I’ve been a pastor here in the San Francisco Bay Area for 9 years. Before becoming a pastor I worked as an alarm installer, furniture mover, college campus handyman, ministry communications director, security guard, and waiter.
I’ve come to experience that there is a type of pressure that’s unique to the office of pastor. This unique pressure can lead to two opposite outcomes. I first heard Tim Keller name this reality and it has helped me make better sense of my life and work.
The Unique Pressure
The pastorate is a unique calling that requires a man to constantly, daily, publicly say to people sentences like:
God is good.
Trust God with all of your heart.
The gospel is the best news in the world, it can radically change your life and your community.
God is sovereign, God is wise, God is good–you can trust him at all times.
Other professions don’t require you to constantly stand in front of another person or a congregation and say such things. One of my best friends has a high-pressure job as a Secret Service agent. He faces pressures I don’t face as a pastor (like bullets and assassins), but he never has to show up at work and tell anyone that God is real, God is at work, and God is to be praised and trusted.
Why Is This Pressure?
Because you have just two choices: you can fake it, or you can really believe it.
Faking It: Becoming a Worse Man
Some pastors fake it. Their hearts can’t keep up with all of the God-talk. Eventually what you get is a man who spends his week churning out sermons, leading counseling sessions, discipling others, and evangelizing neighbors by speaking sentence after sentence about the power of the gospel and the goodness of God, but he doesn’t really believe it. He’s faking it!
All his God-talk has become just that–talk. The pastor’s heart hasn’t kept up with what his job requires from his mouth. He wakes up in the morning with the pressure to tell other people about the glorious, redeeming God of the Bible, but his own heart isn’t warmed by the truths he speaks. So, he keeps faking it. He feels pressure to fake it.
Eventually, such a pastor discovers that he’s become a worse man because of his work as a pastor. The pressure of the job has made him a hypocrite, a man who constantly says things he doesn’t really believe and experience in his own heart. He realizes he would’ve been a better and happier man if he’d taken a career path that didn’t involve this unique pressure.
Believing It: Becoming a Better Man
Other pastors really believe the sentences they speak. They feel great pressure pushing down on their shoulders. As they prepare the sermon, speak with their non-Christian neighbor, lead the difficult counseling meeting, or disciple someone, they notice the dissonance between the words they speak and what’s going on in their hearts.
They feel the gut-check, the conviction, the tug of the Spirit:
I just told the church that God accepts and loves people on the basis of Jesus’ work, not ours. Do I really believe this? I want these people to like me, to be impressed with me. Do I really believe what I’m saying, do I find my identity and rest in Jesus, or do I just say I do? Do I care more about what these people think of me than about what God thinks of me?
Instead of ignoring this gut-check, such a pastor takes action and meets with God. He chooses to process what’s going on in his heart in the presence of God. He lays it all out before God. He gets his heart back to the gospel. He repents. He asks for help, for more grace, for the Spirit’s power. He tells his wife and his good friends about what’s really going on in his life and he enlists their help, encouragement, and prayer. This cycle is constantly repeating itself. This man doesn’t feel pressure to fake it, he feels pressure to really believe it. The pressure actually energizes him.
Eventually, such a pastor discovers that he’s become a better man because of his work as a pastor. The pressure of the job has made him a man who more deeply believes and experiences the biblical truths he’s constantly talking about. He realizes that his own sanctification might be one of the main reasons God called him to be a pastor. He realizes that he would’ve turned out a worse man had he chosen a different career path. The unique pressure of the pastorate has made him a far better man than he would’ve been otherwise.
Pastors, join me in seeing our vocation as God’s perfectly pressured path for making us better men.