It is commonly believed that men so closely identify with their vocation that if we ask them to tell something about themselves, they are likely to respond what a description of what they do. I’m not sure this is just a male characteristic, but I have noticed that this is characteristic of a lot of guys.
I think this is especially true of pastors. Ministry is not the only vocation that requires long hours, nor are we alone in being tuned in 24/7. But I do believe that pastoral work is unique and that pastors are especially prone to blur the line between who they are and what they do.
I suppose that, given the nature of ministry, such blurring of the lines is inevitable. But there are ways in which it can be unhealthy, especially when it comes to our relationship with God and our relationships with people.
Because we deal with spiritual things, it is easy to become “professional” in our relationship with God. We’re reading the Bible, we’re praying, we’re caring for other people. As a result, what we do can be a substitute for our own relationship with God. We can think that because we’re busy we’re doing well. Yet looking at our relationship with God through the lens of what we do ignores issues of the heart.
In the same way, we can be so professional in our relationships with people that we take on characteristics that are unhealthy. We can become distant because we are afraid of being hurt. We can avoid close friendships because we think that if people really know us they’ll be disappointed. We can be clinical with others because we view people as projects and work tasks rather than as, well, people.
There are some remedies for this, and younger pastors (and older pastors) need to be sure that they guard against this tendency to mix being and doing. A couple of things come to mind, now that I am on the other side of ministry. They are pretty much self-explanatory:
- Have friends with whom you can be honest, and be honest with them.
- Cultivate interest outside of ministry and ministry-related areas so that when you have down time (or when your ministry comes to temporary or permanent halt) you don’t feel that life has lost meaning.
- Make sure your relationship with God is personal. Don’t just study for what you can give to others. What are you learning from what you’re preaching or teaching? Don’t just pray for others, pray for yourself. Don’t merely urge others toward godliness, pursue it yourself. Keep learning and growing because you’re a Christian, not because you’re a pastor.
Blending who we are and what we do in the wrong way can lead to us being unauthentic, and we don’t want that. It will end up putting people off and coming back to bite us in the end.
Thank God for the privilege of ministry, but remember that you’re more than your ministry.
Have a great weekend!