I hear you. After I wrote last week about what I believe is the hardest leadership job in the world, some of you pushed back. Some suggested parenting, specifically mothering, is the toughest job. Others suggested teachers have it the hardest. You might be right. But I still contend that carrying any title that comes with vocational Christian ministry can be an extraordinary burden.
This is just a little thing, but I do remember a time I ambled over to a group of workers repaving part of the road in my neighborhood. As I approached, I heard one of my neighbors say, “Shhhh, here comes the pastor!” I have no idea what they were talking about, but it sure was awkward! Many times, in little and big ways, I experienced a form of discrimination that treated me as the “other”.
On a more important note, in these extraordinary times pastors can rarely relax, but constantly have to be considering how to reinvent themselves and their churches.
Nearly every leader today has to contend with changing cultural dynamics. Teachers, parents, coaches, and business leaders perpetually have to face shifts in generational attitudes and philosophies. But pastors are dealing with a new dynamic of ambivalence and hostility from younger generations expressing doubt about the very reason that churches exist – to lead people to “have a personal relationship with God.”
This generational antagonism is being fueled by an unwillingness to accept what feels to them like intolerance and exclusivism. This religious resentment has also been nurtured by a post-modern education that insists on relativism over certainty. And among some, the perception that evangelicalism (the largest religious group in America) is politically skewed on issues of human sexuality, immigration, race and politics has left many younger Americans feeling alienated from the church.
What pastors and other vocational religious workers are staring down is a religious credibility gap the likes of which has not been experienced in America before now. How do you lead a church community to bridge that gap? How do you convince Builders and Boomers and Gen Xers to lay themselves down over the credibility gap to invite Millennials and Gen Z into life with them and God?
How do you lead when that thing you determined to give your life for is losing relevance by the day?
When pastors make the fateful decision to enter into vocational ministry, they do so because they love to be shepherds and teachers. They enjoy serving and praying and caring. And they love to lead. But now they have to also become entrepreneurs and sociologists, finding ways to reinvent the church. Throw in a pandemic to manage, and wow, they are just flat worn out.
Their brains can’t handle it all. Their hearts are overwhelmed. All this makes me love and admire them even more.
So, would you all do me a favor? Of course, express your appreciation for them but would you also cut them some slack? Give them a break. They are doing the best they can for you at this very moment, while at the same time looking down the road agonizing over the faith of your kids and your grandkids.
You’ll make an incredibly tough leadership job much easier if you willingly join your pastors in laying down over the credibility gap to provide a way for the next generation and your skeptical loved ones to enter into life with you and God.