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A few months ago, I participated in a National Pastors' Conference cosponsored by Christianity Today's parent company. Organizers, who had hoped optimistically for 800 registrants, instead had to scramble to accommodate 1,700, which may indicate our pastors' hunger for companionship and nourishment.

Is there a profession that demands more and rewards less? A pastor spends up to 20 hours a week preparing a sermon and then hears at best on Sunday morning a polite "Good job, Reverend" from a few parishioners at the door—that is, as long as he or she stays within the 22 minutes allotted for preaching. When time for a formal job evaluation rolls around, pastors find themselves rated by plumbers, salesmen, and engineers, many of whom know little about ministry. This same hodgepodge of lay people votes on salary and housing allowances behind closed doors as the pastor sits like a schoolchild in another room.

"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us," said the apostle Paul about the ministry. God does indeed make his appeal through human instruments, and after my conversations with pastors, I came away with renewed appreciation for the hazards of that endeavor. They devote hours to the premarital counseling of dreamy young lovers, then years later counsel these same couples, now embittered antagonists, through divorce procedures. They comfort the sick and pray boldly for healing, then somehow must find the strength to stand before weeping relatives at their funerals.

We push our pastors to function as psychotherapists, orators, priests, and chief executive officers. Meanwhile, we place on them a unique burden of isolation and loneliness. The pastor or priest loses any private life. Henri ...

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May 21, 2001

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