The Happy Pastor
Vocational ministry is a taxing job.
It’s intellectually taxing, as it demands regular study, reasoning, and communication. It’s emotionally taxing, as pastors have a front row seat to the suffering and sin of those they pastor. It’s relationally taxing, as pastoral ministry involves confronting real sin and navigating real conflict. It’s spiritually taxing, as we have a very real enemy who seeks to sabotage the work of Jesus and those who serve Him.
Sadly, because of the taxing nature of vocational ministry, some pastors quit. But there are even more who slog on, though they find pastoring to be more burden than blessing at times. I’ve heard some pastors talk about ministry in a way that almost sounds like they believe it should be miserable or we’re not “suffering for Jesus” or “bearing our cross” faithfully.
I respectfully disagree.
Yes, ministry is taxing and I’ve certainly had some miserable weeks — even months — in the past 14 years of pastoring.
If we’re not finding joy, even a generous measure of happiness, in the work God’s called us to, something may be wrong. I’m not talking about the unforeseen tragedies we have to navigate, the occasional attacks we have to endure, or the seasons of testing God allows. These are certainly part of the equation. What I am saying is that it is possible to be happy and be a pastor.
When I reflect on the seasons in which I have struggled the most (apart from the ones I just mentioned), I find they are the times I was neglecting one of these five things:
I wasn’t pursuing my own relationship with Jesus.
In John 15:5 Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without me.” I find that when I’ve struggled with a lack of enjoyment the most, it’s been when I was pursuing Jesus the least. We preach the importance of consistent time in God’s Word and prayer, but sometimes we fail to practice these things in our own lives. If you’re struggling with an extended season of discontentment, discouragement, or maybe you're simply sick of being a pastor, you may need to rediscover the joy of your own relationship with Jesus.
I wasn’t practicing consistent gratitude.
Paul calls us to “give thanks in everything”. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) If you’re like me, complaining comes easily and there are no shortage of issues in your ministry to be frustrated with. The problem is not your awareness of all the problems that need attention. The problem is often a lack of intentionality to both recognize and record all that we have to be grateful for right now. If Paul can be thankful for the Corinthians, a church marked by spiritual pride, division, and sexual immorality, surely you and I have more than a few things to be thankful for in our own ministries. Writing down even three things you are thankful for each day will go a long way toward lifting your eyes off what is wrong and focusing them on what is right.
I wasn’t learning to love the grind.
Full disclosure, I don’t enjoy every aspect of my job. In fact, I reject the romantic notion that if you find your “dream job” you will “never work a day in your life”. That sounds more Disney-princess than real life. There are parts of every job that don't come easily, pastoral ministry included. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to love them.
One of the things that helps us learn to love the grind of ministry is choosing to recognize the value in each task. For instance, I write “thanks for visiting" cards to our first time guests each week. I’m not going to lie, it’s not my favorite task of the week. It's labor-intensive and repetitive, and there's not a lot of room for creativity. What is helping me learn to love this task is remembering how much it means to people to receive a card. When so much of life is digital these days, the “humanness” of a hand-written card conveys a different level of care. While I don’t love writing cards, I do love people and if it’s meaningful to them, I can learn to love the grind of it all.
I didn’t have a life outside of "ministry.”
I find those pastors who have no hobbies and no interests outside of theology and building their churches to be very one dimensional. They also tend to be wound pretty tight and aren’t very enjoyable to be around. I know, because I’ve gone through seasons where I’ve been that guy.
One of the challenges of being a pastor is that it’s easy for us to baptize so much of what we do in the waters of “ministry.” If you have someone in your church who eats, drinks, and sleeps their job, you call them a “workaholic” and seek to shepherd them toward a more holistically healthy life. Sadly, we don’t always apply the same counsel to our own lives because we’re doing “ministry.” That’s just a lousy theology of vocation.
Get a hobby. Read fiction. Go for a hike. Find some friends who aren’t pastors. See a movie. Live a full life. If we do that, we will be happier, our preaching will be more interesting, and our lives will be more accessible to others.
I wasn’t building the church I wanted to be a member of.
Pastor Larry Osbourne has a great line I’ve heard him say over and over. It goes something like this: "Each of our local churches is just a Sunday school elective in Jesus’ Church.” His point is, all our churches are different. We have different cultures, different philosophies of ministry, different things we emphasize, even different convictions on secondary theological issues. That’s a GOOD thing.
There are certain pursuits that should mark every local church, or it’s simply not a Biblical expression of the local church — things like worship, community, and mission. However, we have far more freedom in how we express those things than some lead us to believe.
God has wired you a certain way for a reason. There are people that God wants to use you to reach that He won’t use me to reach. Lean into that. It doesn’t make you a “consumer” to build the church you’d want to be a member of. It makes you self-aware and cognizant of the fact that there are other people like you that will connect with Jesus through the church He’s called you to build.
Being a pastor is hard. There may even be seasons that seem almost unbearable. But it doesn’t have to be miserable all the time. If it is, take an honest look at these five things that I, too, have neglected and see if there’s something you can adjust.
Your family will thank you, your ministry will be more fruitful, and God will be honored.