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.