Three years ago, I was the president of a small, for-profit college campus in Northwestern Indiana making a six-figure salary and enjoying the perks of corporate America and academia. Life was good. Life was comfortable. But deep down, I knew that I wasn't fulfilling the call that God had placed on my life a few years earlier.
In 2011, I was hired as the Student Ministries pastor at the church that I'm currently employed by. I now serve as the executive pastor and I seem to be learning new lessons about the church on a regular basis. Being the son of a small-church pastor, I didn't have the mistaken idea that full-time pastors simply sit around reading their Bible all day, listening to worship music. But there are five things that did take me by surprise when I moved from a secular job to church ministry.
168 hours vs. 40 hours
Ok, maybe none of us actually work a 40-hour workweek any more. But, I can attest that I worked far fewer hours when I was in a secular job than now, in a church ministry context. At my last job, the phone would ring sometimes after hours. But, it wasn't very often and was frequently simple questions that could be addressed quickly and from the comfort of my own home. When I left work, I left work. I didn't take it home with me and I was able to fully "unplug" when I was at home.
This is not the case as a pastor. I work long hours and cannot disconnect from what I interacted with throughout the day. There are always things that need to get done and not enough hours to do it all, plus care for the congregation in the way that I should. I have been woken up in the middle of the night to deal with the brother of a member of the church who had come home violently drunk. I've had to go to the apartment of a person who said they were going to attempt suicide. I've had long phone conversations while on vacation to try and solve financial issues. You get the idea …
But, I've got to say, it is the stories that make it worthwhile. The people that you meet along the way that share their lives with you. Like the girl that came to my youth group with a friend and came back because I sent her a friend request on Facebook. She accepted Christ and now is in college actively involved in the ministry to students there. She is on fire for God and she doesn't come from a Christian background at all.
Public vs. Private
As the leader of a small college campus, I had around 30 or so employees. There were a total of 325 students in a given semester. Those people knew me. But, not too much. They didn't care how I was raising my kids or how I was treating my wife. They could care less the kind of car that I drove or whether I ever invited them into my home for dinner. My life outside of work was just that—outside of work. There were very specific boundaries set up in that regard.
Church members want to know their pastors personally. Actually many feel that they should have full access to their pastor and should know the details of their family and home life. The way we discipline our kids, whether we celebrate Halloween, whether we allow our kids to believe there is a Santa, if the Easter bunny is a part of how we celebrate that holiday—these are just a few examples. Our family is always on display and open to the opinions and judgment of those I lead.
The lesson here is not so much about access, but rather about how we view the information that we share. I have seen it far too often where people will take a personal belief that a pastor holds as Biblical or religious in some way. These perceptions on the part of the congregation can lead to a blurring of the line between what the Bible actually says and what are more personal decisions of conscience or preference by a person or family.