The professor said, “Don’t become a pastor unless that’s the only thing you can do. If you can do anything else, do that instead.”
I’ve forgotten which professor it was, but I never forgot what he said. But unlike many pieces of practical advice, this was the one and only time I ever heard this piece of wisdom.
It was surprising—surprisingly frank. I’ve attended one Bible college and three seminaries and never once heard anyone else discourage people from entering the ministry. At the time it was obvious that, for some reason, he considered pastoral ministry to be the most difficult job in the world.
As a young man I was clueless as to what he was talking about. But I know now.
Ordained clergy face a host of difficulties, and there are a host of solutions. There is, however, one root problem for the love-hate relationship women and men have with their ministries and their lives in the church. Jesus’ discussion of this problem appears in both Matthew and Luke. In my humble opinion, all other pastoral problems flow from this one: the impossibility of juggling multiple allegiances. No one, according to Christ, can serve two masters.
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.“ (Matthew 6:24 & Luke 16:13)
Ordained clergy are not in the situation Jesus described, not exactly. Their situations are worse. Ordained clergy are not caught between two masters, but three: their congregations, their superiors, and God.
Unless this one particular problem is acknowledged—the problem of multiple masters—none of the patchwork of remedies and fixes can do more than work as palliatives for a hospice patient. Like aspirin and morphine, they reduce pain but do not cure.
For the fortunate few, it is true: “There is no conflict.” These clergy, apparently, were made for denominational work, and denominations were made for them. God bless ‘em.
It is not the healthy who need a doctor.
[Addition 12/18: Is there a solution to these multiple allegiances? For the minister who experiences this conflict as I experienced it, I don’t see any solution short of a big gamble, a radical solution. Repentance doesn’t let you remain the same. Metanoia, that 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. Jesus emptied himself in order to minister to us. Paul counted his education and status as a rabbi as so much rubbish. Both of them turned their backs on a secure, comfortable life.]