For married clergywomen, a supportive spouse does not seem quite as significant for job satisfaction. Their support is more diffuse, coming from many sources, mostly outside the congregation. Says Schaller, "Husbands are not necessarily strong support systems for clergywomen. We still are not sure what to do with lay men married to ordained women. In many ways, the parish ministry has always been organized on the assumption that the pastor is male and has a wife. And, therefore, the wife is expected to be the number-one support system."
Another area of support of satisfied pastors comes from laypeople.
One October Sunday a year and a half ago, as Steve led worship at Dry Creek Bible Church, he noticed several in the congregation wearing "I Love My Pastor" stickers. When the music stopped, several ushers began wheeling groceries, including 24-packs of Coke and a frozen turkey, up the center aisle. After the commotion subsided, Steve learned that it was Pastor Appreciation Sunday (which Focus on the Family began promoting nationally in 1994). A church leader got up and said, "I want to give you an opportunity to share what Steve and Priscilla mean to you."
After the testimonials, a woman dedicated and sang a song to the Mathewsons. At that point, Steve stood up to give the sermon, but another, older church leader, Ray Pierson, interrupted him. "This is a hostile takeover," he said. The ushers then proceeded to hand out a new bulletin entitled "Dry Creek Bible Underground Currents." The title on the first page read "Dry Creek Bible Church Shows Appreciation to Pastor." Another part read: "May the Lord continue to use you in the Gallatin Valley as you minister … and may He keep us ever grateful for your part in His worldwide mission!" Then Pierson preached a sermon from Hebrews 12 entitled "Whatever Happened to Good, Old-fashioned Appreciation?"
Steve says he needed the boost: "I was weary, kind of discouraged."
The benefit of Pastor Appreciation Sunday is the education it provides for the church family. The downside, however, is that such programs can mask a church culture of miserliness and indifference. Respect and a livable wage—that's the double honor due those whose work is preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17). Steve has both at Dry Creek Bible Church.
Yet, as revealed by his personal journal during his burnout, Steve yearned for more than just congregational support: "Pris and I have been praying and desiring that we can move to a higher level of friendship with at least one couple. … I love pastoring, but I would like a friendship with someone who cares deeply about me as a person."
Not everyone who wants to be can be the pastor's friend. In fact, those desiring a friendship with their pastor are rarely equipped to handle one: Few really want to hear their pastor talk about his or her fears, struggles, and needs. Anyone wanting a friendship with his or her pastor tends to want it for all the wrong reasons; often there is some underlying neediness, and pastors don't need any more of that kind of one-way relationship. Pastors need, as Steve says, "someone who cares deeply about me as a person." Such a friendship, it seems, just happens. And normally, the pastor will have to follow up any chemistry by taking the initiative in developing the friendship.
What tops off Steve's job satisfaction, however, is that he seems to like the people he serves (though it's not certain whether that is one of the causes or one of the fruits of his satisfaction). This is partly seen in the time he spends in leisure with various church members. He plays in a city basketball league with many of the guys in his church. He and a dentist from the church have taken a fly-tying class at the local Orvis fly-fishing shop. And his family and several others in the church often attend basketball games at Montana State University. But where his fondness for the folks of Dry Creek comes through most clearly is in his spiritual care for them.
Sum of a call
Instead of eroding Steve's call to pastor, the burnout and financial difficulties have seemed to authenticate it. His satisfaction is not derived from the ornaments of pastoral "success"—the big church in the suburbs, the comfortable home, the hope of increased growth and offerings, the denominational and publishing opportunities. In fact, Steve is quite philosophical about his life as a pastor: "Sometimes you see fruit, sometimes you don't."
That pretty much sums it up.
In the final analysis, what makes a pastor satisfied must transcend the carping, the conflict, the mediocre pay, the burnout—the frustrations of making one's livelihood off the church. Steve's father, Maynard, puts it well: "I don't need to be affirmed to stay in ministry. The greatest affirmation there is: I'm doing what God has called me to do."
In the funeral sermon for the teenager who committed suicide, Steve said, "Four years ago, Ryan began raising a horse, a black Morgan stallion . …He named the horse Isaiah, because his favorite verse in the Bible is found in Isaiah 40:31—'Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint' [NIV].
"Why Ryan acted on the lyrics of a crummy song instead of on the truth of God's Word, we don't know. You may never get over the loss of Ryan, but you will get through it if you can act on his favorite verse."
To stand at the doors of eternity is what God has asked Steve to do with his life. In answering and staying faithful to his call, he finds the meaning that originally propelled him into the ministry. Satisfaction has followed obedience.
-David Goetz is a former pastor and now senior associate editor of LEADERSHIP journal.
Copyright © 1997 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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