I don’t really know when I had the idea. Perhaps it was while I was eating dinner with a friend… or maybe we were drinking a couple of lattes at Starbucks. If you know me well, it could very well have come while I was in the bathroom, which by the way is where I do some of my best thinking. (Before you judge me or are grossed out by that thought, cut me some slack. There are 4 kids in my house 10 years old and younger. Quiet space to just think and let your mind wander is a cherished commodity!)
The thought went something like, “I wonder if people really know what goes through a pastor’s mind.” I know other’s have done something similar to what I will attempt. Craig Groeschel wrote a great book with the same title back in 2006. Others have preached sermons or sermon series… we even did one at Vertical Church in the early years called “Dirty Little Secret.” But that’s not what I was thinking – those things have always played it a little safe, ya know?
I struggle with doubt.
I experience sexual temptations.
Church people get on my nerves and I want to punch them.
Those may not sound safe, but they are. It’s kinda hip to talk about doubt, sex, and religious people. Throw in a couple of comments about prayer and finances and you’re golden. I want to take you a step further… be a bit more real and vulnerable, and a lot more personal. Maybe the things I’m going to share don’t apply to every pastor. In fact, they probably don’t. It’s also entirely possible that I have issues… certainly wouldn’t be the first time. If you’re a pastor and you can identify, that’s great. You’re not alone. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, pray for me. Evidently I need it.
Last thing, it’s a little bit scary writing this because there are those in my own church who may think I’m being passive-aggressive and writing this about them. Please know that I’m not. I don’t do passive-aggressive. Ask people who really know me – I’m either passive or aggressive. I don’t really have a middle ground.
And with that, here’s my first confession…
#1 If I say what I really think about your situation, I’m afraid you’ll get mad, leave the church, and talk bad about me and my family.
Here’s the deal. As a pastor, I get to have a front row seat to a lot of really awesome things that happen in people’s lives. The downside, of course, means that I also sit across the booth in restaurants and coffee shops as people share about difficulty and pain. The hardest is the self-inflicted pain. You know… the kind that comes from a series of poor choices.
Now, it’s not that I don’t feel empathy. I do. My heart breaks for people just about every day. That’s something they don’t teach you in seminary or bible school… being a pastor means having your heart opened over and over again.
It’s also not that I struggle to come up with something to say. I know the difference (mostly) between the time to speak and the time to listen. I think I’m a pretty good “question-asker” too. It’s always good to ask questions when people are sharing about life. It lets them know you’re interested in what they are saying and helps them share more of their story.
Here’s the hard thing, at least for me. This usually ends with the person on the other side of the booth asking me what I think… or what they should do… what should they say, etc. This is a frightening question. In my experience, you see, some people aren’t very teachable. They want all grace, with little to no truth mixed in (see John 1:14). For them, truth = judgment = judgmental. So if I share what I believe to be the truth they need to hear in that moment, I’m taking a real risk that I will be automatically misunderstood and characterized as a judgmental and condescending Christian pastor.
And that’s when they leave the church.
And typically, when they leave, they talk. A lot. And they try to get others to leave with them. They say things that aren’t true, not only about me, but often times about my family. Sometimes they say things that are pure fabrications; other times it’s half-truths and misconceptions. Rarely does anyone who hears this come to ask if there’s any truth to it. I’ve found that many people jump at the chance to hear something negative about a pastor. It confirms their pre-conceived idea that we’re either incapable of holding down a “real job” or egotistical and self-centered.
Now, you may not believe all that is true. I wish it wasn’t. But it has happened enough to me and the pastors I know that now I’m a bit guarded when giving out advice, especially spiritual advice. I want to tell you what I think you should do, what I think is best, what I think God would want you to hear, but I don’t know how you’ll respond, and that is a really scary place for me. So to be honest, sometimes I hold back. I don’t tell you what I think you need to hear because I’m not completely sure I can trust you.
Because here’s what I won’t do, specifically if you respond negatively… if you leave and start talking. I won’t tell people what you shared with me, how you’re struggling and hurting. It would be easier for me… most people know that hurting people hurt people. I could say everything I know, and it may even vindicate me, but I won’t. I’ll be clear about the things being said about me, but I won’t drag you down in the process. I won’t tell them how your marriage is falling apart, or about your kid’s drug problem, or the impending foreclosure. I won’t even mention that you’re still pretty immature in your faith. I’ll simply say, “I don’t know,” and try to change the subject.
So that’s my first confession. It’s not the most revealing nor vulnerable confession of this series. Neither is it the closest one to my soul. It’s just simply the first one. And I’m working on it. I’m moving past the fear of “what if” and simply trying to embrace the obedience in the “right now.” I’ve discovered that God has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.
I’m leaning into that promise.