I know ministers. I spent a long time soaking in religion and ministers. I sat in meetings, seminars and sermons of ministers. I ate meals by the score and observed how men as ministers thought, reasoned and pastored their people. I was a minister and I have some advice for ministers.
1. Get over being special. I once went to a church picnic where the local ministers, deacons and elders, ( I was just coming to my first assigned church area,) used yellow ski rope to cordon off a place in the woods where just the chosen ones could approach. It was pathetic. Extreme I know, but these men were outwardly acting out what many ministers inwardly believe about themselves.
I have met many ministers who require special parking for themselves because, well because they are ministers. One fellow approached me at a local hospital where I now work weekends (I am no longer a minister) to complain about his need for pastoral parking. He was a busy man and it’s a common courtesy. I explained to him that the relatively few handicapped spaces were for those that cannot walk or breathe. I thought that would do it. It didn’t. He kept up the entitlement idea until I finally said “well sometimes I guess we have to ask ourselves, just where would Jesus park?” We had a bit of a stare down and he left. Get over it.
I have followed pastors, replacing them, who cultivated the idea that they were indeed a special breed of man, called by God and seemingly only accountable to God. Now that makes for a nice set up! When their specialness spills over into the real lives of the sheep, the minister always wins and the sheep always lose. A minister is NOT a special kind of human being, nor is a Priest. It’s a job description. Ministers who think they are called to be special can get uncalled or recalled just as easily for failing to get over this basic fallacy. “He that is greatest among you (gosh, I even hate how Paul said THAT!), let him be your servant.” Matt. 20:27. Some places even say “Chief.” Unfortunate translation. It sounds like, “He that is really special, let him ACT like he is not really special, but we know he is.” No, get over being special and join the human race. You weren’t chosen before your birth or from the womb as Paul said he was, along with Jeremiah and Jesus. Your mom was not a virgin and while you would be missed, you will not be taken up to heaven by a fiery charriot when you die.
2. Don’t expect and certainly don’t ask for “ministerial courtesies.” This would be along the lines of free carpentry work on your home or office. Free labor to put the roof on your house. Free car repairs. Free food grown by the members, organically of course, because that’s how you like it. Free dental care and doctor visits. Free memberships at members clubs. Free products from members businesses. Do not offer to do their funeral for free in return. Funerals should be free, but more on that later. No, let’s cover that now.
3. Do not charge anyone, at anytime, under any circumstances to do a funeral. It’s tacky and makes you look stupid, selfish and about as compassionate as a Delta Force in Iraq. If you are paid by the church, the funeral is free, as is the wedding by the way. These are things you are paid to do. No one wants to suffer through a funeral and then have to find you ahem-ing with your hand out for payment. If you are a lay pastor type and non-career in your ministry, it’s still free. You don’t need the money that badly and it makes you look opportunistic and not pastoral. Now if you are opportunistic, the sure, go ahead and tell them you’ll do it for a fee. You don’t make money off pastoring sheep in the normal areas of life that your ministry might lead you into their lives.
It would also be to your advantage not to turn down doing the funerals of the backslidden and those who don’t attend as often as you might think they should to hear your amazing sermons. People have real lives. The get discouraged and sidetracked. And please, don’t decide to do the funeral but you have to put them in hell according to your theology. Unless you get a telegram from God himself/herself about the fate of that soul, shut up.
“If you only do for those that do for you, what reward will you have?” or something like that. Obviously if they are not attending any longer or only on occasion, you aren’t exactly inspiring them or spending any encouraging time with them. And weddings…just do the ones you are invited to do and don’t worry about whether they fornicated, kissed too often, are right for each other or meet your approaval. I am writing this just a mile or so from the Campus of Bob Jones University. BoJo, cute huh, students know all too well about what others have deemed to be proper dating and mate selection, but I spare you. It’s none of your business and you stand a good chance of being wrong too. But I get ahead of the story.
I had a bad habit of going to see all the people that the previous minister, in my moves to new churches, had kicked out, embarrassed, corrected badly and generally disfellowshipped. I had the maddening habit of inviting most back to church to give it another chance and be encouraged. I always felt the encouragement given by the encourager should actually be encouraging to the discouraged. It drove some people nuts, especially the deacons and elders who liked the other guys style and loved being in the know with the minister. But, the stinkers blossomed of all things in most cases and a little attention goes a long way. Just do your job.
4. You don’t have to decide if a couple is right for each other. That is up to them not you. You don’t have to refuse a wedding just because you don’t approve of the couple, how they dated, how long they have dated, or whether or not they have taken your spiffy six week course in how to have a happy marriage, like that is really going to make it so. I have news for you. In time, you will see that your 12 points to this or that happy, God ordained or foolproof way of being is probably not how it works. Life has too many twists and turns and you can’t know and shouldn’t even try to think you can. I have done weddings where the couple was just “perfect” , whatever that means. Looks, money, jobs and family support were abundant and overflowing. What a show that wedding was, and of course it did not work out.
I have done weddings for the premarital sex types, well the golden couple did that too, who had not a pot to pee in and they have done just fine. I guess they really knew each other rather than merely be players in a family wedding show as the Golden ones. At any rate, just do the wedding you are asked to do and leave your judgement, it’s rightness or wrongness at home. The universe is not waiting for your deep insights into the unknowable factors in any relationship. Sheesh, we make kids promise NEVER to change from this day forth even unto death and then fail to inform them that EVERYTHING around them, by the way, will change even unto death. A bit unrealistic I’d say.
5. Don’t, even for a minute, think that everything you can come up with as being from God, Jesus, the Holy Apostles or Prophets, actually is. It just might be you looking for a way to justify your own thinking, ego and agenda. You might not even know you are doing it. Get over the idea that the Bible is speaking about you in the book of Ezekiel or Revelation. It is not. You have a better chance at winning the lottery than being right about you being one of the Two Witnesses, the New Elijah, The Watcher over all mankind, or the End Time Apostle.
Grow up and reread point #1. You are making a fool out of yourself if you grant yourself titles and importance Biblically way beyond reason. You just might also be mentally ill and narcissitic in your outlook, for which there is precious little hope of recover without help. Such foolish ideas about a ministers Biblical importance and special calling by the One True God has over and over and over proved to be a dangerous and sometimes nightmarish belief that cannot end well.
I have met well over a dozen of the Two Witnesses of Revelation. One man, felt he was both of them, thus cutting down on the need for him to be accountable to anyone else. I have met a few Elijah and Elisha want to be’s. Where I come from, The Elijah to come, has already come and gone and those who cannot give up this special biblical sense of themselves as reported in scripture are making a career and a killing off this foolishness. The people who sit in their audiences and take this stuff just puzzle me. So Mr. Minister, remember, the Bible is not speaking of YOU. I realize, on this topic, I am falling on deaf ears and poked out eyes. By the time a man thinks the Bible is speaking of HIM personally, it is way too late.
6. Don’t make your standards the equivalent of God’s, as you understand Him. The foods YOU like are not the foods God likes. Jesus doesn’t drive your brand of car and the Apostle Paul would not wish he only had your taste in clothes. The Angels do not think your color scheme is fabulous. Leave people alone on these issues of personal taste, likes and dislikes. If you don’t like certain TV shows, or if you just love others, so what? You are not God’s fashion, media, food, clean home, car style and lifestyle police.
This may come as a shock to you, but as you grow up and mature, you’ll see how much it does not matter what you personally think about these things in the lives of others. People will see you coming, turn the channel, lower the skirt, changes clothes, put away the cigs, and plaster that false smile on but good, just for you. They also will be duplistic and phoney because you are driving to be so. Meet people where they are, not where you think they need to be according to your tastes and preferences.
7. Keep your sermons on point. Jesus probably won’t return before you have another go at it next week. One pastor type in my past consistently gives two hour sermons every week. That’s cause he can’t get past point #1. He’s extreme I know, but what’s with the audience? They must be clones or long ago checked their brains at the door. This man is hilarious as he starts practically every sermon with some form of there has never been, or I have never given a sermon “quite like this one today.” Be merciful to the kids and elderly who simply can’t sit and sit just because you are disorganized or think you have so much to say at once. See point #1
Also, don’t say stupid things if you can help it. Some ministers specialize in this I realize. Others show their ignorance by saying things only a comatose audience would let go by without question. Like the radio minister who said Bathsheba was called Bathesheba because King David lusted after her while taking a BATH! Argh! I wrote him and ask him if she was taking a shower would she be called Shower… , oh never mind. Don’t make stuff up and when you have a brain fart, admit it!
8. Don’t even begin to allude to your sexual perspectives as being “just like God’s.” Some kid in the audience is gonna come up to you after church and ask why God has no wife and his grown son lives with him, even though married to the Church! Most modern people don’t really think the Bible is up to date on human sexuality and practices. Don’t decree privately when asked , and certainly not publicly about oral sex, how often, what positions and where! It’s none of the church’s business, certainly not yours and there is precious little in the Bible, written by men who think women should keep their place and have babies painfully, that would lend itself to the realities of being human and enjoying human sexuality.
I once went to a meeting where my denomination had a ministerial seminar on sexual practices for christians or some such nonesense. It was a very short experience as when the moderator said he found the topic distasteful and the French Pastor yelled, waving his hands, “Stop, don’t make any decrees on that! You’ll lose the entire French Church!”. We all just fell out laughing and changed the topic. Whew, close one! I would have ignored any injunctions against this or that “inappropriate Christian sexual practice” anyhow. It’s none of their business.
Don’t make that mistake in your ministry to real humans.
Your sexual perspectives are just that, yours. And don’t say “Paul says” either, as sexual advice from a man who thinks women come from men and the only reason to get married is to avoid fornication, is not valid in the modern world of understanding how people think and thrive. You’re not trained in human sexuality, so be careful. People will laugh at you behind your back for bad sexual advice and the kids, who may know better, will not take you seriously. That’s just how it works these days.
9. Don’t over burden the church with your pet missionary, fundraisers or “you must come” seminars and studies. People are busy and when they are not busy, they are tired and need to be left alone. Ministers often invent work for the congregation and to create a job for themselves during the week. I realize that part of a church’s goal is to control every category of person in the congregation from the babies to the dying, but it gets old for those who have several categories in their family. Your church does not have to reinvent and recreate every school program so that you can control the content and perspectives of such programs. Kids need to live in the real world too and not that of the contrived Church program that gives the illusion of being much better for them. Reality is better for them and learning to cope with life is very good for them! Don’t reinvent wheels just so you can keep people busy and “churchy.”
10. Visit the most lonely, the most ill, the most sinful and the most in need of ENCOURAGEMENT first. Forget about lunch with the successful, the rich, the nice, the stable and the easy to talk with types. They are going to BS you anyway and they don’t want to be encouraged. They want to get back to work and make bucks. I work at a hospital weekends and watch the parade of pastors coming to visit the sick often. They don’t know my background. Most visits are obligatory judgeing by the time they don’t spend with the sick. Some can walk in, go up nine floors, make a visit and be out the door in five minutes. I don’t mean the patient is sleeping or in rehab. That’s the time they gave them. The vast majority don’t stay fifteen minutes. I realize that some of those they visit don’t want a visit from the minister as well. Don’t visit people who don’t want a visit or who don’t belong to your church just for the relatives who do if the patient does not wish the visit. He’ll know you are just making points with his church family, wanting him to be impressed you came to see him and maybe hook another member, and not all that concerned with his difficulties anyhow.
After you have had an entire day of encouraging the average, the lonely, the sick, the marginalized and the discouraged, you can then go have fun with your big time tithers.
And just to have one point more than the number of the ten plagues but one less than 12, the number of tribes, brothers, disciples, apostles and creatures in the Zodiac…
11. Keep learning. Trust me, they did not teach you every bit of historical, psychological or theological truth in seminary when you were a lad! They still don’t. The knowledge you acquired about spirituality, the Bible, it’s origins, meaning and history was very incomplete and tended to simply justify whatever that denomination wanted you to know. No one has a corner on truth. You may think you understand three gods in one, or the real history of the Old Testament, or the real origins of the Biblical Canon, but I dare say you don’t. You might be able to repeat your unstudied mantras about Biblical inerrancy but most theologically savy teens with internet access can tie you in a knot on that topic.
You might think Holidays are Christian or the story of Jesus is unique and the birth and death stories of Jesus coherent, but you need to think again. You aren’t doing your job if you don’t have a few topics you KNOW you can’t bring to your church because you’d lose your job and they can’t hande what it is you understand. I don’t mean point #5. You were taught what those you gave your brain to wanted you to be taught. Much was left out to say the least. All the truth there is about the Bible is not all the truth you personally know at this point in your life.
If you find yourself using, “the wisdom of man is foolishness with God,” “My thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Eternal,” or “There is a way that seems right to a man, but end thereof is death,” as excuses not to grow in your knowledge of your professed field, then quit! You are a professional purveyor of ignorance perpetuated, and you’ll know inside that you are. Oh yes, I forgot, “with much wisdom is much suffering.”
Well, it’s not near as much suffering as inflicted by ignorance.
Well, that’s about it for now. I used to be one of you guys and outgrew it. I have to warn you, that learning thing is a killer for pastors. If you are going to pastor or minister to people, do it from your heart and use common sense even if the Church seems to discourage that.