When I was nearing high school graduation, everyone asked me, “So, what do you want to do for a living?”
My standard answer was, “I don’t know, but I know I don’t want to be a pastor.”
I am a third-generation pastor. I grew up in a pastor’s home. I knew things about people at a very young age. I saw my dad practically kill himself trying to keep people happy. I knew the arguments, pettiness, and judgmentalism of Christianity before I was out of grade school.
My dad did not hide these things. I don’t think he could have even if he wanted to. He just felt stuff and I could clearly figure out what he was feeling.
It also helped that on many occasions he’d come home from a visitation and say to me, “Be careful who you marry” or “stay away from alcohol.” I knew who he visited; even I could do that math!
Half my life was spent at church. I cleaned, folded tables and chairs, learned to use a dust mop, and knew the inner workings of the church. I waited for hours as my parents yammered on after church.
I was in college when I saw my first complete Super Bowl. Many a Sunday after church was spent out in my parent’s car in the church parking lot listening to the football games get started without me. This may not seem like a big deal, but to a teenage boy who completely loved sports, this was torture.
My dad was at a church for 13 years for most of my growing up. When I left for college he took a new church. He had to start all over, figuring out who the trouble-makers were, tiptoeing around the ingrained traditions, and making tough calls the old-timers didn’t like.
More pain for my dad.
I didn’t go to church for several years in college. I was bitter. I maintain that if I didn’t have the Holy Spirit, I would have walked away from Christianity then. But I didn’t. I read my Bible. I read theology. I went to a Christian college. I even took a Bible minor.
I wanted to know the Bible, but I was done with church.
My major was in an unrelated field. I fully planned on going away from church for my job. I sat through many chapel services at my Christian college and pretty much every one irritated me. I disagreed with everyone. I hated the music. Their use of Scripture was awful. The smarmy Pharisaic nature of suburban Christianity irked me at every turn.
Then it hit me. “OK, if you know so much about how Christianity should be, shouldn’t you try to help it?” I couldn’t escape this question. It haunted me. “I think I’m supposed to be a pastor.” I remember having that thought. I remember it crystal clear. I also remember the follow up thought:
Oh, dear Lord, no!
But it wouldn’t leave me alone. I went home on break and went out to breakfast with my dad. I said, “Dad, um, I think I’m supposed to be a pastor.”
I remember this like it were yesterday, except it was 26 years ago. My dad dropped his head and said, “Oh son, don’t do it. It’ll break your heart.”
I sat quietly, somewhat stunned. Not exactly what I was expecting to hear. Then he said, “But if you have to, you have to. I get it.”
So, I went back to college and changed my major. After college I went to seminary. I hated pretty much every minute of it. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t cool and hip. Not only did I not use the Christian lingo, I made fun of people who did.
At one point we took a personality test so a counselor could help us find out what denomination we would best fit in to pastor. I thought this whole idea was insane, but whatever.
When my results were in, the counselor said to me, “Um, you don’t really have the personality of a pastor.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “That’s because I hate church and can’t stand people.”
He didn’t laugh.
Here I am now. I’ve been a pastor for 20 years. My counselor was right. My dad was right.
Unfortunately, I think I was right too. I had to do this. It’s not working. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this. I love people and I love the church now. That’s different. But the church has done a number on me.
I don’t think I’ve changed the Church at all. I’ve pretty much just driven one into the ground. But the church has changed me. Mostly for the good. The bad was already there to begin with!
I became a pastor because I wanted to help the Church. I had the idealistic notion the Church wanted help. I know better now. The Church thinks it’s doing just fine. “Look at how happy we are. We obviously don’t need help!”
I’m tired. I tried. I’m still trying. I’m not done yet. But I’m getting closer. I’m just waiting for the all clear to get out. I haven’t gotten it yet. I’ve prayed for it. My wife has begged for it.
We’ll see what happens. When my leaving becomes more helpful than my staying, I imagine I’ll be done. Until then, I fight the fight.
Even so, Lord, come quickly.
10 thoughts on “Why I Became a Pastor”
Good post! Far more important than helping “the church” or you being pastor is you personally. God loves you personally and you don’t have to earn it. He just wants to love you, to heal you, to walk with you on this grand adventure we call life. I’m certain about that part. 🙂
Thanks. Yes, my faith is in a good place. It would still be nice to help others have the same result.
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I have moved beyond that, thanks to God’s grace. Now I can see Christ as the one I serve, not the ‘church*. And if the church doesn’t like that then it needs to change, not me. Nor do I need to leave if I am indeed serving Christ faithfully.
*meaning by ‘church’, the specific people who gather together, not Christ’s universal church.
Yeah, I’ve gotten there too. I stand before the Lord alone. It is a small thing to be judged by others, judge nothing before the time. But I’m still tired and frustrated. When I read the Gospels, I see frustration in Jesus Christ dealing with the unfaithful generation slow to understand. How much longer must I suffer with these people? Was His question. I think I can have the same one! I have a desire to depart which is far better.
IMHO the church is not alright. I don’t know much about you but I know the church is not alright. I don’t know the answer but I hope and pray you never give up. We need worship in the Spirit and in truth. We need to live Romans 12:1-2. And you may not like to hear it but we need you!
The church is very sick. They don’t know it though so anything you do to help just gets rejected. It’s nothing new. There’s a great cloud of witnesses who came before. I am amazed at their faithfulness and longevity.
Your words resonate with me. Every time I read your stuff, I want to cry. A few years ago I asked God to give me an exit door from the ministry. And so he gave me a church where raging narcissists rule everything. They will never forgive me for calling them out. So no one would blame me if I quit. I could get a job in computers. I’ve felt so happy and free when searching job boards or planning my own business. But I just haven’t been able to do it. Staying has been more helpful than leaving. For now. Thanks for publishing your thoughts to the world.
I feel your pain. I have no advice. I prayed for you.
There are two things I wish (technically three): 1. That I knew who you are; 2. That I could sit down and have a coffee with you; 3. That I knew someone in my area that was as honest about their time in ministry as you so I could know them and have coffee with them. Alas, in the absence of those wishes being granted, I’ll suffice by reading your posts. Thanks for your honesty. Even in your anonymity, you’re a blessing to me.
Those three wishes will not be granted in this lifetime. Plus, I don’t like coffee!
What I have discovered is that people who don’t know me enjoy what I say way more than people who do know me, so take our estrangement as a blessing too.