Hipster Christian Housewife

Have you hugged your pastor (or rabbi or guru or imam) today? Religious leaders need TLC, too

Have you hugged your pastor (or rabbi or guru or imam) today? Religious leaders need TLC, too

News_hug me_heart
News_Cameron Dezen Hammon_Hungary
The author, shown during a mission trip to Hungary in 2010. Courtesy of HipsterChristianHousewife
News_hug me_heart
News_Cameron Dezen Hammon_Hungary

Being a pastor is a tough job, and it can be a lonely one. I’ve spent at least an hour a day for the last six days talking to friends who work for churches (different ones in different cities), who have a hard time asking for help when they need it. They have an even harder time getting the help they need when they are brave enough to ask for it.

I’m talking about emotional help, spiritual support and the kind of accountability that is an assumed ‘given’ for men and women in positions of spiritual leadership.

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, in surprise, “I thought you had it all together!” after I’ve revealed something I’m struggling with. Because my job puts me in front of a congregation each week, in my case leading worship (music), people assume I have it together, or I’m closer to God, or somehow holier than they are.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

 A missionary friend of mine told us once that his agency’s motto is, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.”

 I often think those drawn into ministry are the most willing, not necessarily the most qualified. As my husband says, half kidding, “There’s no substitute for enthusiasm!”

Especially in ministry.

A missionary friend of mine told us once that his agency’s motto is, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.”

To be “equipped” means to be studied, prepared, skilled. To be “called” is to literally be called by God to do something. For Moses, it was to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, for Jesus it was to go to the cross, making a way for every person on earth to come into relationship with God.

For you it might be to start a food pantry for poor families, or to become a Big Brother or Big Sister to a disadvantaged child. For me it was to become a worship pastor.

A call is something you are called to do, a job, a task, and a lifelong work. If it’s a call it won’t simply benefit you or line your pockets. It will serves others and serve what Christians call “The Kingdom of God;” life on earth as God designed it to be.

Worship leaders, though they are musicians, are not rock stars, or they are not supposed to be. Their job is to use their musical talents to bring people into the presence of God. Have you ever had a religious experience at a concert?

I thought so, well that’s exactly what we do in church, but instead of serving beer, we’re usually drinking coffee. In fact, we believe it should be good coffee. Because for some of us, for me especially, good coffee (or good food, or Big Sur, or the way a baby smells) brings me into the presence of God. It focuses me on the wonder of things I didn’t or couldn’t make: the gifts of God.

So week after week for seven years my husband and I have used our musical talents, along with those of other men and women, to bring people into the presence of God. We’ve provided music for weddings, funerals and every other life function you can think of. We’ve prayed for grieving mothers, wounded fathers and confused young adults. We’ve celebrated over new jobs, pregnancies and opportunities; we’ve sobbed over the loss of all those things too.

Music isn’t the end of the story, it simply opens the door. Relationships are where we spend most of our time and energy.

So when church on Sunday is over, our work has really only just begun. And as I’ve mentioned, above, it can be heavy work.

 I assumed that since I was working for a church there would be plenty of counselor types around I could talk to, not to mention the Senior Pastor. But my assumption was a naïve one. 

 If you are a psychiatrist, or therapist, you are usually required to have a therapy outlet for yourself. You’ve got to have someone you can talk to freely after you’ve listened all day to the issues of others. Someone you can trust, who can keep your confidences.

I’ve found that for me, there has rarely been such an outlet. I assumed that since I was working for a church there would be plenty of counselor types around I could talk to, not to mention the Senior Pastor. But my assumption was a naïve one.

Not because the pastors didn’t want to help me, or pray with me, or comfort me in times of loss,  like the miscarriage my husband and I suffered in the fall,  but because I feared coming undone in front of my boss might make him think I was unfit to do my job.

Taking your issues to your pastor, if he’s also your boss, can be an occupational hazard.

Chances are your pastor wants to believe that you can come to him with your deepest darkest stuff. And maybe you can, and if you can, I applaud you. But I can’t, and I’ve only just learned this about myself.

So it’s up to me to find someone or someones' to do the heavy lifting with me, someone autonomous, someone outside the church that signs my paycheck.

I only wish I’d figured this out seven years ago.

I am convinced this is why we have so much burnout among pastors and worship leaders. How many public meltdowns do we have to witness before the church demands that its leaders be cared for? No matter the cost.

Pastors aren’t perfect people, quite the opposite. They are just as desperately in need of God’s love as the people they shepherd. And most of the time, God’s love comes in the form of human love. A phone call, a meal prepared, and email saying, “If you ever need to talk, I’m here for you.” But more than even that our pastors need mentors, prayer partners and counselors who can support them through the daily work of caring for others. Who can and will keep their confidences.

This is important because the work of the church is important and the people who do that work are important. They are important to God and to me, and to you.

Let’s do a better job of caring for them. Have you hugged your pastor today?

---

Cameron Dezen Hammon writes the blog Hipster Christian Housewife