It has taken me much longer to write and submit this blog than it should have. I believe that the reason will become obvious as you continue to read. However, just in case my thoughts or emotions aren’t as clear as I would hope, just know that this hits a little too close to home.
If I had to guess, I would say that the majority of us have struggled or do struggle with identity. Ok, maybe struggle isn’t the right word. But, you probably have found yourself in a situation where you just didn’t feel comfortable because you just couldn’t completely identify with those you were with. Most of us avoid those situations because we know that we don’t like to feel the way we do when we don’t or can’t identify with an individual or group of people. What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re a mechanic, construction worker, electrician etc., you may not feel “at home” in a room or at a party full of doctors, lawyers or politicians etc..
For me, I have been a pastors son my whole life. Up until a month or so ago, for the last 17 years, I have identified as a pastor. Whether you’re a youth pastor, worship pastor, lead pastor or administrative pastor, we all “speak the same language”. Pastors, for the most part, think the same way. You could take a pastor out of his/her church and place them in another church (of a similar denomination) and they could probably predict the service order almost to a tee… (opening song, announcements, 3 songs, prayer, message, closing…) I have spent time with pastors my whole life. They all feel the same way and go through the same things.
Now that I’m not in full time ministry, I have found myself (in a way) struggling with where I should feel comfortable. I walk into and out of the church that we are attending now and have no responsibilities. I don’t have to show up early to unlock and set things up. I don’t have to do anything on stage. No one is asking me questions or “needs me” for anything. I don’t have to stay late and make sure lights are off and doors are locked. There is no group of people I have to lead, show up for or be responsible for. No one is counting on me. Those things listed above were where I found my identity as a full time pastor for the majority of my adult life.
Now, I am a farmer. I use that word or term very loosely as I am only working on a farm doing my best to learn from the man who is patiently teaching me what it means to farm. My identity is different. I’m still trying to find out how I fit in this new picture of what God is calling my family to. I’m not a pastor (or I don’t hold a job that would give me that title). I’m not really a farmer. I’m more of a farm hand. So, here I am struggling with an identity. Yes, I am still a Christian who does his best to serve Christ. Yes, I am husband to my beautiful wife and I’m doing my best to be a good father to my boys. My identity in those areas of life is pretty secure.
But, who am I outside of those areas? Does it matter? Do I need to feel secure in that way? I still feel a need and desire to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ but the “platform” of doing so is much different. About a week ago, my dad came down and visited with me for a while. While we were together, I was driving a semi load of grain to the mill when my dad read a quote from USA Today that said, “More than 450 farmers killed themselves across nine Midwestern states from 2014 to 2018”. It hit me that farming is my platform. My identity of a pastor is to be utilized as a farmer so that the men and women that help keep the backbone of America fed and strong can see that there is hope and his name is Jesus!
Identity is big and it doesn’t matter if you are a middle schooler trying to find out how you fit into this big world or a middle aged mom trying to raise your kids, love your husband and find the balance between grocery shopping and friends. We all have a desire to fit in and know we have “a place”.
Honestly, pastors are no different. I would say that in the area of identity, pastors might have the hardest job out there. While a pastor may have a firm identity in who they are at home, most of them struggle with their congregation or their staff. I will use my father as an example to try to help you understand. My dad is a loving man who has a strong desire to lead people to Christ. He loves to laugh, sing, preach and share about Christ. He knows who he is and knows what God has called him to. He is in his “sweet spot” when he is able to focus on 3 things in ministry: Prayer, Praise and Preaching. It’s his 3 legged stool so to speak. As a pastor, getting people to praise is relatively easy. Most pastors even find it easy to preach (and they enjoy it). But, where I’ve seen my father struggle is in prayer…. No, no, no… his prayer life is probably the deepest of anyone I know. What I mean by him struggling is that it is a struggle to get the people of the church to gather to pray. People showing up for worship and a message on Sunday morning, not a tough task per se. But asking those same people to show up for a 1 hour time of prayer 1 time a month… you would have thought he just became the biggest hieratic the church has ever seen.
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s tough for a pastor to have a firm understanding of who they are and how they should lead when the people they are leading don’t know who they are. You see, if the congregation has a problem with their identity in Christ, the pastors job is 10x harder than it should be. If a congregation has never been lead to have an understanding of who God wants them to be, where they can find fulfillment in serving, how they can give to the community, what it looks like for them to gather to pray for one another, the job of the pastor is exponentially harder. Some people would say that it’s the pastors job to lead the congregation to find and understand their identity. If that’s true, a church would be a schizophrenic group of people after the change of a few pastors and leaders.
If you attend a church and you go there because the music is good or the preaching is inspiring or maybe the programs they have to offer fit perfectly into your busy schedule but you haven’t been digging in the word yourself to find out who God wants you to be, you’re part of the problem. If you find yourself critiquing the leadership of your church and you’re not doing your part to dig deeper into the Word, It’s not the fault of anyone else. Your pastor can only do so much. The church service you attend is mean to be more like a huddle in a football game. You go, meet, get encouraged, learn and hear the Word. Then you’re supposed to go out into the world and run the play(s).
Hundreds of thousands of pastors are doing their best to find a new form of identity in the wake of this Coronavirus or Covid-19 virus that is sweeping around the world. Many pastors have no idea how to minister to people who don’t meet under the roof of their church or they can’t meet with. They are doing their best to make the Facebook live video not look like a terrorist threat video. They are trying to learn what it means to minister to people while making sure they are practicing “social distancing”. To many pastors, this is killing them! They love you and need to see you each week. They’re not as worried about the numbers of people that aren’t in the sanctuary from Sunday to Sunday. What they are worried about is trying to navigate a group of people through some very uncertain waters while the craziness of this virus moves through our states, cities and towns. Your pastor loves you and wants the best for you.
Sometimes your pastor will look like a duck gracefully moving across a pond. But, never forget that the ducks feet are fiercely paddling like crazy to get where it needs to go.
Father, this has been a tough one for me to write. My identity seems uncertain at times. I know who I am but sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here! There are many pastors who feel the same way! Many of them don’t know how they are going to make it to next Sunday. Today was hard enough and there are a lot of hours between now and then and some of those hours are going to be tough. Help them to remember who you’ve called them to be. Help them to remember that their identity is founded and secure in you. For those pastors who may be struggling and in need of time away, Restoration Farm WILL BE that place. I know you have big plans in store for our family and so many of the pastors out there. Help us all to stay faithful to your call and the identity we have in you. Amen