Why being a pastor might kill you…

I can’t stand it when pastors think they’re special. It’s a pretty common rant on this blog:

With all of the above said… there are still a few things about being a pastor that are at least fairly unique. This post is directed to the handful of pastor-types who read this blog.

I love listening to the Freakonomics podcast, it’s always interesting, clever, well done. While listening to a recent short called “How to Live Longer” I learned that if someone is nominated to the Hall of Fame but doesn’t get in, they’ll likely die sooner.

David Becker explains that hall of famers don’t necessarily live longer than the average professional baseball player, however, they consistently live a couple years longer than those who are nominated, but never get in. Which is to say: if you get nominated, but never win, it takes years off of your life! And, apparently, that’s how it plays out for people who are nominated for an Oscar but never win, and for those who are nominated for a Nobel Prize but never win.

There’s a growing body of evidence that getting close to the mountaintop, but never quite reaching the top is so stressful that it’s deadly. However, if professionals are given some ultimate measure of approval, an irrevocable symbol of their success, then they’re probably going to live longer.

I see parallels. The fact that I’m a pastor gives me credibility that I haven’t necessarily earned. Not unlike being an athlete or an actor, the job comes with unmerited favor and unmerited disdain. And while there’s no hall of fame or red carpet for pastors (nor should there be!), it is an incredibly rewarding line of work — for all of the struggles, it’s not hard to see that your work makes a difference. Being called by God and given the opportunity to lead a church is incredibly affirming, and it should be… but it’s no mountaintop. It’s not, by any measure, an irrevocable stamp of approval.

We have a saying at our church: “We’re just trying to save the whole damned world.” Our mission is the Great Commission. We just want people to know Jesus, and every time our job gives us a front row seat to see that unfolding, it’s an incredible victory! However, that doesn’t mean we’re done. Unless the whole world gets saved and is being discipled, we aren’t at the mountaintop and we aren’t done! It’s not too dissimilar from being nominated but never winning.

Now, to be honest, I have some theological and philosophical objections to portions of the above paragraph. If someone came to me for counsel with a similar frustration, it’d be all too easy to point out the flaws in their logic, or at least the smallness of their perspective. I see that, and I know better… and yet it lingers: no matter how many battles are ‘won,’ the war is never over.

Our church is moving forward, and I find that both humbling and incredibly exciting, but there are still hundreds of thousands of people within driving distance of us who didn’t go to church on Sunday. My challenge is to refuse to accept that, and to never let up… while rejoicing in what God’s doing, and resting in the irrefutable fact that he doesn’t need me to do it!

And while there’s no Hall of Fame for Christians, there is a Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11). It’s filled with people who have one thing in common:

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13, ESV)

In moments of clarity, I love the fact that we’re all just tiny pieces of a much, much larger picture. I love the tension between being completely unnecessary and historically insignificant, while at the same time knowing that I’ve been thrust right in the middle of the fray by a God who, for some reason, wants a bunch of misfits to be his ambassadors. What could be more exciting than to be a part of something of such massive importance that my minuscule, pathetic, wrinkle of a contribution to it is more significant than I could ever fathom?

And, in truth, it’s not at all unique to pastors. We all have to navigate the tension between resting in God’s plan and embracing the urgency of the call, of acknowledging both our importance and our insignificance, of living in the overlap of the ages where contentment is mandatory, and satisfaction is sin.

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