Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #3: The Challenge of Being Misunderstood

Not long after he started attending our church, Ed asked me about something that had been bothering him. It was a question that took me by surprise. It had nothing to do with election or the fate of the heathen. It didn’t concern some obscure point in the Bible. Ed wanted to know what I did all week. “What exactly does a pastor do?” he asked. When I described a typical work week, it was his turn to be amazed. He thought that my duties were limited to the thirty minute sermon I delivered each Sunday, something he assumed I did without preparation.

 Ed is not the only one to think this. Nearly every pastor I know has been asked this question, sometimes by the church board!  This should not surprise us. The sermon is the only exposure most people have to the pastor’s work. The pastor’s other responsibilities of leadership, planning and pastoral care are hidden from view. Even if they were not, some would wonder if such things actually constitute real work. For them any task that does not produce a callous does not qualify as work.

 How should we deal with the pressure we feel to justify ourselves in light of this misunderstanding? The challenge is to inform the congregation without trumpeting our accomplishments or exaggerating our effort. This is something the apostle Paul did with the Corinthian church, making them aware of some of the pressures he faced as an apostle (2 Cor. 11:28). The goal is not to evoke pity or to do your acts of righteousness before men to be seen by them, but to educate God’s people and solicit their prayers.

 Try not to be defensive when someone wants to know what you do all week. Those who ask this question are not trying to insult you. They are genuinely mystified. Help them understand the nature of your calling and ask them about their work. You are probably as unaware of all that their job entails as they are of yours.

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Published by

John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

2 thoughts on “Ten Challenges Pastors Face-Challenge #3: The Challenge of Being Misunderstood”

  1. Excellent #3 John.
    I had a critical meeting last year and found myself explaining (justifying?) what I did in an average week – I’ll never forget the eyes growing bigger and bigger as the individuals there realized what a pastor does.

    Of course, this goes together with #1, it’s hard work…. but few people ever see it.

    1. Thanks, Thomas. I think it requires a good measure of humility to patiently describe what the pastor does. It is hard for us to be challenged in this area. Plenty of room for hurt feelings. Kudos to you for handling it well.

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