The hardest job in the world

A pastor has one of the hardest jobs in the world. When I was a pastor, I was not willing to say that sentence. It seemed self-serving and whiny. I heard other people say how hard a pastor’s work is, but my good friends who are not pastors also work hard. Since I had another job for 15 years, and since I am now retired, I am willing to say it: A pastor has one of the hardest jobs in the world. This is a fact: I worked as hard as coordinator of CBF South Carolina as I ever worked, but with one-tenth of the stress I had when I was a pastor.

Five of my six predecessors at First Baptist of Batesburg left the pastoral ministry when they left that church. At Greenlawn Baptist in Columbia, we had about 30 members who had been to seminary, but there was only one pastor in the entire assembly, and that was me! Eventually, I joined the parade and quit being a pastor! Pastors who have hung in there are my heroes, and deserve our respect.

The job description for a pastor is almost foolish. A pastor is supposed to make the people who pay his salary uncomfortable. That is the prophetic task of the preacher. Some church members say they “like their toes stepped on.” That is not true. If you preach like Jesus, you will offend people. Jesus was killed by the people to whom he preached.

To whom did Jesus preach? He preached to the same people to whom pastors preach, that is, people who claim to be people of faith. Evangelists have the easy task. They preach to people outside the faith and invite them in. If anyone says “yes” to following Jesus, the evangelist is a success.

The pastor’s task is different. Luke 15 is not about evangelism, about sheep that were never in the fold, about a son who was never in the family. A beloved son leaves the family and the father waits for his estranged son to return. Jesus tells another parable about 100 sheep and one getting lost. The shepherd/pastor goes hunting for that lost sheep. That is the task of the pastor. Apparently Jesus didn’t imagine a church in which, out of every 100 sheep, about 70 are lost. We call them “inactive members.” And many of those 70 would say they are not lost. They are just grazing elsewhere and really don’t want the shepherd to bother them. They want to stay “attached” to the flock just in case they ever have a need that the shepherd can help with.

Even of the 30 sheep (church members) that the pastor can find easily and sees often, they all have their own opinions about the role of the shepherd. Some expect the shepherd to speak soothing words of comfort and/or entertain them. Others want the shepherd to grow the flock: numbers, numbers, numbers. Others only want a shepherd around when the wild animals are threatening. Some of the sheep have opinions about how the shepherd should dress, and what kind of music is acceptable in the sheepfold. They even have opinions about the shepherd’s spouse and children. Sometimes the church reminds me of “talk radio”: Everyone is allowed an opinion, no matter how absurd.

You get the idea. If we change parables, we encounter an even worse scenario. In Mark 4, we are told about four different kinds of soil: hard, rocky, thorny and fertile. All four kinds respond to evangelists, and join our churches. But pastors then find themselves dealing with men and women, boys and girls who responded to the message of God’s Good News then withered in the heat, or were choked by weeds. Since they “came forward” during an invitation hymn, they are church members! Many are, we must admit, clueless about Jesus! But they are sheep that vote on the shepherd! It is a weird calling, this business of pastoring. A Pastor has one of the hardest jobs in the world.

Marion Aldridge

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About the Author
Marion D. Aldridge is a popular preacher, public speaker, workshop leader and an award-winning writer. Author of numerous books and hundreds of articles on topics ranging from religion to sports to travel, Aldridge’s interests are wildly eclectic. Aldridge has invested a lifetime in discovering what it means to be a citizen and participant in God’s wonderful world. Aldridge is at home whether having High Tea at Harrods or rafting on the Chattooga or worshiping at our planet’s holiest shrines.

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  • Brena Walker

    Man oh man! You laid it on the line! Good insight.

  • J. Earl Williams

    Well said….but what is the alternative? What would a “pastorless” church look like?

  • Yuen Woh Voon

    Mother: Son, Wake up! It’s time for church.
    Son: I don’t want to go to church.
    Mother: You must go to church. It’s late already. Wake up.
    Son: Give me 1 good reason why I must go to church.
    Mother: Cos you’re the pastor, that’s why!

  • Lola Trudelle Parham

    You describe the job of a minister from an angle most of us cannot – that of first hand participant and observer. Although I can attempt to empathize with some of the stresses pastors face, you brought into focus two points I had not considered – first, that one of a pastor’s main duties is to make people who pay his salary uncomfortable, and, second, by virtue of coming forward and professing our faith, we become members of the church. However, the majority of those who join are soon found on the underactive or inactive member list, yet want to remain ‘attached’ and are allotted the same voice and vote of an active member. (Then there are those – me included – who come regularly and participate, but often have opposing and staunchly defended expectations of a minister’s role!)

    Being a reTIRED teacher who has found joy again teaching adults, I can appreciate your comparison of the ‘stress to output’ ratio you faced as a minister, then as coordinator of CBF, South Carolina. Though I experienced many blessings as a public school teacher, over time, the stress level became difficult to manage, and it certainly convinced me not to re-up for a similar position after retirement. However, while extra duties, grading papers, and calling parents outside of school can make teachers feel like their job never ends, this is nothing compared to the perpetual ‘on-call’ status of a pastor.

    You are giving me much to consider in this blog and during our ‘Bridge to an Interim’ series and beyond. As a result, I hope and pray that I, and other members of the church, will gain insight and define more clearly and sensitively what the role of a pastor should be, as well as how we can more effectively share the blessings and the responsibilities of ministry and discipleship to
    others.

  • Michael Poole

    Thank you, Well said from your heart and experience.