The most abnormal pastors I know are the ones who seem completely normal. That’s an unfortunate reality, but it’s pretty true. Being a pastor is difficult. I know there are many tough jobs – many which are way more difficult than being a pastor. But there are not too many jobs that require a person to carry the weight of a pastor. And it’s the weight that can make us weird. It’s a unique kind of weight – both personal and spiritual. And the spiritual weight is no joke. It’s real, and it’s heavy.
Pastors can begin to look abnormal quickly. They often dress differently (especially in some denominations), they act differently, and they are expected to behave differently. I learned this the hard way while cheering for my son in a soccer game. “Get up,” I yelled across the field, “and if that boy knocks you down again, you get up and KNOCK HIM DOWN!!!” You might be able to yell something like this. I can’t … anymore. I did once, and it just so happened that the bully on the other team and his family went to Watermarke Church where I’m the Lead Pastor. I intentionally use the past tense “went,” because I doubt they attend any longer!
But there’s more. Many churchgoers see their pastor as a person to imitate, and that creates pressure. People hold pastors up to an expectation that’s completely unfair; after all, pastors are people just like the rest of you. When a pastor fails, it’s big news. When they fall, it’s even bigger news. When they drink a beer, people care. When’s the last time anybody else worried about how it “looks” to have a beer with his or her pizza? The majority of the world doesn’t think about this stuff. But pastors do. They must.
The point is being a pastor carries with it a personal and spiritual weight that is different than most other professions. It’s hard to understand or appreciate it unless you are a pastor. In tandem, pastors are scrutinized in their roles more than most other jobs. Where else do people show up once a week with an expectation to learn something new, be entertained, laugh and cry, be challenged to be better (but not too challenged, lest people be offended), encouraged to live responsibly (but don’t you dare talk about money or anything else that might touch a negative emotional nerve), and so forth? Again, it’s just a different kind of job.
So, over time, the process and pressure causes pastors to become abnormal. And for good reason. I get it. It’s hard to be normal when everybody is telling you how great / how bad your message was. It’s hard to be normal when everything you do seemingly sends a message. It’s hard to be normal when your life AND your family are scrutinized daily. It’s always hard to be normal when you know people are looking at you all the time. That’s how you felt in middle school, which explains why you were so abnormal.
But here’s what I’m learning – while almost everything about this job pushes me to become abnormal, it’s worth the fight to remain normal, because normal people do a much better job connecting and reaching other normal people. Now, if you want to lead a church just for church people (who are abnormal in their own way), go ahead and pretend to be better than everybody else. Play up your position and demand people respect you, honor you, and stand when you enter the room. But if you want to reach people, you must find a way to be a normal pastor and a normal person.
Here are a few things we can do in the fight to stay normal:
1. Be authentic.
We need more pastors who are real. Who lead real lives. Who are honest with themselves and with others. We need pastors who are willing to talk about their failures and how hard marriage can be. We need pastors who can smile when things are good and can show emotion when things are not. It’s risky to be this kind of pastor, but I believe this is the kind of pastor needed in our world today. Don’t be afraid to be authentic.
2. Diversify your friendships.
You will never be normal if you only do life with people who push you to become abnormal. I have many friends inside our church, but I have made sure to find friendships with people outside our church and outside THE church. I intentionally spend time with unchurched people. Guess what? In many ways, these are my most refreshing relationships. Not always, but at times. These friends don’t expect me to live up to their self-created standard. And they are not hypocritical, either. They’re normal. And I’m gaining more and more influence with them every day because I’m trying to remain normal, too.
3. Never pretend to be better than others.
You’re not better, so don’t pretend you are. I hate seeing pastors preach messages about how many hours their quiet time lasts or how often they prayed before 4:00am. Just stop it. Stop putting yourself on a pedestal if you don’t want the pressure of sitting up there all the time. Pretending to be better does not make you normal, and it does not help you connect with people.
4. Let your family be normal.
This is hard. But I try to lead my family toward normalcy. I do NOT expect my wife to do anything in our church. She volunteers, but because she wants to serve, and not more than anybody else. She is not expected to be anything other than my wife. Same for my kids. They are kids. My 9-year-old typically has a mohawk. Some people probably question my parenting, and that’s okay. He wanted a mohawk, so I let him get a mohawk. I expect my kids to be normal kids, and that’s only possible when the only pressure they feel is from me as their father, not the church. I care more about their first name than their last name. The church should, as well.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s worth the fight. Be abnormally normal.
How have you seen pastors remain “normal” in the face of such an abnormal job?