I get this question just about every week, and I never quite know how to answer it.
Or rather, I don’t know how to answer it in under 10 seconds, which is the time frame most people are looking for when they ask a question.
The 10-or-fewer-second answers I have are: (1) “I don’t know,” which is actually true, but not particularly informative; (2) “When God tells me to,” which is also true, but comes off as flippant—like I don’t really want to answer the question, so I’m punting to God; (3) “Maybe next year. Maybe in five years,” which may or may not be true, for all I know; and worst of all, (4) “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer” (followed by no explanation whatsoever).
If you’ve had lunch or coffee with me and received answer #4, you know it’s the worst one because once you’ve received it you have to make the uncomfortable choice of either saying, “Oh, okay. Nevermind,” and risk making me feel like you don’t really care enough to hear the long answer, or you have to commit to buckling up and listening to an attention-span-testing monologue.
There may be an easy solution to this problem. From now on I’m just going to say, “Well… it’s a good question, but it’s a really complicated answer. So, I wrote a blog post about it, if you’re interested in the long version.” I already know that people are going to say, “Oh. Well, give me the short version.” (Insert answer #1, #2 or #3 here) But it’s worth a shot.
Q: So… When do you think you’re gonna be a pastor again?
A: Man… Thank you for asking that. I guess I don’t know for sure why you’re asking it, but I think I know why, and I really appreciate it. Being a pastor was an unbelievable honor, and the fact that people wanted me to be their pastor and were actually sad when I wasn’t anymore is mind-blowing to me. And I don’t say that with any kind of obligatory faux humility. It’s… I honestly don’t how to wrap my mind around that. So, thank you.
Here are the things that come to mind when I try to formulate an answer to that question (in no particular order):
First of all, I really like my job. And I’m good at it. Which is a very rare combination that I don’t want to take for granted for a second. I love my team. I love working with very high-caliber people. I love my bosses. I love their vision for doing real good in the lives of people. I love my clients. I love that I get to employ a large swath of my skill set in this role. I love the rewards that come from doing this job well. I love being welcomed into people’s homes. I love helping people make wise decisions. I love being trusted as a guide and advisor. No one in their right mind would leave this job and this team.
Is this job the purpose of my life? Of course not. But I don’t know too many guys whose purpose in life is their job. My best friends—the best guys I know—are all among the best in their field in sales, finance and music. None of them have made their job their purpose in life. Their purpose in life is clearly to know Christ and make him known. And that can be done well without getting paid for doing it.
I might be made to be a pastor. That might be what I’m supposed to do. I guess that remains to be seen. But my purpose in life is to know Christ and make him known. And I don’t need to get paid to do that in order to do that well.
Second, being a pastor sucks. And it’s the sweetest vocational calling imaginable. And it sucks.
Maybe I should unpack “it sucks” a little bit…
Earlier this week someone on my team at work asked me whether being a real estate agent—especially this time of year, in a booming market, on a very driven team, when 60+ hour weeks are common, and I’m away from home several nights a week on appointments— is harder, or whether being a pastor is harder. My response was that it’s a very different kind of hard. For the most part, I can deal with my current vocational fatigue with one full day off. If between Friday night and Sunday night I get in a date night with my wife, a good run, some time in the Word, play time with my kids, and a few pages of a novel, I’m pretty much good to go for the five days that follow. In other words, there are distinct times in my life right now when I’m not a real estate agent. I’m much more clearly a husband, or a dad, or a Bible student, or a runner, or a reader, or a House of Cards fan.
That was never really the case when I was a pastor. When I wasn’t at the office, I was a pastor-husband (“Is my marriage a good example to my congregation?”), a pastor-dad (“Am I raising my kids to be example-setters for my congregation?”), a pastor-Bible-student (“How would I preach this text?”), a pastor-runner (“God, I need you to download a sermon outline into my brain by the time this 5-miler is done”), a pastor-reader (“Are there any good anecdotes in this novel that I could use as sermon illustrations?”), and a pastor-House of Cards–fan (“I probably should watch this show if I’m going to be able to engage with real people, not just squared-away church-goers”).
It’s exhausting. The spiritual, mental and emotional fatigue of being a pastor is staggering. To never really turn off being a pastor is an enormous struggle for most pastors. And not just for pastors. Also for pastors’ wifes and pastors’ kids. And certainly, a lot of that is pastors’ own fault. I certainly should have worked harder to create margin, to shut my pastor-brain off, and to say “no” to more ministry opportunities and responsibilities. But some of it is inevitable. It’s just part of what you sign up for when you say ‘yes’ to being a pastor. And, what’s more, the devil knows it. He makes a living out of shredding tired pastors.
All of that to say, I want to make sure I’m ready for that, and that my family is ready for that. Don’t get me wrong. Being a pastor is an amazing vocation. “You’re going to pay me to read the Bible and help people understand what it means and live it out?! You’re going to pay me to have coffee with hurting people? You’re going to pay me to help people become the best, most God-saturated version of themselves? You’re serious?!” It’s almost unbelievable. It’s an incredible privilege. I can’t describe how happy it made me.
But I want to make sure I’m ready for the spiritual, mental and emotional onslaught as well. I’ve spent the last 21 months with my heart and soul plugged into a monitor to assess my health, get rid of disease, heal, and make sure that I’m as strong and robust as possible if I’m called to head back into the fray. I think I’m there. God’s redemptive and renovating power is as advertized, I’m happy to say. But I want to see a clean bill of health from people who are in a position to give it. Which leads me to…
The third thing that comes to mind is this: It’s not really up to me. I’m only one of the people who has a significant say in whether I become a pastor again or not. I’ve invited at least a dozen people in on that decision, and I take them all very seriously. Some of them are friends. Some are pastors and church leaders. Several of them are people who know me, my heart, my tendencies and struggles, my strengths and virtues, and my character better than anyone else in the world. The most significant one, of course, is my bride. Leslie has absolute veto power over any plan I devise, any opportunity I want to pursue, any interview I want to take, or any church plant I create in my mind. If she’s not a million percent on board, it’s just not happening. So… ask her.
Fourth, and most importantly, I’m not going to be a pastor again until I have a very clear sense of a call. I had an undeniable sense of calling to be a pastor for almost six years, and it came with two crucial elements: A group of people asked me to come be their pastor, and God said, “Yes, I want you to go do that,” in a way that I couldn’t possibly ignore or deny.
A calling to the pastorate doesn’t come with a guaranteed lifetime appointment. This isn’t the Supreme Court. There’s no tenure track in pastoral ministry. Maybe I was supposed to be a pastor for a season of life, and now I’m supposed to be a real estate agent for the rest of my life, pastoring my family, loving my neighborhood toward Jesus, and offering my gifts in service to a local church as a layperson. I spent six years urging men and women who weren’t pastors to do pretty much exactly that.
I can’t deny that I’m a dreamer. I make plans in my mind, and scrap them, and revise them, and scrap them again, and start over…. I doubt I’ll ever be able to turn that off. But none of it will ever take shape unless there is a clear sense of calling. I’m not telling God how he has to do it. He can do what he wants. I’m just anticipating that when and if it happens, it will be because a group of people said, “Would you come do this?” and God says, “Yes, I want you to go do that.”
So, there’s the long answer. What can I say? I’ve never been good at short answers. I never had a problem figuring out what I was going to talk about for 35 minutes on a Sunday. My problem was always figuring out how to cut out 25 minutes worth of material to get it down to 35.
Maybe I should be a pastor.