he was hiding. He fully admits his areas in need of forgiveness and wisdom, God bless this great shepherd.

  • Ryan

    I agree, Pastor Zeke. I am a music pastor myself and am perpetually in need of more grace. I still struggle with things just like anyone else so you are definitely not alone my friend. On a side note, I have read some of you’re book and it has helped me for sure, as I am an avid bowhunter myself. Thanks for your willingness to write it.