I love baseball. It’s always been easy for me to see major leaguers as something more than normal, as a kind of sports superhero figure. We tend to make these players larger than life, as something special and somehow more valuable that the rest of us.
As a life long Cincinnati Reds fan, it was a treat for me when work took me to the Phoenix area during spring training. One evening I took the opportunity to take in a Reds-Royals exhibition game. I loved the laid back atmosphere and the feel of being back in a ball park after a long, cold winter back home in Indiana.
As the sixth inning began, Aroldis Chapman, the Reds flame-throwing closer, strolled to the mound. I walked to where I could stand behind home plate, anxious to get a first hand look at what his 100 mph fast ball looked like. Wow, the descriptions I had read were no exaggerations. How anyone could hit that fast ball was beyond my imagination.
Chapman struggled early in the sixth, but finally settled down and began throwing that trademark fastball for strikes. Then it happened. Royals catcher Salvador Perez lined a 99 mph fastball up the middle, right at Chapman. From my vantage point behind home plate, I could see the terror in his eyes for just an instant before hearing the ominous thud as the line drive struck Chapman just above the eye. Down he went as the stadium grew eerily silent. Medical personnel tended to him as players took a knee, some obviously praying.
Fortunately, Chapman’s injuries were not as serious as originally thought, and he should make a full recovery. But in those moments as he lay on the ground, surrounded by those tending to him, his father ran onto the field to be with him. It was then it hit me. He was no super hero, no larger than life individual with special powers. He was a 26 year old young man, scared to death, in pain, trying to figure out what had just happened to him.
Sometimes church members put pastors in a similar position. They are viewed as spiritual super heroes, as larger than life, filled with wisdom reserved for clergy only. They, so it seems, need no sleep, can be at multiple places at the same time, and can answer every Bible trivia question ever asked. They are in the church world what pro athletes are in the world of sports.
Having been a pastor for a number of years, and knowing many other pastors as close friends and colleagues, I need to affirm that, like Aroldis Chapman, pastors can be scared to death, feel pain, and need someone who loves them to come alongside them when they don’t understand everything that is going on around them.
While being a pastor assumes there is a divine call on one’s life, that fact sometimes leads to assumptions and expectations that no one except a superhero could live up to. Some of those false assumptions and unrealistic expectations are:
1. Pastors are not regular people. We all know that is not true, and yet, I can’t tell how often pastors here things like, “and you call yourself a pastor,” or, “you can’t take a day off from your call,” or even, “you should make less money than the rest of us so you will depend on God more.” Pastors are human, they hurt when they are attacked, they long to be understood, and need people who love them to stand by their sides both in good times and bad.
2. Pastors have perfect marriages. Many spouses of pastors are often told, “It must be wonderful being married to a pastor. You must get treated so perfectly living with someone so holy.” Most pastors’ spouses cringe at words like those. Like any one else, pastors have to learn to be good spouses, they are not automatically great at it because they are ordained. Ministry places a unique and heavy stress on clergy marriages. Pastors, like everyone else, may well come home after a long day tired and cranky, and not all that inspiring to be around.
3. Pastors should have perfect kids. The fact is that many pastors’ kids feel like the church has unreasonable expectations of them and put too much pressure on them to do everything right from having the correct answers in Sunday School to never struggling to find themselves and their place in life. If you have known very many pastor’s kids, you know their struggles.
4. Pastors have it altogether in their personal spiritual journey. In a perfect world, this might be true. But in a world where pastors work 60 hours a week, try to meet expectations that are often beyond their abilities, work hard at being a spouse and parent that is effective and godly, and a thousand other things on their plate, it is just as challenging for pastors, if not more so, to find the time for intimacy with God as it is for anyone else.
So, church members, your pastors need you. Give them the freedom to be regular people who need space to be with family, to play golf, and to just live a normal life They need time to invest in their marriages, just like anyone else who wants to have a healthy relationship with their spouse. Let their kids have the space in their lives to make mistakes, and give them grace lavishly when they do. Love them and treat them like you would want it done with your own children. Insist they have adequate time off to rest and to find spiritual renewal.
Here’s the best part – if churches would drop the superhuman view of pastors, recognize that they hurt and bleed and get lonely, and come alongside them in love and understanding, pastors would become healthier, ministry families would become healthier, churches would then become healthier and the kingdom would expand!
When you see your pastor’s human side, will you be the one to come running to “the pitcher’s mound,” just like Aroldis Chapman’s father?