Do you ever want people to love you, but instead they are mean to you, or worse, don’t even notice you? I admit it—I like attention. Sometimes I would rather be beaten than ignored.
Being a pastor can be hard on guys like me. At times people are kind, warm, loving, and grateful to us for standing before them in the name of God. At other times people treat us with inexplicable animosity. They will never participate in Pastor Appreciation Month. Most likely they are living with deep hurts, and we are an easy target for their general hostility. The ministry contains euphoric times of victory and accomplishment when we know that we have been used of God. But the ministry also has times of darkness and discouragement. Every week is filled with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Being a pastor is not for sissies. We are doing battle with forces of darkness. The ministry is not an afternoon tea; it is a bloody battle. It is not a quiet stroll in the park; it’s a grueling marathon. The ministry is not a casual association; it is a serious, sobering, sacred trust. That’s why Paul said, “I have fought the good fight [battle], I have finished the race [marathon], I have kept the faith [a sacred trust]” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The pastorate does have its times when people love us. While we can enjoy their affection, we shouldn’t get used to that affection or come to expect it. By no means should we become dependent on the praise of people and their love. That dependency leads to a sure path of bondage and disillusionment. I know. It has happened to me.
I should have known better; I have been a pastor since the summer of 1976—that’s three decades of pastoring. One night I was alone in the parsonage, wondering why certain church members didn’t love me. I had tried to be lovable. Not only did those members not love me, but they actually worked every day to form an anti-pastor club. They had regular meetings and relentlessly plotted to make my life difficult. Their motto seemed to be, Whatever he is for, we are against.
As I stared into the flames of the fireplace, I asked, “Why, Lord? What is it about me that would make people dislike me? Why don’t they love me?” While the fire popped and crackled, a thought came to my mind: Read the letters of Paul to see how he treated people when they did not love him.
I opened my Bible and began to read, eventually coming to the second letter to the Corinthian church. In chapters 11 and 12 Paul listed his experiences in the ministry, none of which included the enjoyment of golf and brunch at the country club, cruise-ship Bible conferences, gifts of fresh garden produce, or professional reimbursement accounts. Instead Paul gave a litany of horrors that he had experienced, including beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. At the end of his list Paul added, “Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). The care of the churches included caring for troublesome people, some of whom Paul even referred to by name. Near the end of the next chapter Paul declared, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
It came to me as clearly as if Jesus was sitting across the room from me and said, “Ken, you are asking the wrong question. The issue is not will people love you. The issue is will you love people.”
There was comfort in that thought. It is not the job of the pastor to get people to love him. It is the responsibility of the pastor to “spend and be spent” for the souls of those in his charge, as the Lord Jesus spent His life loving those who did not love Him. May God give us the grace to spend our lives loving people, caring for the church, and nurturing souls whether we experience their love or not.
For pastors, living with the expectation of love and honor is like walking into an enemy ambush. We are sure to be hurt. A better ambition is for the love and honor of Jesus. Instead of asking, Do they love me? we would do better to ask, Do I love them and do they love Jesus?
Ken Pierpont, Preaching Pastor
First Baptist Church of Momence