Confessions of an Introverted Pastor

I sometimes get the feeling that being a pastor is like fitting a square peg in a round hole. It’s as if something’s not fitting right — something’s missing. The ideal pastor, in my mind, is someone who always want to be around people. He’s the spotlight performer, eloquent and articulate, with the right amount of witty. I’m not sure where I got this image, but it certainly hasn’t been the case for me or many pastors I know. Don’t get me wrong, I do love people, but at times I find myself too drained to be around others and unmotivated to help. In these moments I start to wonder if maybe I’m not cut out for this job. Maybe there’s someone else who should do what I’m doing, and maybe I need to find another path.

In the midst of these questions, which often go unanswered, three reminders help give me a new perspective:

Leadership isn’t supposed to be glamourous.

One of the most encouraging reminders when experiencing self-doubt is realizing that it is a normative experience for many prophets and leaders in the Bible. I think of Moses: the paradigmatic prophet-leader who, from the beginning, finds excuses not to do the job, and wants to give up along the way. Or there’s Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, called to a life of sadness for the sake of God’s people and the world. I think of many of the prophets, who in no way glamourized their job the way many self-proclaimed prophets do today. Elijah was depressed, and Jonah wanted to die after seeing his enemies repent (Jonah 4). God doesn’t condone this kind of behaviour but Biblical leaders often find themselves doing a job that they wish they didn’t have to do.

In some odd way, this is comforting.  Someone once told me that the pre-requisite to Christian leadership is not wanting it. In God’s pecking order, not wanting to have the spotlight makes you the perfect person for the spotlight. Maybe this has something to do with Jesus’ words about greatness and service.   Our culture celebrates leadership as something that sounds like a great idea, but they have no idea what they are up against. It’s not for no reason that leadership and loneliness are known to walk hand in hand. Leadership isn’t supposed to be glamourous.

People are sacred.

In my self-doubt I’ve discovered something so profound yet so simple. Christians always talk about how all people are created in God’s image, and are therefore worthy of respect. Usually what they mean is that people in some way reflect God because he created them. But I think we need to take it a step further: not only do humans reflect God, but God is in them.

If all things live and breathe and have their being in Jesus, and if Jesus is present and at work in every human being, then whenever we encounter a human, we experience a chance of encountering God. I’m not saying humans are God, but that God is in some mysterious way present in people, and that God reveals himself in our encounters with people. People are sacred. C.S. Lewis says it best:

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

When this occurred to me, I started to see people differently — and not just people I know, or Christians, but every living person, regardless of age, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Jesus spent a lot of his time with the rejects the renegades and the religious leaders. There wasn’t a speck of favoritism in him, and the idea that people are sacred runs through the whole of his teaching (Matthew 5:24).

I may not be special, but I am invaluable. 

This one is so deeply foundational to healthy ministry, and for me, probably the hardest one of all.

We all like the idea of being a unique snowflake with brilliant abilities. But in reality, the things you and I say and do are not that special at all.

Yet they infinitely matter.

This is a difficult tension to keep: 1) you are ordinary, 2) what you offer the world is incredibly valuable. I find myself wanting to share my opinion only when I think it’s the most creative and clever in the room.  I think it’s good for me to speak up only when what I have to say has never been said before.

Do you believe that what you have to say, no matter how ordinary and common and non-unique it is, truly matters? I think this is what meekness is all about. Meekness comes from an unwavering trust that I am deeply, and unconditionally loved, and that what I say and do, though average, is extremely important. If you don’t believe this in a healthy Gospel-informed way, you have no chance of loving others well. This is the fuel for loving others–you can’t give yourself to another if you don’t believe the “you” is worth giving. You’ll merely be giving out of an empty tank, and it will rob you of joy and make you resentful. The only love I can give to others flows from the reservoir of love that exists for myself.

These three reminders make a big difference for me. When I remember that leadership isn’t supposed to be glamourous, that people are sacred, and that thought I am just another person, what I have to say and offer matters in ways I can’t even imagine.