Friday, March 16, 2012

It's Really, Really Hard

I'm in the process of preparing to meet three admitted seminary students this afternoon who are all willing to explore the possibility of being in ministry with our church during their three years of seminary. Our current intern, a first year student, has decided to do something else in his second and third years of seminary. His heart is leading him to explore ministry beyond the local church or go back to the familiar ground of youth ministry. He's an amazingly gifted person with a heart that beats with passion for God and God's people, and as he leaves, I cannot help but to wonder if I have let him in on a secret that not enough pastors tell.

The pastoral life is really, really hard.

At least once each year, I go through a phase of desperately searching the classified ads in the Christian Century because I am convinced that I cannot continue to serve in this role.

There are times when people constantly critique me - what I said on Sunday, what I did not say on Sunday, who I visited, who I did not visit, how I spend your time or how I do not spend my time. Some people even take time to critique me in the public forum known as Facebook, people I thought were on my side.

Not a Sunday goes by when my heart does not beat faster at 10:45 as I wonder if what I have prepared is good enough. While I am told often that I am a gifted public speaker, I still get scared - every Sunday morning.

While I know that there are much more important things than numbers, the tiny notebook in the back of the sanctuary can make or break my day. It is here where the usher records how many people were in worship. When people don't come, I wonder where they are. Are we not providing them with enough spiritual sustenance? Did I say something to someone to make them mad enough to not come back today? Are they looking for a new church?

Every holiday weekend I long for a normal weekend. I long to pack my bags and head to the beach or hop on a train to New York City.

Dates are not an option on Saturday nights. Bedtime arrives extra early for me on the night most people go out.

There is never enough time to do everything I feel like I need to do as there is always another hour I could spend on the sermon, always another note to write, another call to make, another person to visit.

While books lead you to believe that growing a church is easy, making disciples is the hardest thing I have ever done. Our church has fortunately grown a lot in the last few years but I am often at a loss of direction for what to do next. I give a tour of our massive building, and I get overwhelmed by all the work we could be doing and should be doing.

Being a pastor is hard - it is painfully hard work that never gets easier. And yet, there is no other job I would rather have.

I am convinced with my whole heart that being a pastor is also a joy for which none of us is truly worthy.

There have been enough tangible gifts from God in the last week to make my heart sing.

One person told me how something significant happened when he came forward for the Lord's Supper on the first Sunday of March. He could not quite describe it but he knew God was at work in that place.

I had breakfast this week with an 89-year-old woman who somehow thinks I walk on water. Spending time with "Precious" reminds me of who I can be by the grace of God. She constantly makes more of me.

I got to read the Bible with a 103-year-old this week who is still willing to pray each week for God to make him a better person.

I spent a couple of hours with two young women yesterday who are in the midst of discerning their call. Both of them are incredibly gifted, and they long to know what the future holds for them. They are willing to allow me to journey with them. Amazing.

Yesterday morning I arrived at church early when three people were cleaning up from the shower ministry. One of the volunteers is in a shelter herself and still comes each week to serve. I greeted her, shared a few moments of conversation and then heard her say, "I love you." And, I believe she meant it. And, I love her, too. She absolutely inspires me.

And on Sunday morning, some 90 or so people will gather and they will sit in their pews and look at me, trusting me to bring a morsel of grace, understanding and wisdom to them. They are willing to trust me enough to listen to what God has given to me to share with them. Preaching is quite possibly the most humbling privilege of all.

My friend, Mabel, used to always tell me that I had "the best job in Washington," before she died at the age of 101. Mabel was right. She did not tell me how hard it would be. She never told me how many boxes of Kleenex I would go through or how my heart would hurt or how many times I would doubt myself. She simply told me, "You have the best job in Washington, and we need you."

Mabel was right. And she's why I am willing to keep climbing the mountains and walking through the valleys.

I'm so grateful for the privilege of being a pastor.


Bill said...

Pastor Donna, we truly love and admire you and the hard work you do to make our church a welcoming and rewarding place to be and to serve.

Kristin Whitesides said...

Beautiful, Donna! Your church is blessed to have you as a pastor, just as I have been blessed to follow along through your blog and facebook. I am thankful for your courage, your voice, and your commitment to this difficult and joyful calling!

Lisa Degrenia said...

God bless you Donna for voicing what so many of us know. "It's really, really hard." It is hard and humbling and full of grace. Your sister and fellow worker in the vineyard- Lisa <><

cherylw said...

You are amazing and should stop doubting yourself anymore - ever! :) You bring so much to each and every one of us and have personally touched me beyond words. I don't know what I'd do without you!

(Bummy that our intern is leaving...). :(

(I don't really have Sat night dates either!) :)

(And you do have to hop a train or get in the car to the beach more often!) :)


Jessica said...

Beautiful words! I completely resonate with you this week, it has been hard and challenging to be a pastor this week, but every moment I try to get down I keep thinking of moments where I saw God at work in my congregation and I feel so blessed to be their pastor. Thank you for continuing to be a source of inspiration and learning for me even when I'm so far away!

lauren said...

absolutely beautifully written. you speak what so many of us feel!

Jerry Roberson said...

As I learn more and more with each pastor I befriend, vocational ministry IS hard, and serving as a church pastor is REALLY, REALLY hard. You, Donna, not only do a fantastic job, but it's evident that you ARE serving God's call upon your life. You are gifted beyond words, and for that I am grateful. Take joy in your experiences. Don't let the negative critiques discourage you, but rather let it give a glimpse into the lives of others who are saddled with doubt and pain in their own lives. I have never heard a sermon delivered by you that was anything less than prayerfully written and passionately delivered. And I am CONSTANTLY blessed by the energy I witness in the way you lovingly perform your weekly pastoral duties. You are a pastor! What a tremendous way to serve the Lord!