The apostle Paul exhorted the Thessalonian believers to know those who laboured among them and to consider them very highly in love for their work’s sake. His charge was, simply put, for the church to have a healthy and close relationship with its pastors, and obviously this relationship is a two-way street. The elders are to lovingly lead, feed and pay heed to the flock, and the flock in return is to lovingly follow as the elders follow Christ. The shepherds are to reach out to the sheep and the sheep are, in return, to affectionately relate to the shepherds.
This is sometimes easier said than done—for both sides of the equation. Sometimes, for various reasons, the relationship between pastors and members is strained. Sometimes, due to sin (on either part) the relationship is not what it should or could be. When this happens, reconciliation must be pursued. But I think that often there is another cause behind a chasm between pastors and people, and this cause is simply a communication gap—a communication gap created by the assumption that those who are fulltime vocational pastors just do not understand the pressures, temptations and problems that the average church member faces.
I can appreciate this assumption. After all, we fulltime pastors drive less than ten minutes to work (when there is traffic!). We do not face the immediate issues that confront most in the workplace; for instance, drunkenness is never a temptation at our staff meetings, the temptation to cheat on business deals is pretty nonexistent. Nor do we face the threat of a corporate buyout by a larger church, with the accompanying threat of possible retrenchment. Doubtless, there are some other situations that we may also not face in similar degree as many of you.
And yet one should not jump to the hasty conclusion that pastors live in a totally different world than the congregation. Consider what we do encounter and experience.
We face the daily financial pressure, like most, to feed, clothe, and educate our families (and to budget for many weddings!). We too need to consider retirement, the possibility of disability, and even retrenchment. We too realise that economies can change, funds can cease, and medical crises and attendant financial drain can occur. Like you, we face slothfulness of spirit and weariness of the flesh. We know what it is like to not always love our job. We face career discouragement and the sense of futility regarding the bottom line of ministerial progress. We know what it is like to be tempted by the greener grass of another church and ministry. We too face the temptation to jealousy of others in our field, who seem to be more successful. We know the pressures of facing deadlines and the seemingly endless frustration of not having enough time to complete our task. We know what it feels like to labour and only to end up failing. We live with the constant tension of wondering whether or not we have properly balanced career involvement with family responsibilities.
Regarding the family, we know what it is like to be concerned about the future of our children in our country. Will they be employable? We are often burdened about their souls, and wonder who and if they will marry. We struggle in our homes with our own selfishness, as well as with that of other family members. We know what it is like to have family feuds and to struggle against the command to forgive. Our marriages are not unending honeymoons (ask our wives!). We know what it is like to have conflict before coming to church services and for Sunday dinners to sometimes erupt into emotional food fights. We know the heartache of sin in our family relationships and we know what it is like to not always live out our Christian convictions in the home. Yes, we know the pain that accompanies hypocritical behaviour. The rise of crime in our country concerns us and we become concerned about this regarding our family.
When it comes to living in the world at large, we too face the sex-saturated culture with its pornographic billboards and increasing nudity in the shops, in the neighbourhood and sadly sometimes even in the church. We struggle with the materialistic lure of the world. We too like to have nice things and are prone to be captured by the enticement of image. We don’t like to be looked down upon, and thus we face the temptation to adopt the image of success. We know what it is to struggle to be content with the things we have.
Consider also that the very things that you may struggle with in the world, we also face in the realm of the church. We deal with issues of those who lie, who are bitter, who hate, and who have uncontrolled anger. We face the issues of divorce, murder, rape, pornography, infidelity, stealing, medical emergencies, death, terminal illness, marital conflict, abortion, homosexuality, fornication, cheating, slander, malice, etc.
In short, to say that we do not understand what the “average member” faces is largely inaccurate. Fundamentally, we live in the same world and thus we pastors probably understand more than you might think.
And yet I will be the first to admit that our situation as fulltime pastors is different than the church member. And for this I offer no defence or apology. In fact, I am grateful for it. I am thankful that by being fulltime we have the privilege of devoting much time to care for your souls—souls that are battered by the work-a-day world. I am glad that we have more time to pray for you, to counsel you, to encourage you, to feed you in order to help equip you to face your unique pressures in a God-honouring way.
So, in conclusion, perhaps we can agree that, in many ways, we do live in the same world as you do. And yet in other ways we do not. For we have the privilege of being somewhat secluded in order to focus on an unseen world. But by doing so we are then able to help you to take this all-important spiritual world into the daily struggles of your world. And thus, in the end, maybe it is not such a bad thing if it seems that we live in two different worlds. In fact, this may be the reason that we can both make sense of our lives in this world.