By Matt Tullos
Special assistant to the executive director
Have you ever had that dream where all of a sudden someone from school calls and says that you missed that one class and you have to go back to school? It’s a serial nightmare for me — usually after a Sunday of preaching.
Still, if you feel called to pastor the average church (if there is such a thing), be advised that you really did miss a few courses. You missed them because they aren’t found in any syllabus. In honor of pastors across Tennessee, I’m inviting you to a humorous look into the world of an average pastor and the lessons learned in the “Seminary of Hard Knocks.” Here are a few classes I’ve audited from that fine institution over the years.
No. 1: How to make the church smell good after the septic pump quits on Saturday night.
You walk down the hall and you’re greeted by a slightly malodorous sensation. “This hall stinks,” you say to yourself on Sunday morning at 7:38 a.m. You go to the Welcome Center. “The Welcome Center stinks too!” And then your head begins to spin with a harsh, whiff of reality. “THIS WHOLE CHURCH STINKS!” Trust me. You can clear the disinfectant spray shelves of every Dollar Store in a 10-mile radius and you aren’t getting rid of that stench before the first-time guests arrive.
No. 2: Avoiding debates inside the church over masks, Calvinism, drum volume and the fellowship hall table-lending policy.
Church is a sensitive subject and there will always, always be a controversy. Your job as pastor is not to ease the tension but to manage it. In fact, we see in the ministry of Christ that the gospel should sometimes provoke the tension. But it’s not fun. It’s demoralizing. It can wipe you out. But you can leverage it to your advantage. You’ll provide perspective and vision when you find the conflict is brewing. But beware. Those little foxes will tear up the vineyard in a millisecond if you aren’t careful.
Side note: I hate conflict. But it’s like the kudzu in East Tennessee. Give it time and those green monsters will surface.
No. 3: How to time the filling of the baptistery.
Although baptisteries vary from church to church, here’s a basic rule of thumb: 15 minutes before the football game of your choice, go to the church and start the faucet. Around the middle of the third quarter, just to be safe, go check the progress. In most cases it will be filled adequately. However one caveat: If there are several injury time-outs or replay reviews you might want to bring a mop and a wet vac. Obviously this formula doesn’t work for bowl games with extended half time festivities. One side note: Do not drain the baptistery on a Saturday night. See No. 1.
No. 4: Surviving three funeral weeks.
One of the tensions most pastors face is the unpredictable nature of the ministry. Most critical moments and mandatory ministries occur with less than 48 hours notice. No-brainer: Nobody dies on schedule and they don’t spread the funerals out evenly over the course of a year. There will be those three funeral weeks and you’ll be expected to be awesome at everything else that week as well. Funerals can be amazingly powerful experiences but they always end the same way. Every person’s funeral that I’ve conducted is still, to this day, resting in peace. So you aren’t Jesus, but you can offer His comfort to families in their most intense and desperate moments.
No. 5: Discerning the will of God versus your sudden urge to resign on a Sunday morning, drop the mic and scream “Free at last!”
Every pastor has a moment where he fantasizes saying all those things he’d love to say at his weakest moment. Every time I have a passing moment where stupidity looks attractive I say to myself, I don’t want to be like that guy. Dropping the mic is rarely a good thing to do. The best thing to do of course is pray. Pray without ceasing, especially when you’re angry, desperate, frustrated and thinking about a job change. Remember those who suffered and are suffering through so much more than you are now. There’s always someone who has it worse than a couple of people rubbing your name in the dirt at Starbucks. And just to be honest — if you’re a pastor, somebody is always doing that. You just got wind of it.
No. 6: How to be biblical, relevant, contemporary, traditional, conservative, merciful, decisive, prudent, articulate, and meek all at the same time.
I am one of those guys who walks through the Scripture verse-by-verse John McArthur-style, providing spot-on contemporary illustrations, while parsing Hebrew, quoting poetry, helping split the metaphorical babies of contemporary living, counseling addicts, healing 1.3 marriages a week, involved in camping, sports, coffee shops, and 30 parachurch organizations.
That’s the kind of guy I am — for five minutes a day — in the shower. Then I brush my teeth, put on my Dockers and just try to figure out who God intended me to be. You’re not Superman, you know.
No. 7: How to forget the insulting innuendo of a loose cannon.
The insanity of insecurity is that a pastor could go through a Sunday, see God use him in ways that boggle his mind, and then one person could throw a lighthearted verbal sucker punch in the church office. We constantly have to battle our own leadership insecurities. It is a learned skill. I’m still learning.
These are only a few of the timeless lessons offered at St. Paul’s Seminary of Hard Knocks at the corner of Arminian Drive and Calvin’s Cove. Every pastor goes there and every pastor learns.
And, a quick note to the laity who have read these. Just remember your pastors are human and are doing the best they can to serve God and your church. Sometimes, they might need you to show them a little mercy and grace just like God has shown it to all of us time and time again. B&R