There are roughly 600,000 clergy in the United States — one clergyperson for every 550 Americans. In many rural areas, there are more preachers than doctors. I live in rural northwest Ohio. There are 300+ churches in a four-county area. We have plenty of clerics to go around — full-time, part-time, and retired.
As a five-year-old child in the early 1960s, I told my Fundamentalist Baptist mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From that moment forward, I never wavered on what I wanted to be. Not a baseball player. Not a truck driver, like my dad. Not a policeman. A preacher. I have no idea why I want to be a preacher. What was it that drew me to the ministry? Regardless, at the age of fifteen, I stood before fellow members at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and professed that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon. I would go on to preach 4,000+ sermons, preaching my last sermon in 2005 (at a Southern Baptist church in Hedgesville, West Virginia).
I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Every church I pastored was given full-time attention from me, even when they paid me part-time wages with no benefits. To supplement my income I worked secular jobs. I sold insurance, repaired cars, pumped gas, managed restaurants, delivered newspapers, started a computer business, worked in factories, and worked as a grant administrator and manager for a local village. Working these secular jobs kept me in the world, so to speak. In a moment, I will explain why EVERY pastor should get a “real” job, one that exposes him to people and experiences outside of the church.
Many pastors are honorable men (and women). They work hard, serving their congregations to the best of their ability. Some pastors, however — let me be blunt — are lazy-ass grifters who wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it bit them in the face. Pastors have very little oversight. They don’t have a supervisor, except God, but he never seems to be on the job. Pastors don’t punch time clocks. Their churches expect them to manage their time. The problem, of course, is that some pastors are lazy. Oh, the stories I could tell about preachers who gave part-time effort for full-time pay; men of God who spent more time playing golf or going to preacher’s meetings than they did ministering to their flocks.
The pastorate allows men to insulate themselves from the “world.” They get paid to study the Bible, read books, and pray. Their lives revolve around the work of the ministry, which is expected, but far too often pastors have no connection to the outside world. The people they pastor have to go out into the “world” every day for work. Far too many pastors have no real connection to how their congregants live. Even though I worked secular jobs, it took me years to appreciate the work lives and challenges church members faced. In my early days, I would harangue people for not showing up to every church event. All hands on deck, right? I had little patience for people who were too tired or too busy to attend every service, clean the church, help with work projects, and “serve” in one, three, or five ministries. It wasn’t until I understood that they had lives too; that I was being paid to do the things I expected them to do for free or without adequate rest, that I stopped berating people for being human; for not working as hard as Pastor Bruce.
The best way I know for pastors to reconnect with the “world” is for them to get a real job. Doing so will allow them to see and understand how everyday people live. I am not talking about treating the job as a “ministry,” or an opportunity to evangelize people. In fact, I encourage pastors to not tell secular employers and co-workers that they are preachers. Just be one of the guys. Don’t be the Holy Spirit or someone people are afraid to be themselves around. You know what I mean. People who apologize to you when they swear or tell a racy joke. As one Christian Union missionary told me years ago, pastors need to get “dirty,” and not be afraid of being tainted by the “world.” Leave your Bible at home, put your tracts in the glovebox, and don’t wear Jesus/church-themed hats and shirts. Just be a normal Joe. When asked by your co-workers to go out with them after work on Friday, do it. Enjoy a beer with them. Enjoy their company, with no ulterior motives. Years ago, a dear pastor friend of mine was the chaplain at a local sheriff’s department. One day he came to work and there was a picture of him (photoshopped) with his pants partially down and a gas grill connected to his ass. Funny stuff. Guy stuff. He was alarmed by the photo, but I told him that it was just the deputies saying to you, “hey, we accept you as one of us.” In my mind, the photo was a compliment, a statement that said they were comfortable around him. If my friend had gone all preacher-man on these officers, he never would have been able to befriend (and help) them. Frankly, a lot of pastors go through life with a stick up their ass, tolerated, but not respected.
Some pastors have to work outside of their churches, but many pastors are well-paid. It is these pastors, in particular, who are most often disconnected from the day-to-day lives of not only their congregations but the lives of the people who live outside the doors of their churches. The best way to remedy this is for pastors to get a real job, employment that allows them the privilege and opportunity to wallow in the dirt of the world. You will be a better pastor in every way if you do this.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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