Why pastors need to be especially self-diferentiated. Part 1 of ?

“The pastor is called so serve God and his people, right?” the person said.

The pastor hesitantly responded with a “Yes.”

“Well then, when one of the people has a need, he should always be there to serve them, right?”


At least that is my answer, and the answer of more and more pastors. We all will have our reasons. For me I answer that way partly because of the kind of pastor I serve as. I am a pastor/consultant. I specialize in only certain aspects of pastoring, mainly guiding a reflection process that I hope leads to changes in congregational and individual self awareness, changes in recognition of patterns that are not helping, changes in culture, and underneath it all and driving it — a God led change of heart, or “heart change.” The preaching I do is intentionally designed to support those changes. Those are my focus. There are other things I deliberately do not and should not do, such as being available for the congregation 24/7 to meet and serve their every need. Families in serious crisis are an exception. The congregations I work in are to consider themselves as still pastorless, and the Elders and Deacons and others are to meet those needs as if no pastor resided in the congregation.

But others may say “No” to the question for other reasons. One of those could be the same as my personal one, based on my experience as a Pastor’s son. Dad was always gone to a meeting or a visit or some official duty. Some times he was gone right in his study (in the house) and I would only see him for meals and when he came for a fresh cup of tea or coffee. He may have had his own personal reasons for not knowing how to have relationship with his kids, but our experience was that he was simply gone, serving the needs of the church, and therefore God. I have had to process both levels of that and still am sorting them out. But as a boy, I missed having a father like others seemed to — even the ones that fought harshly with theirs — because at least they had something, even the passionate connection of anger caused me to be envious. To not create that same void in my own children, I had times I said “No” to the church and yes to them.

This is a difficult issue to navigate as a pastor. And I can’t deal with all of it in one blog post, no where near all of it. So in this one I will try to focus on just a few aspects. One is rural church expectations and why farmers don’t readily understand a pastor setting boundaries around his time and his family. The other is two kinds of what will look and feel like selfishness from the outside are necessary, and one of them essential, for pastors.

In a general way, congregations want their pastors to be the least selfish people around. Especially in areas that are culturally rural (churches that were once rural that had a city grow around them can remain rural in their mindset). You have to understand the farming lifestyle, and it’s close relationship to biblical imagery to understand the roots of this. Farmers live in the middle of their work. Their work is right on their doorstep all day, every day. Especially if they have livestock of any kind that need regular feeding and cleaning and other maintenance, and most especially if they need to be milked or other daily product such as eggs needs to be gathered and sorted and stored.  To them, a break is inconceivable. Talk to a farm spouse who came from city culture sometime about this and you will find out how strong this is. As a dairy hand in my highschool years I learned about this and saw it later as well. There is no escaping the relentless needs of the farm, and so farmers learn to accept that as part of their lifestyle. An afternoon at a local beach now and then was the best most of them could do, and sometimes that twas only once the hay was in. The beach while hay was dry on the ground? inconceivable!  Farmers also have their family always around them in their work. Most involve the family, and teach their kids great responsibility and work ethic. I have heard many stores from these kids who come work in a more union minded environment, and are quickly in trouble for working too hard and too efficiently. What I’m saying is that farming is a 24/7 lifestyle that includes the whole family. It is also easy for farmers to be workaholics and for it not to be obvious. This, as I will show, is equally true for pastors.

Farming of sorts is well depicted in the bible. Shepherds and herdsmen and cash croppers abound there. Or seem to. And so, when a pastor is referred to as a Shepherd, a dairyman thinks his or her responsibilty to him will be very much like his to his herd. Biblical reality is a bit different. But I have no space to explain. Again, I’m showing how rural congregations come to their expectations legitimately.

So, a congregation is presumed to be the herd the shepherd/pastor is responsible for. And since the farmer is 24/7 should the pastor not be so as well?

There are a few major differences, besides the bibilical comparison not being effective, while the farmer can have his kids tag along in a pleasant, relationship building way, as he does most of his work, this is not so for pastors. So a pastor has to deliberately make time for his/her children, and has to be aware that they generally experiece his or her work as a disruption of relationship, not building it.

Another major difference is that ‘herd issues’ and ‘congregational issues’ are far from the same. I will deliberately overstate the comparison to make my point. When dairy cows feel they are not fed on time, or when they are disturbed in some way, they will holler. Generally, you can go and find out what the hollering is about. The auto feeder didn’t work. Throw the breaker and the food goes out. There are coyotes in the area. Send out the dogs, and move the dead calf to a place where they might not smell it. And so on. The pastor’s herd will holler too. But their reasons for hollering are not as simply discovered. And they will often holler individually or in small groups, not the whole herd at once with the same problem. Often, their hollering, which seems to be about the colour of the paint or the hymbook, is not resolved by changing those things, because the issues are deeper. A shepherd of a congregational herd can run themselves into the ground trying to resolve such things. Sometimes, even when the root cause is uncovered, the flock members do not believe it and are madder than before for that having been brought up. I hope you get my point. Serving a congregation is much much more complex than serving livestock.

Another thing that happens often in such congregations is that members only think of the need they have at the particular time of need. They don’t realize that a pastor may be dealing with several complicated needs at once, all while trying to prepare two services and be a spouse and parent. The member only knows that they feel the pastor is not serving their need. They may be deeply upset that the pastor does not seem to be available for them. Also, member often only hint very subtly at a need, and are upset when the pastor does not respond to their ‘hint.’ All part of showing..p it is complicated.

So, for this post, I believe I’ve begun to establish that farmers need to realize that the parallel comparison they do with their farming and the pastor’s pastoring is not really valid. I have made two big differences clear and hinted at others.

In future posts I hope to explain the two kinds of selfishness. One is not helpful, the other is essential. Beyond that I might post on the theology of pas





“There are two general kinds of selfishness in life. One is sickly, and we often refer to it as egotism orindividualism. Its practitioners are emotionally hungry for power, starved for affirmation, and drive to use and impose on us for self-serving ends. They steal our energy and vitality. Our consumer-driven society fosterssickly selfishness because it thrives on teaching us that we always want or need more of some product to feel good about ourselves.”

Sacred selfishness is the second kind of selfishness. It means making the commitment to valuing ourselves and our lives enough to pursue the decision to become people of substance… what … Ralph Waldo Emerson refers to as ‘character–a reserved force which acts directly by presence, and without means… it works with most energy in the smallest companies and in private relationships.’ Sacred selfishness teaches us to love life, and its practitioners give energy, vitality, and hope to the people around them.”






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