“My job (as pastor) is not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It’s hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you’re smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ’s suffering in their lives.” Eugene Peterson (from Rodney Clapp’s Introduction to The Contemplative Pastor p.13)
A pastor’s job description can be a very complicated list of activities. If you ask the typical church-goer across North America, you’d probably hear that pastoring is a pretty comfy job. Spend six days praying and studying God’s Word, and then work one day per week, preaching and leading worship for the congregation they serve.
In Eugene Peterson’s latest book, The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene talks about his own personal experiences dealing with this faulty perception people have of pastors. “Every Sunday after a morning of leading my congregation in worship, I walked the quarter of a mile home. My next-door neighbor was often working in his yard and always greeted me cheerily, ‘Well that’s done, pastor. A one-day workweek. Must be nice.’ I was welcomed home to the neighborhood with that greeting followed by a chuckle for thirty years. He always said it as if he had just thought it up on the spot.”
But as most pastors know, the one-day workweek job description is only a mirage. In truth, pastoring is a lot like being a doctor. You are always on call, and are expected to have the answer to the people’s problems or questions whenever they ask. And just like a small-town physician in a small rural community (a rare thing now-a-days), the pastor of a smaller church is expected to know, not only the names of each parishioner, but also the inward workings of each person’s life and be at the ready to put a God-band aid on each owie that people encounter. And as a human being in this thing called life, where owies are pretty common, I’m sure you’re quick to realize just how many owies a pastor can encounter on a weekly basis when shepherding the average-sized congregation of 75-100 people. In truth, the dream of a one-day-per-week workweek goes out the window pretty fast.
So when Peterson states here that, as a pastor, it’s not his job to “solve people’s problems or make them happy”, most of us 24-7, on-call pastors just might be a bit shocked. But my friends, Peterson speaks truth here and it’s time we make a change in the way we “do church” in North America. Unfortunately, happiness has become an Americanized right and quite honestly, we are so addicted to the “happiness is a right” pill, we’ve forgotten that America was founded on the right of life, liberty and the ‘pursuit of happiness’, not a ‘right’ to have happiness given to us! As Peterson so correctly states, “there aren’t very many happy people in the Bible.” And before you bust a gasket and think that Peterson is some gloom and doom Old Testament prophet, might I add that Pastor Eugene is onto something here when he says, the Bible is full of stories of “people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ’s suffering in their lives.”
As I see it, we pastors are doing a huge disservice to God and His advancing Kingdom when we cater to people’s expectancy of happiness as given to them by others, stepping in to solve people’s problems for them thus removing their personal need to push into God in the midst of their trials and hardships, finding God-answers that only they can find. And before you call me a Scrooge or hard-hearted minister of the gospel, let me remind you that Jesus didn’t come to earth to be treated as our personal vending machine for goodies in life. He came to give us the best goodie, (i.e. eternal life with God), yet He also promised that ‘in this world, you will have trouble’ (John 16: 33). But Jesus’ solution to this dilemma was not going around protecting us from those troubles nor was it Him simply kissing our owies away. But Scripture indicates that Jesus promised us that He has overcome all of these earthly hardships and if we stick with Him in this life, He will give us His peace, which has an amazing ability to soothe our pain in the midst of the tough stuff life hands us.
So I’m with Peterson here. How about if we pastors make an agreement that we will shepherd our people the way Jesus shepherds us? There is amazing God-grace operating in all of our lives. And Jesus came to show us that grace. Might it be that as we focus people in our churches on the God-grace operating in their complicated lives, rather than trying to fix their problems, the church might become the place God intends it to be? For His Name’s sake.