Pastors from Another Planet

“That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things.”

These words are spoken by an old pastor, John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gilead. I agree with this fictional pastor. Many people really don’t know how to act around a minister, (especially those who are irregular church attenders or non-attenders). They apologize for using God’s name in vain when they discover that a pastor is present, never giving it a thought that God is omnipresent and has been listening to their language all along. Others cover themselves the opposite way when a pastor is present, using religious language like “God bless” and “what a blessing” and “I’m so thankful” which are phrases that they’ve not uttered since the last time a pastor was within ear shot. Still others will quickly move off to join a different person or group for conversation as if the pastor is contagious. It’s as if pastors are from another planet.

Many folks would be surprised to know that pastors are normal in most ways, having similar struggles, problems, and also interests and talents as everybody else. I remember being invited over to a family’s home for Sunday dinner after I had baptized a member of the family in our morning service. They had a pool table in the basement, so I joined in on a game of pool. They didn’t know that one of the few luxuries my parents allowed me and my siblings while growing up on an Iowa farm was a pool table that was squeezed into the second story bedroom my brother and I shared in the farmhouse. I can still play a decent game of pool. My opponent in the game, an unsuspecting non-church attender was shocked when the pastor beat him. I recall him mumbling something about the pool table not being level (as if this irregularity hindered his game and somehow benefited mine).

Then, too, it’s amazing how many people think a pastor lives an isolated existence, an innocent life, and is unaware of the real world out there. They have no idea of the number of people who enter the pastor’s study bringing with them their real world. They pour out their heart, unpack their dirty laundry, and vomit forth gut wrenching feelings they can no longer stomach. Pastors don’t have to go out into the real world to experience life as it really is; the people bring it to us! Of course, there are many times we do venture forth out into this real world to make house calls, hospital calls, funeral home calls, jail and prison calls, and calls to any place where someone is facing a crisis in their life.

People in our churches think we don’t know the half of all that’s going on in our own congregation. Truth be told, we know a lot more than they think we know!

It seems some folks want to compartmentalize pastors into one of two cubicles. Pastors are either out of touch with the real world (nice but naive) or they’re hypocritical pastors (including most televangelists) who are interested only in money and extra-marital affairs. There seems to be no cubicle for the majority of pastors who honestly are seeking to serve the Lord while dealing with the same day-to-day fallen world situations everyone else does.

My conclusion to all of this? First of all, how people view us as pastors probably says as much or more about them as it does about us, so we shouldn’t take it personally. We can learn a lot about the condition of their hearts and souls by watching their reactions to us.

A second observation: I think we just have to accept the fact that to some people we’re an oddity, love them where they’re at, and hope and pray that they’ll really get to know us and, more importantly, the Jesus we serve. The final thought I have on this subject is that it felt really good beating that non-church attending pool player!

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