The Myth of a Pastor

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This is a guest post by Nathan Joyce. Nathan is the senior pastor at Heartland Worship Center (www.heartlandworship.com) in Paducah, KY. He received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in pastoral care and counseling. Follow Him: @heartlandpastor, http://nathanjoyce.wordpress.com

The Myth of a Pastor

​Leprechauns, the Yeti, vampires, and the American pastor have one thing in common. They are all subjects of mythology. A rich folklore exists for each of them. However, the pastor is the only one being smothered by myth. Why? Because only pastors are real, and only pastors are dying by trying to live up to the myth that surrounds them.

​If you are a pastor, you need to be aware that your church has built a narrative about you that you can never live up to. It’s not completely your fault, although you are probably contributing to it. The myth was well and alive before you ever arrived on the scene. The focus of this myth is that you are hardly human.

Here are a few possible myths:

1. You can meet needs without having needs. Your calling is to empty yourself in the lives of others, but very little room exists for you to be lonely, hurt, insecure, tempted, and needy.

2. You are the perfect family member. Your marriage should be strong at all times. You are to be a parent like Ozzie Nelson not Ozzie Osbourne.

3. If you happen to struggle, make sure it’s with something minor and in the past. The myth would love to state that you never struggle, but if you must struggle, it needs to be with something harmless. Certainly depression, lust, addiction, and broken relationships are off the list of viable options unless they occurred years ago and have been triumphantly defeated.

4. Your spiritual life constantly sizzles. You have a special “line” to God. Your moral life has no failures, and you always “feel” close to God.

5. You live up to your sermons. Every preacher must decide whether to preach up to God’s standards or down to his own life ability. Many people who hear you think there is no difference.

6. You are excellent at all of the various aspects of ministry. You’re an introvert that can study like a scholar. At the same time, you are an extrovert like a cruise director. You must be funny and stern at the same time. You must be simultaneously creative and well structured.

The result of the myth is that pastors are burning out, falling out, and breaking down morally in record numbers. Souls are empty, leaving pastors susceptible to moral failure and depression.

What can we do?

First, it is up to every pastor to avoid the pride that desires to live up to the myth. It’s not simply a matter of workload management or needing more encouragement (although these can help). The issue comes down to whether or not a pastor tries to live out the myth or if he rests in the truth and grace of God. The myth demands so much energy, while authentic and honest living, including confession concerning our neediness, brings rest.

The heart of the Gospel is that we are helpless and needy. The Gospel does not become obsolete once we are initiated into salvation. It becomes the anthem of our new existence, resulting in a Gospel-spirituality that operates out of the same daily, honest confession of neediness.

Second, our churches must adopt a culture of nurturing the minds and hearts of its leaders. Most churches spend more time and money on landscaping than on cultivating the souls of their leaders. Churches can begin to demand Sabbath, healthy boundaries, strong investments into family time, and regular spiritual feeding for pastors and leaders. Unfortunately, the culture of many churches is skeptical, oppositional, and unrealistically demanding. If churches nurture and safeguard the wellbeing of their leaders, it would be to their own benefit. Inspired, enduring, and motivated church leaders will empower a church as much or more than any other factor.

What other myths have you seen applied to pastors?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “The Myth of a Pastor

  1. I was just preparing a 2 part series on the pastor's responsibility to his congregation and vice-versa. This is extraordinarily helpful. Thank you sir.

  2. Thank you. I've just completed leadership training for our elders and deacons and including a section on the ways we can help one another cultivate a spiritual life that sustains leaders. I will share this ,too.

  3. Excellent post, and very true, especially in the African American context where the "personality" of the Pastor is held in extremely high regard. This has led to a great deal of "unhealthy behavior" by many Pastors to maintain the myth of "all things to all people."