An ex-pastor friend wrote me wondering what to do when the grumps effect shepherding. His self-evaluation of his previous ministry was that his effectiveness was hampered by his own mood swings. He does not believe he should reenter the ministry until he deals with the grumps.
What is the pastor to do when he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed? What is the pastor to do when he finds himself irrationally annoyed by church members? What is the pastor to do when he is cynical and does not want to be around people?
1. Remember the Body texts.
As I have been mourning the recent loss of my Resplendent Bride, I have found myself staying up late listening to Rich Mullins. My sleep schedule had been like clockwork for years, but I now find myself disquieted. I know my fellow bibliophiles would rather imagine me burning the midnight oil reading Edwards and Warfield simultaneously, but, nonetheless, there it is. I wile away the night listening to Rich Mullins. What I like about Mullins is that he was honest about how damaged he was, and perhaps flowing out of this damage comes his evident love for the local church. His love for the body of Christ was evidenced in both his music and his all too short sermonettes between songs. He was self-deprecating about the Christian music industry, always careful to point people away from musicians to the eternal fount that is the Church and the Scriptures. Mullins never got too big for the local church. Pastors would do well to do the same. We spend a great deal of time stressing how needy the church is for humble under-shepherds to do the dirty work of watching over Christ’s chosen portion. This is all well and true, and certainly let us continue to emphasize it. But in the midst of all our back patting let us not forget that the pastor needs the church just as much as the church needs the pastor.
There is much talk these days from bands that once made their bread and butter in church basements about how they are reticent to have the term Christian stuck to what they do. They prefer the term artist. People start talking about sacred/secular divides and inevitably bring up some story about Martin Luther and a shoe cobbler. But my affections are not stirred by these blogs widely shared on the internet, and, for my part I keep on imagining a comical scenario playing out in my head of a psalmist bemoaning the label sacred being attached to his art. Selah. Not for nothing, and surely not often enough, I do sometimes wonder what the Crucified Carpenter King thinks of it all.
There are pastors, we are led to believe, that are so good at pastoring that they are offered writing contracts to write books describing how we too can be good pastors like them. There are pastors, we are led to believe, that are so good at pastoring that they embark upon the conference tour to teach us to be good pastors, just like them. Sometimes these good pastors are so good at teaching their fellow pastors how to be good pastors like them that, alas, they feel God no longer wishes them to actually pastor so that they may devote all their time to writing and speaking about good pastoring.
Herein lies irony, for the moment they step away from their church I no longer particularly care what they have to say about pastoring. I’d much rather they stay at their local church and put out a lower volume of extracurricular work, if only they kept their . . . gravitas, or perhaps glory is a better word.
What can I say? I am a snob.
The pastor needs the church just as much as the church needs the pastor.
All this to say, Rev. Puddleglum: You have no right to be annoyed at the body of Christ. Do they annoy you at times? So be it. For surely you annoy them at times as well. This is, after all, the “Never gunna give you up, never gunna let you down, never gunna run around and desert you” communion of Christ, as Rick Astley might put it.
Rev. Puddleglum, when you are irrationally annoyed at your brothers and sisters in Christ go to the body texts of Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Ephesians 4:13-16, John 15:1-8, Romans 12:4-5, Colossians 2:19, 3:15) to remind yourself that you need the Church—just as much as they need you.
2. Stay in, or get in good health . . . so much as it depends upon you.
Mmm, them endorphins taste good too! A little exercise never hurt anyone. Well, the first couple workouts will hurt a great deal, to be honest. Come let us reason together: if you feel a bit better about yourself you’ll feel a bit better about other people. Yes, the small amount of sunlight that filters through the copious shellacking of sun block you apply every morning might do wonders for your attitude!
For further reading on the physical side of the melancholy, I heartily recommend John Piper’s When The Darkness Will Not Lift particularly pages 25-31, keep your eyes peeled for the lengthy Martyn Llyod-Jones’ quote about Charles Spurgeon’s gout.
3. Go home and spend time with your family and friends.
Regardless of how much you love your local church, if you spend too much time in that church building you will grow to hate it. Get out of there once in a while.
4. Get to the root of the issue.
He is a monster, you know: he who comes home after a shoddy day at the sprocket factory and vents his frustration by kicking the family dog. Believe it or not, many pastors have stressful home dynamics which may cause them to take out their frustrations on unsuspecting sheep. A pastor may have unfulfilled dreams and ambitions weighing him down, down, down—all the way to doldrumville. Perhaps Rev. Puddleglum is a sad little man, or worse yet, a man who became a pastor because someone else expected him to do so, but in his heart of hearts (he tells himself) he could have been a contender, yes, a big shot of sorts.
Pastors are sinners, just like everyone else. And, after we hurt someone by rudeness or unkindness the reasons for our ill temperament never seem to measure up.
While the message of do better is much maligned in today’s evangelical social media sub culture I think it is all right for a pastor to tell himself to snap out of it when necessary.
My dear mother, Becky Jean (may she rest in peace) wore red lipstick and often drank her coffee out of a white mug with the word “Whining” crossed out. I can still see that mug with its red lipstick marks in my mind’s eye when I am tempted to feel sorry for myself.
Rev. Puddleglum, you best sit yourself down.
The other day I was to officiate the home-going of a dear sister in Christ. I had driven back from Baltimore to do the service, had a cold, and for whatever reason my grief over my Resplendent Bride’s death hung over me particularly heavy that day, like a wet wool blanket on a muggy prairie night. I could feel myself slipping into a foul mood the moment I walked into the church building. I sat myself in my study and asked God for help. I asked him to not allow me to take out my pain on innocent people, especially on a day when I needed to be there for other people.
You see, Rev. Puddleglum, you’re no use to God’s people when you’re all wrapped up in yourself. Praise to the Lord Jesus who unwraps us.
I left my study and went downstairs to the fellowship hall, and chatted it up with the women preparing lunch.
Evan Welcher is senior pastor of First Christian Church in Glenwood, Iowa. Husband of the lovely Danielle. Evan graduated with a B.S. in Bible from Emmaus Bible College in 2005. His goal in ministry is to stir up love for Jesus Christ by the giving of great care and fidelity to the teaching of the Scriptures. He blogs at EvanWelcher.com. Follow him on Twitter: @EvanWelcher