A pastor’s life

Where does everybody else’s life end and the pastor’s begin?

By Amy Butler

The start of the New Year is always a good time to ponder the deeper issues of life, and lately I’ve been ruminating over whether being a pastor and having a life are two mutually exclusive ideas.

Everybody knows the pace of a pastor’s life can be intense. The list of people who need you is endless, and it’s hard to fit other things, like your own life, around their needs.

From sitting at the bedside of a congregation member who is dying to saying a prayer at a local government ceremony, then grabbing a quick meal with a congregation member who needs to talk over a big decision, to presiding over a wedding rehearsal, then a final stop at the choir’s holiday party all in one day -- the things that fill our time, each one important and worthwhile, can warp a pastor’s perspective and make us wonder from time to time: Where does everybody else’s life end and my own begin?

It’s true that many of the moments to which we are called are meaningful events in the lives of those involved. As the pastor, of course those events were meaningful to me, too. I consider it a holy honor to visit at a deathbed or share a meal or conduct a wedding.

But, while these events mark significance in the lives of those experiencing them, they are not the story of my life, the life I have when I don’t wear my robe and nobody calls me “Pastor Amy.”

In the middle of all the chaos and joy of pastoral ministry, one of the top priorities of the healthy pastor should be to care for an inner and outer, unique and individual life. But you’d be surprised at how shockingly easy it is to forget the cultivation of your own life when you’re surrounded by the chaos of everybody else’s.

Being the pastor ushers you in to rare places where, although you’re not part of the group going through this life-changing experience, you kind of feel like you are. After all, you’re sniffling into a tissue along with the family who is saying a final goodbye. Your picture is right up there for posterity with the happy bride and groom. It seemed like the guy at the door after church really meant it when he said your sermon changed his life.

With limited hours in a day and a shortage of emotional energy, it’s easy for a pastor to string together meaningful events like these and substitute them for a life. Like a string of lights on a Christmas tree, these pastoral duties stretch out as far as the eye can see, each one blinking with the radiance of its own individual urgency.

People die, and your presence is critical. Congregation members need you to listen to them in crisis, and thank God you’re there to help. The choir has done so much this year and they need to know you’re grateful. All of these things are important. And pretty soon the pastor’s life becomes one long string of everybody else’s urgent and meaningful events.

But the truth is, you can’t make a life out of negative space.

Navigating this ongoing conundrum requires repeatedly asking at least two critical questions. They are: "What’s really important and requires my presence?," and "What’s really important and requires my presence but I’m going to skip anyway because if I don’t my own life might disappear, never to be found again?"

If you’re anything like me you will hold on tight to a New Year’s resolution to thoughtfully and intentionally cultivate your own life. That is, until somebody gets mad at you for not showing up to their cousin’s sister’s baby shower or some such meaningful event. When that happens, it’s easy to regress.

But a human life is short and precious, even the pastor’s life. In between caring for everyone else, the important, shining moments of your own life are right there, calling out to be lived.

Mine, too. So I’m hoping to make 2013 the year I’ll be careful not to pass right on by my own life on the way to somebody else’s.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.