sunflower raised in thanks

Here’s to Pastors

by Ryan Gear

“So what do you do for a living?”

“Um… a… I’m a pastor.”

(Then following that awkward moment of silence to which all pastors are accustomed, in a surprised and tentative tone…)

“Oh… great. That’s great.”

It’s a snippet of small talk pastors dread. They are aware that some people wonder why in the hell a sane human being would ever consider being a pastor. It’s such a “different” line of work that defies 21st century American career categories.

When folks discover you’re a pastor, they wonder to themselves, “What kind of pastor?” Are you an intelligent, open-minded person or an angry, intolerant extremist? Do you get involved in people’s everyday lives in the real world, or do you pray all day in an ivory tower only to work on Sundays? Are you a more like a wise counselor or a manic “The End is Near” sign-wielding street preacher?  

Every pastor I know is a little hesitant to answer the “What do you do for a living” question because they know it’s often awkward for the other person. These pastors are kind, thoughtful, people-pleasing types who want everyone to feel comfortable, and they actually feel bad when other people don’t know how to act around them.

Pastors also get a bad rap because of a few intolerant blowhards who act like the moral police of society, spiritual abusers who hurt their congregations, and slick-haired televangelists who dupe gullible people into sending them money in return for oil soaked “prayer hankies.” These charlatans do not in any way represent the vast majority of pastors. There are 300,000 pastors in the United States who are honest, compassionate, overworked and underpaid leaders in their communities.

Beyond this, I’ve also found that many pastors don’t know how skilled they really are. After working as a full-time Development Director in a nonprofit charitable organization, I can assure you that pastors are incredibly skilled leaders.

For example, the typical nonprofit obtains half of their revenue from government grants. Churches certainly do not. Pastors who know how to inspire people and raise funds for a cause, without government funding, are far more skilled fundraisers than many executives in the nonprofit world. And these pastors don’t fly in private jets. Most pastors make about as much as school teachers.

On top of that, pastors are often gifted advertisers. While church is not a business, the same principles of communication that work at Apple also work in church. If a pastor effectively builds anticipation and momentum for a new sermon series or a new ministry, she or he has successfully employed the same skills used by the marketing geniuses at Geico or Anheuser-Busch. While they might lack some of the industry jargon, effective pastors could step into a marketing role in corporate America and likely turn heads with their insight.

Then, except for at the most silver-tongued of political figures, many pastors I know can give a more moving, soul-stirring speech than nationally-known politicians. There are U.S. senators who wish they could give a speech half as good as the average pastor’s weekly sermon. Whether the topic is secular or spiritual, effective communication is effective communication, and many pastors are far better at it than they realize.

Finally, when it comes to leadership, and I really mean this, pastors are some of the best leaders on the planet. Why? According to leadership gurus like Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, and John Maxwell, it’s because they lead volunteers. When a leader depends on volunteers, she or he can’t threaten workers with a cut in pay. Instead, an effective pastor leads by inspiration and example, and this is the pinnacle of leadership. Even pastors who consider themselves to be average leaders can beat the socks off of a corporate manager who drags along paid employees only because of a title and fear of a bad review. If you can lead volunteers, you’re in the upper echelon of leaders. Period.

So, in spite of awkward introductions at parties, most pastors are giving, selfless leaders who are far more gifted than they realize, and their skills could propel them to success in many fields.

If you’re a church-goer, why not send your pastor a thank you email this week? Let her or him know that you appreciate the long hours, the wise guidance, the time they spend with people in the deepest valleys of life, and the way they inspire you to be a better person.

If you are a caring and thoughtful pastor, please hear this…

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you for working nights and weekends, for your thick skin, for your M.Div. student loans, for your perseverance, for your family’s commitment even when it hurts, and for your personal sacrifice that makes people’s lives better.

Here’s to pastors.