Ed was emphasizing to his church leadership why having a pastor’s residence next door to the church is not necessarily the best thing. They had always enjoyed the luxury of having the minister on the premises, they told him and would hate to relinquish that blessing. That’s why, when the hurricane destroyed the pastorium and the congregation had to make a decision about rebuilding, Pastor Ed thought this would be a good time to move the pastor’s residence.
“Let me ask you something,” Ed said to the five men and women seated around the table. “How many of you have ever taken a vacation and stayed at home?” Every hand went up.
“Well,” he said, “that’s something a pastor can never do. If he’s at home, and everyone in town can see he’s at home, he’s always on call.”
The good folk seated at the table admitted they had never thought of that before.
“And it’s not just the church,” Ed emphasized. “The community comes knocking, too. And I love that — don’t get me wrong. It’s just that sometimes it gets wearisome.”
As his director of missions, I complimented Pastor Ed on explaining that to them. When lay leaders understand the uniqueness of the pastor’s burdens, often they can be counted on to do the right thing and help to ease them.
As a result of hearing Pastor Ed’s account of this meeting, I began to reflect on other things a pastor cannot do as a result of his unique position in the church and community, things “normal” people do without a thought.
A pastor cannot decide to skip a Sunday and take his family to the beach. Other people do it as a matter of routine.
Last Wednesday night after prayer meeting and choir practice, my son and his wife took their three children and drove four hours to the beach, arriving at 1 a.m. They stayed until checkout time from the condo on Sunday morning and got home in the middle of the afternoon. They are faithful church members, good givers, and steady Sunday School workers, so this represents nothing in the world except the need for a few days of rest.
But it’s a luxury denied to a pastor, almost always.
The only way a minister can pull up at the last minute and head to the beach and miss Sunday services is by using valuable (and usually scarce) vacation time. No matter how hard he works during the week, to the congregation Sunday is his primary work day and he is fully expected to be there and to do his best work.
And frankly, because of the call of God upon his life, the pastor would not have it any other way. Only, he would like the congregation to appreciate that fact.
A pastor can’t allow himself a break from reading the Bible, tithing his income, and attending church. Whether we call this interlude a time of backsliding or a little needed rest, the one person in the church for whom this is forbidden is the man in the pulpit. He must spend time in the Word each day and bring in well-prepared sermons each Sunday. It is expected he will set the example for the congregation in all matters of the Christian life, from witnessing to the unchurched to tithing his income to reading the Bible each day to loving the unlovely wherever he finds them.
A pastor can’t pick and choose the people he will greet and spend time with. Everyone owns stock in him and can pick up the phone and ask for a portion of his time.
Even though he might like to, most pastors cannot choose a best friend or two in the congregation, believing that it’s not a healthy thing for the rest of the members to observe. So, either they end up with no close personal friends, or their best friends become pastors from other towns or members from churches they previously served.
A pastor cannot tell a church member off, or, as my mother used to say, “he cannot bless him out.” He is expected to maintain his Christian control and behavior at all times. He loves the unlovely and controls the fleshly impulse to respond to unkindness with harshness. He returns good for evil and love for hate.
There is so much pastors cannot do which “normal” church members do with hardly a thought. But, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
After all, there are far more wonderful things a pastor can do which most people in the congregation do not have the freedom to do.
Unless he is bi-vocational, a pastor can devote all his time to the service of the Lord. Part of his actual duties is sitting at his desk reading the Word of God and studying his books or driving across town and calling on the sweet old people in the retirement home. Just think — he gets paid for that!
The first time I was able to quit my outside job and receive a full paycheck from my church, I felt almost guilty over the joy I was experiencing from getting paid to do what I loved best.
A pastor is given a great honor by the Lord and the church that calls him as its shepherd. True, there are restrictions upon his behavior and some limitations upon his freedom, but in almost every case he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pastor Ed’s church is still trying to decide where to locate the pastor’s residence. If they asked me, I’d tell them to give him enough money to purchase his own home so he can build equity and eventually own it. Many a pastor has come to retirement time and found himself without a home of his own to go to. That happens to laypeople also, I’m confident, but it’s not recommended for anyone.