Wednesday, March 16, 2005

They Never Told Us About This in Seminary

Bob Vincent is providing me with a valuable service. Not only is he giving me and others the head-sup on what to expect in ministry, but he is also giving me good blog material while I am bogged down in mid-terms.

So enjoy this new kernal of wisdom and visit Bob at
(Don't let the midi file scare you - there's good stuff there)

"I think that most seminarians cannot comprehend the kinds of things they will encounter from some parishioners once in the pastoral ministry. Hearing it is one thing; experiencing it, quite another.
The strain on a pastor'sfamily from living in a "glass house" can be devastating . . .

(1.) On a pastor's wife:
Virtually all congregations used to provide their pastor with a manse(parsonage, rectory, vicarage) in which to live, and wise congregationswould treat the manse as the pastor's home, keeping their distance unlessinvited. Sadly, that is not always the case. In one church that I served, mywife decided to make new curtains for the living room. I paid for the fabricout of my own pocket, and she slowly labored with her sewing machine forseveral weeks. They looked great. But one day several of the "Women in theChurch" decided to drop by to "visit" -- that is, to engage in manseinspection. When they saw the new curtains, they became upset and verycritical of my wife, demanding why she had taken it on herself to do this.

Over the years my wife and I have listened to a lot of pastors and their wives. Many pastors' wives are terribly depressed, some having problems with alcohol or prescription drugs. An affair is not unknown. It's tough on women when their husbands are out night after night, often leaving them alone with small children: Sunday night service, Wednesday night service, session meetings, deacons meetings, committee meetings, visitation nights . . . to say nothing of all the events that you're supposed to attend for people in the church and their families: wedding rehearsal dinners, funeral visitations, dinners for people's anniversaries, birthdays, retirement and various awards . . . stuff that's not strictly speaking "work," but stuff which if you don't do, you'll end up on somebody's black list. Never underestimate the power of somebody to blackball you with subtle comments once you've ticked them off.

1. On one occasion, I put in eighty hours in one week. That's just insane. But what do you say when the phone rings attwo in the morning, and somebody's boy has shot himself in the head? You splash water on your face, comb your hair, throw on a suit and chug down a cup of lukewarm water with three tablespoons of instant coffee in it, hoping you don't throw up.

I am very grateful for the church that I currently serve. Other than asking about possible repairs and maintenance, they treated the manse as our house. Nobody here has ever been critical of my wife's not attending Sunday School. She would dress our children and drop them and me off at the church and then return home, put some music on and spend the time in prayer before heading back for morning worship. Our children are now grown, and we do much of the non-preaching work of the ministry together. Doing visitation and then going out to eat can be a kind of date, no kidding. I now do all counseling of females with my wife. Not only does she pick up on things that I don't, shekeeps me out of trouble.

(2.) On a pastor's children:
My mother was a child of the manse, her father having been a Presbyterian minister. She used to tell me that even in adult life people would say, "But you're a preacher's daughter." Mama's now dead, but her last remaining sibling, my beloved Aunt Ruth, still quotes the phrase with such sarcasm in her voice -- it must have really stung. People may sometimes mean well, but critical comments made to pastors' children have pushed some children away from church for good. It's one thing that I urged people never to say to my children: don't correct them by the standard of being a "preacher's child;" correct them because of the standards to which the Lord holds all Christians. However, on one occasion, feeling quite desperate with one of my children during the teen years, I said, "If you keep acting like this, you're going to make me lose my job." It wasn't completely untrue -- I had gone to the session and confessed that I wasn't in control of one of my children and offered to tender my request to resign to presbytery -- but it was a really stupid thing to say to a teenager and put an enormous power in the hands of achild.

(3.) On a pastor himself:
(3.1.) You find certain types of people in most congregations: the huge group of the less than committed, the smaller group of the visibly committed who do a lot of the work and a handful that you try to pour your life into. It's no big deal when somebody in the first group decides to leave and join the big church on the other side of town: you lose some to them; they lose some to you. But it really is devastating to lose somebody you were slowly grooming for leadership. They don't all move away; sometimes they get caught in some scandal. Years ago one of my elders came by the office to see me.
What's wrong?" I asked.
"I got fired."
"Fired!? You've been the plant manager for years. What on earth happened?"
"I got caught stealing. I'd been embezzling money for years. My secretary caught me and turned me in."
"Why?! How could you sit in church and listen to sermons and serve people communion? Didn't your conscience eat you up?"
"I was trying to please my wife and keep up with our friends."

I was crushed. He was one of the elders who showed real aptitude for doing the work of the ministry.

(3.2.) "What have you done for me today?"
That's a comment my Daddy used to make -- he was a health officer and knew that his job sometimes hung in a political balance. He meant that people quickly forget the things you did for them in the past and always want more. I remember a family in whom I had invested well over a hundred hours: the husband had been mangled in a wreck and took over a year to heal. I faithfully visited him in the hospital and in their home after he was discharged. Their live-in grandson got involved with drugs and stealing. When they were out of town for a couple of weeks, and their grandson got arrested for possession of marijuana, I bailed his sorry behind out of jail and took him into my home until they returned. Some years later the boy got into real trouble and went to the penitentiary. I would go to visit him, but it was over two hours one way, plus almost an hour waiting for them to bring him out -- in short, it ate up pretty much a whole day. So I became less frequent. One Sunday night at the end of the service, his grandmother came up to me:
"When was the last time you visitedJoe?" she demanded.
"About six months ago," I said.
She then proceeded to bless me out, and the family eventually left our church.

Going back to an earlier satire <> on a comment a fellow pastor once made to me:
Charismatic churches attract psychotics; Reformed churches attract neurotics. That is true -- really and sadly true, and some of these nut cases end up on church sessions.

(3.3.) Money.
There are certain lifestyle expectations that come with being friends with others. I eat lunch with various men in my congregation every week. Not wanting to be a mooch, I like to pick up the tab if I've asked the other person for lunch. If it's regular, we alternate. It's just that when I spring for a twenty-dollar lunch tab, it's out of my pocket, and there's alot less in my pocket than in some of my guests. Evening meals are even more expensive, so we are cautious there because we can't afford the reciprocity. When my wife and I have attended pastors' functions in certain communities, we've both marveled at what some of those clothes had to cost. But my wife buys some of her stuff at Goodwill, and I'm happy for a second hand suit. This past year I received two fine suits from a dead man -- two grand a piece -- I love them; they're beautiful. But I usually buy my dress shirts at Sam's -- pressed, under a two thousand dollar suit, who can tell I paid around ten dollars?
Don't get me wrong. I'm blessed financially. It's just that it's easy for a preacher to get himself head over heels in debt, trying to keep up with his congregation.
What's the old loan company saying about to whom you shouldn't loan money? Was it the infamous "P"s: preachers, plumbers, policemen,politicians?

(3.4.) Women.
I've ministered to more than one pastor who fell into adultery. Women scare me to death -- not women themselves -- my awareness of the potential for sin that's still inside me. Very few people suddenly start stealing after a lifetime of honesty, or getting drunk after decades of sobriety. But it's not that way with sex. A man can live a very disciplined life for years and then be hit with something (like falling into real pride, for example.) that can eventually lead to adultery. I know more than one minister who has experienced women in his congregation making romantic overtures toward him. In the mercy of God, it hasn't been that way for me --my wife tells me that it's not because I'm not handsome. (Smart woman! But I need to warn her about flattering me too much.) She says that it's that I don't "send off signals." Whatever . . . it's grace . . . that's for sure. But some women are attracted to power, and they see real power in the influence wielded by preachers. They're seduced by that power, and they try to seduce the preacher in turn. One pastor friend confided in me that he had had an emergency call a couple of months back. The woman deceived him into coming over late at night by telling him that her husband was desperate to talk or something like that. Only her husband wasn't at home. When the pastor arrived, she opened the door and was buck-naked. He turned and fled.

My wife and I wish that we could take a week every so often and do a seminarfor seminarians and their wives. It isn't that the ministry isn't terribly fulfilling. It is. It's just that it isn't anything at all like we expected back in the sixties. <>

Thanks again, Bob

back to the books!


Thomas said...

Dear Greg,

God bless you for everything you must be so hard sometimes. How wonderful that Christ has brought you this far; Christ (and hopefully His congregation too) will be there as your support as you go through this life. May our Lord bless you with grace, peace, contentment, and a huge reward in heaven,



Kyle said...

This is good stuff Gregger. Thanks for posting it.