“. . . because you’re the pastor.”
Most pastors have heard the end of this sentence at some point. Perhaps you bristled at hearing it. Maybe your feelings were justified, depending on what preceded the phrase. But there’s truth in “because you’re the pastor.” People expect you to represent your church. And you should. If you’re a pastor, then you’re also a statesman — there’s no way around it.
I use the term “statesman” not in a truly political sense, though I do believe pastors should be the most active “ambassadors” for Christ in their churches. Pastors are statesmen in that they must realize they always represent their churches. That hat never comes off.
You live in a fishbowl. You’re constantly—and justifiably—being observed. If it grates you every time someone stops you in the grocery store, then get over yourself. You’re the chief servant of your church, and you don’t get the luxury of telling people, “Leave me alone.” Are there times to withdraw? Yes. Jesus took time to be alone with God. Do some people place too much scrutiny on you (or worse, your family)? Of course. But projecting the abuses of some on the rest of your people is juvenile and short-sighted. Complaining about the fishbowl does nothing for you or your church.
Your opinions affect your church. You’re entitled to them, but know they will reflect on your church. I find it humorous to read disclaimers on some pastors’ blogs: “These thoughts are my personal opinions. They are not necessarily the opinions of my church.” Yeah, right. If you say something foolish, mean, heretical or illegal, it will reflect poorly on not just you, but also your church. Before you speak out, ask the question, “Will this hurt or help my congregation?” The disclaimer doesn’t work, nor should it. You’re always representing the bride of Christ, especially the local church you shepherd.
You’ll never be part of the crowd. By design, pastors are set apart. It’s one of the toughest aspects of ministry. Leading a church can be quite lonely. You’re never really “just one of the guys.” All pastors need close friends and confidants, even in the churches they serve. Since you represent your church unlike anyone else, however, you must always take into account that your words carry more weight. Quite frankly, it’s viewed differently if you tell a crass joke or cross the line of decency.
Pastors are public figures. If you don’t want to live in a fishbowl and under a microscope, then don’t become a pastor. You must embrace the fact that you are a figurehead — in your church and in your community.
Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,samrainer.wordpress.com.