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I love pastors. I haven’t been a pastor throughout my career. In fact, I spent most of my career to this point in the business world. (I realize this makes me an odd duck in many pastor circles, but it’s actually served me well in my ministry roles.) But, even before I was in ministry – I loved pastors.

Coming into ministry later in life, after being a church member, deacon and Sunday school teacher, has given me a unique perspective. I’ve seen ways the church interacts with the pastor I simply had no idea of before I was a pastor. A few surprises have occurred, probably especially when interacting with other pastors who are now my peers.

Thankfully, I’ve been in churches that mostly support me as pastor, but I interact with pastors in caustic church environments everyday. Even so, they are some similarities it seems with all pastors. And some of these, or at least the degree to which they exist, has been surprising.

Here are 7 of the biggest surprises in being a pastor:

People don’t understand the role.

The old adage that the pastor only works on Sunday – I’m surprised how many think something similar. They may not think Sunday is the only day the pastor works – some can catch on the message actually has to be written – but they don’t realize the weight of other responsibilities the pastor deals with on a weekly basis. It really is simply an innocent misunderstanding of what’s involved in the position of pastor. (It may seem a contradiction and yet this next one is equally true.)

The various opinions of how a pastor should pastor.

Some think I should be the only speaker the church has. Some think I should make every hospital visit. Some want me to do more administration. Some believe I am the resident counselor. Some think I should know every detail of every ministry and every event on the church’s calendar. You get the idea. As diverse as the people of a church are exists the range of opinions here. Thom Rainer wrote an interesting post on this issue and how many hours a week accomplishing expectations would mean a pastor should work. Read it HERE.

People often lose their filter when talking to a pastor.

It amazes me what people feel comfortable telling a pastor. It is beyond the expected confidentiality issues one expects. It could be criticism of the pastor or gossip about someone else, but many don’t hold back their opinion no matter how harsh it may be. And they don’t often clean it up before they present it. I have had pastors tell me they have people in their congregation who blast themm every Sunday about something – always in a very hurtful way. And, crazy, some of these same people will claim to be one of pastor’s biggest supporters to their face. The pastor should be a “safe place” to be real – even with your emotions. Unfortunately however, I think some people believe the pastor has no feelings or is expected to be “tough enough” to handle the jabs and process the rumors.

The job is never finished.

I guess I knew this, but not to the degree I do now. And, there are many jobs like this. There is always one more thing I could’ve done when I go home at night. Lives keep falling apart. People keep sinning. Marriages are in trouble. It could be overwhelming, and I could refuse to rest and neglect my family if I wasn’t disciplined, and if I didn’t have a keen awareness that Jesus is ultimately in control. My heart goes out to (and it is part of the motivation of this blog) pastors who haven’t learned or aren’t practicing this discipline or this truth.

Everything isn’t always as it seems.

People are hurting. Many of those hurts are hidden. You can’t “judge a book by the cover” when it comes to people. There are always two sides to an issue. Everyone has a story and it isn’t always the story you are thinking. Being a pastor has taught me it is unfair to judge people by what you think you know until you know the whole story. I’ve better realized the importance of extending grace before I know, and even if I never know, the full story.

Sunday is coming.

Every. Single. Week. I never realized how fast the weekend comes around until I became a pastor. Don’t misunderstand – I’m glad it does – it’s my favorite day of the week, but I just never realized how fast it does so until now. My first thought when I walk away from church on Sunday morning is – Sunday’s coming!

Some people truly love their pastor.

They do. There are some of the best pastor-supporters in the church. Most churches have someone who truly loves the pastor and wants the best for them. (These are Kingdom-building people!) And, I’m so thankful. It’s amazing how supportive and encouraging some people can be. I honestly believe they would do anything for Cheryl and me. I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days. If you’re one of those pastor supporting types – on behalf of all pastors – THANK YOU!

Those are a few things I didn’t know, at least as well as I do now, before entering the pastorate.

Pastors, any you would share?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 33 Comments

  • Michael says:

    You are so right on many of these fronts. I think the most challenging surprise to me is that our congregations think we don’t have problems too. We struggle and are real humans just like the congregation is. They seem baffled thay you could have a bad day or your kids act like other teenagers.

  • Jonathan says:

    I just moved to a campus pastor position and I always heard it, but now living the fact that you don’t understand the role until you sit in the seat. That is the weight of responsibility and how far reaching your voice is even to your staff. It has definitely been an adjustment from being a part of the staff to now everyone looking to you to have the final say.

  • Don Taylor says:

    I'm speaking as a lay leader that enjoys reading your blog. From watching my Pastor, numbers 1, 2,and 7 are the most common. Not everyone think thinks it's an easy job. Our most active people have an idea of the time that goes into worship planning, future ministry planning, community responsibilities, visitations, etc. and remind her to make sure she takes a mental break from the job to prevent burnout. When the Pastor has needed spiritual support it's been provided. It's a trying job but keep up the good work.

  • Mark Ford says:

    Numbers 2 and 3 have always been the hardest for me. I remember one couple, a deacon and his wife, that had a different opinion as to how I was to do my ministry and although they were not agreed with by the other leaders their constant barrage of hate mail and harsh words eventually caused my wife and I to seek a different ministry.

    I also think that it is impossible to understand #7 in any other position. 3 years ago I had an appendectomy and bowel resectioning and the care that church members provides was wonderful. Today I sit in a hospital bed with complecations from that and I have been blessed to have many of my elders, deacons, and my youth pastor come to visit me as well as church members and it is amazing how much they all care.

  • I've been a P.W. for over 30 years, and have rarely liked the role. People expect the moon from you, pay you less than minimum wage, then criticize you to your face and behind your back.

    But I do agree that the few who love us make it worth all the suffering. They are the gems in Jesus' crown!

    Thanks for your thoughts,

  • Ryan says:

    The greatest shock to me was the feeling of isolation. I was not prepared for this. Maybe this is a way pastors identify with Christ's sufferings? Great post. Thanks!

    • ronedmondson says:

      Good question. Very true. Haven't thought of it that way.  —Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

  • samuel warren says:

    Higher standards: We are held to a higher standard on everything. If we are not sitting at home, or at church, in prayer and reading our bibles.

  • I would add- it takes a tremendous amount of work to make it all happen. Regardless of the size of your congregation, there is a ton of work done to accomplish the most simple tasks. Organizing God's army to take the hill isn't for the faint of heart.

  • jsheeleygbc says:

    Excellent post! I came to the pastorate later in life too, after a career in the Air Force, and your perspectives are very similar to mine. In fact, after about six months or so as a new pastor I was convicted enough to go back and apologize to one of my former pastors for not supporting him in the right way when I was under his leadership and teaching. Moving across that fence has really given me a new perspective. Each one of your points could have come from my own hand, thanks for sharing!

  • I completely agree with this statement you made: "I know, especially from some of my pastor friends in especially difficult situations, that these type people keep a pastor going some days." Without the encouragement from some folks at a church, many pastors might have thrown in the towel by now.

    Also, and in my own case, it is interesting how our church Constitution outlines the duties of the pastor, yet people in my church expect so much more. I guess you can add that to the list of job security. 😉

  • Simon Lawton says:

    Great article! After nearly 20 years pastoring my role has become both pastor, preacher and CEO and rarely does anyone I speak to in my congregation really get it. Not sure what the answer is. I console myself with the thought that I too have little comprehension of other peoples jobs. However I love my job and the rich variety involved. It's great building His Kingdom and seeing a church grow. By the way….love your articles….keep them coming!

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thank you pastor. Great when more experienced pastors confirm one of my posts. —Sent from Mailbox for iPhone

  • Even as the young Associate Pastor on staff, it's amazing to me how much #3 is true, and how much the congregation will blurt out to me in regards to the other pastors on staff. I find myself defending my mentors on occasion, and it's always a surprise.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Thanks for confirming this

      • Sorry to break it to you! But I've also come to find that Senior Pastors hear everything. Just makes it all the more important for a pastoral team to be on the same page and have regular communication. Regardless of what the congregation thinks (and by and large they show great respect for our pastors), I know how much I have to learn from somebody who's been in ministry 30+ years.

  • Tom Estes says:

    I like this whole list, but #6 is amazingly correct. This is actually one of the great challenges for me in the ministry. I feel like Monday-Friday is just a blur, and then there I am on Saturday again, getting ready for another big Sunday. It just feels like I'm gearing up for a big final every week, and I've been doing this for five years. I guess this is normal, but it feels a little unhealthy to me at times.

    Anyway, great list.

  • Joe Smith says:

    Since I’ve been working in a job outside of ministry alongside my work as a pastor,, I would make an addition to the observation about the filter. The filter of what people say to a pastor certainly changes. But I don’t think it’s absent. I think pastors are present during very sacred rites of passage. This opens the door for the expression of some very raw feelings and questions. But I think in general people alter their speech patterns in front of pastors, lest the pastor somehow believes through the person’s speech that they are not holy. Or good people. I think for pastors people attempt to put their best speech forward, which I believe is it’s own filter.