The pastor was up front talking about judging others in the church and the community. Sitting in the pews, the congregation listened to what the pastor was trying to convey to them. I sat next to my friend, who didn’t usually come to church.
He listened as the pastor continued, emphasizing that the only one who can judge is God. I noticed that my friend’s face looked puzzled.
When the sermon ended, I asked him, “Why did you look confused during the sermon?”
He replied, “I don’t understand how that pastor can talk about God being the only one to judge, when just the other day I heard him judging someone.”
Perceptions of pastors
Oftentimes we get caught up in judging the pastor’s character instead of focusing on the message of the sermon. Three pastors from the Mid-America Union opened up to me about some of their struggles with being judged. All of them talked about the strong reaction they get when they share their occupation.
Kyle Smith, youth pastor at New Haven Seventh-day Adventist Church in Overland Park, Kansas, recalled walking outside a restaurant and seeing an employee standing by the door smoking a cigarette. He greeted her, and they started talking. Then she asked what he did for a living. “As soon as the word ‘pastor’ fell off of my lips, the cigarette went flying behind her back,” he told me. “She tried to hide what she was doing and began to apologize profusely.”
Pastor Smith asked her what she was apologizing for, and when she told him it was the cigarette, he assured her, “Oh, I didn’t even notice.”
“She smiled, and yet was shocked because I didn’t try to shame her for her wrongdoing,” Smith noted. “I want to help people, not guilt them into life change. Jesus never one time did that.”
Harold Alomia, head pastor of the College View Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, has had similar experiences with being misunderstood. Several years ago, when pastoring in Colorado, he played soccer with the town team in Buena Vista. He kept his occupation out of the situation until people could get to know him. He found, “People were themselves, and by the time we actually got to talking about what we do for a living, there had been enough rapport built with them that ‘I am a pastor’ had a positive shock of ‘You’re a normal person!’”
Alomia continued, “Being a pastor casts an unwanted but common reality upon you. Every week you are judged by what you say, wear, do, or don’t do.” In fact, he shared that often when he states his profession up front, “an instant wall” is erected, making it hard for people to be themselves.
Being vulnerable about struggles
I understood when he said “an instant wall” is erected when he tells people he is a pastor. I have built walls around myself with people I want to impress and not let them fully know me, especially pastors. I don’t blame Pastor Alomia for not telling them he was a pastor right off the bat. I would have done the same thing, but it’s sad to me that we feel we have to hide who we are at first in order to be accepted.
While pastors are leaders and examples to the congregation, if they slip up or make a mistake should we judge them even more than we judge others?
I confess that I have held pastors to a standard so high that I would almost claim them as angels. But getting older has shown me that’s not the case. Pastors are not the only Christ-like examples. The congregation is also a Christ-like example. Through our actions we either show or don’t show what it means to be a Christian. And yes, we mess up, but God has promised to forgive us “seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:22). This does not mean I will go out and steal a car, knowing God will forgive me. But if I fall, He will catch me and love me with all His heart, as we should do with each other and pastors.
Jessyka Albert, associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Colorado, is another person who has dealt with these issues. She shared with me, “Being a pastor, leading people to a deeper understanding and relationship with Jesus, is a big responsibility. Many times there will be people who understand that–just like them–I am continuing to grow, to learn, to make mistakes, to struggle like everyone else.”
Being judged and accepted go hand in hand. Once we have been judged or observed, then it’s decided if we are accepted or not. For pastors, it seems like that is routine for them. They are supposed to be a Christ-like example, but we live on this sinful earth, where everyone is a sinner and has the ability to make mistakes or not be perfect.
Perfection, to me, is overrated anyway. Making mistakes is a great way to learn and do better next time. That goes for everyone—congregation, pastors, church leaders. We are all God’s children whom He loves, even when we make mistakes.
—Roxi Peterson is a communication/public relations major at Union College.
How to show appreciation for your pastor (even if you don’t always agree with him or her)
“It is important to remember that pastors are people too. They have a rough job that is usually pretty thankless. So take opportunities to brighten their days, like with little cards or notes, letting them know you appreciate them.”
Jon Daniel, Union College student, Lincoln, Nebraska
“One of the things that we do is my family usually cooks a nice meal and invites the pastor’s family over for a dinner during the week to just talk and for sure just let them know we appreciate them.”
Ana Torres, Union College graduate, Lincoln, Nebraska
“My pastor always asks me how I am and if there’s anything he can keep in prayer for me. I support my pastor by asking him the same thing. Pastors are people too—people who need support and uplifting.”
Derek Baker, Union College graduate, Lincoln, Nebraska