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“What do you do for a living?”

This seems like a simple question. When normal people are asked this at a party or in some other social setting by a person they’ve just met, it is an invitation to more conversation. There’s any number of acceptable answers:

“I’m a consultant.”

“I work for a defense contractor.”

“I’m a web developer.”

When I’m asked the question, “What do you do for a living?” I know what comes out of my mouth next, “I’m a pastor,” will produce one of the following outcomes:

a. It will kill the conversation immediately. We could be having a great conversation, even laughing, and then as soon as I come out with my man-of-the-cloth-ness, it’s over. They find a reason to be done talking to me.

b. The person I’m talking to will become the most religious person I’ve ever met. They’ll start saying things like, “The Lord is just really blessing us ... I see him everywhere ... as it says in the good book, God helps those who help themselves” and other religious-sounding things they think will resonate with me.

c. They will want to talk. This is my favorite reaction, but it's unfortunately rare. Sometimes being a pastor is a great way to engage in more conversation, because it makes spiritual topics easier to talk about.

If you’re a pastor, you know exactly what I mean.

Being a pastor is unlike just about any other profession. Because of the holistic nature of the work, we tend to take on “pastor” as an identity and not just a career. Add to that the spiritual component: We are not just providing a service to people but showing them how life is supposed to be lived for God’s glory (no pressure there).

Most people don’t quite know what to do with us, because we seem like non-persons. They don’t understand us, but we really wish they did. We don’t feel any different than anyone else, and sometimes we feel like explaining ourselves, but most of the time we just live with it.

Pastors, I want to speak on your behalf today. I want to help you put into words what you might be feeling and wish people understood about you. I’m sharing from my thoughts and experiences of being a pastor for ten years, so you may not relate to everything I say, but I bet you’ll find some common frustrations.

Here are four things you wish people understood about you:

1. Pastors are just normal people. We don’t feel any different than anyone else. When I became a pastor, I felt like the same person inside but was immediately treated differently ... usually in an esteemed way, but it felt foreign. Out of nowhere it was, “Pastor Lane this” “Pastor Lane that.” To me I’m just Lane.  I have struggles, doubts, hang-ups, good days, bad days and mediocre days. I have to lean on God for strength, and I’m not Superman. And guess what? If I don’t seek intimacy with Christ, I become spiritually weak like everyone else.

You probably feel the same way. The more you are treated like you are super-human, the more the expectation will haunt you. You’ll either try to meet that standard, crumble under it or both. You can’t handle the expectation of perfection. God is perfect; you are not. And that’s okay.

2. Pastors tend to want to please people, especially people in their church. The longer you have the pastor title, the easier it is to live for the expectations of others. It becomes easy to forget you originally became a pastor because you felt like God called you. Somewhere along the way, it becomes a pursuit in keeping the people happy with you. This is a huge trap and yet so tempting for every pastor. I have to constantly remind myself what Paul says in Galatians 1:10: For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. (HCSB)

3. Having true friendships with church members is difficult for pastors. Some of my dearest friendships are with people inside my church. I truly feel blessed by this, because it is not the norm. Sometimes it feels like church members expect you to perform for them. “After all, you’re a pastor … You’d better be perfect … We’re watching you …” It’s hard to be friends with people for whom you are performing.

It gets a little tiring when every conversation centers around what the church is doing, or what the church is not doing, your role, your ministry, what they used to do in your ministry, what they should do in the future, what you should start doing, what you should stop doing and on and on. It starts to feel like a job interview every time. Like you have to provide last quarter’s sales numbers.

To anyone reading this who is not a pastor: Here’s how you can be a breath of fresh air to your pastor: Next time you have time with you pastor, ask how he’s doing, but leave his ministry out of it. Ask about his family, his golf game or his dog. Ask how his kids are doing. Ask about his wife. Basically, talk to him like he’s a normal guy you consider a friend. He will thank you for it. Most conversations center around how he is performing in the ministry, but pastors are people who, just like you, like to have normal conversations about real life stuff. Again, we just want to live life in community with others, walking through life together with God.

Finally, although I have very close friendships with people inside my church, I have always sought friendships with people who do not attend my church. These friendships are near and dear to my heart. Without friends outside your church, you can begin to lose perspective when things get difficult (they do from time to time no matter where you are).

4. I can’t speak for every pastor, but I’m not judging you. I recently performed a wedding where most of the members of the bridal party were not church-people. The bride and groom were super nice, and I enjoyed officiating their wedding. They invited my wife and me to the reception. It was there that we noticed something … nobody would talk to us. It was the weirdest thing.  I’ve conducted weddings for close friends and have had a blast at the reception, but this one was different. It made me think of a middle school lunch room and we were not the cool kids. At one point some people actually did talk to us which made us so excited. We later found out that they were not at the ceremony so they didn’t know I was the pastor.

One guy caught us as we were leaving. He told us it was probably a good thing we were getting out of there, because we “must not be having a good time because of all the shenanigans.” When we left we could feel a collective sigh exhaled because the party could finally get started. It felt like we were pouring cold water on everyone’s fun just by being there.

What made this so discouraging was that we had not said anything judgy. We had not “condemned” anyone. We were just there to celebrate the bride and groom like everybody else. The truth is, we were the ones being judged. We were the “pastor and his wife” and were to be avoided at all costs. I wanted to say, “I’m not judging you! I’ve got plenty of problems of my own. I don’t have the energy or time to place judgment on you.”

As a pastor I long to be like Jesus was. He hung out with “tax collectors and sinners.” Luke 15 says when he taught about God’s heart for the lost, it was repulsive to the religious people of the day, but the tax collectors and sinners “were drawing near to hear him.” These people must have known that this man, Jesus, was not there to condemn them but point them to a better way. Pastors are often thought of as judgmental. I can’t speak for all of them, but I am not.

This is just the way it is. But we are not helpless.

Some of these things we will not change. As pastors, we are always going to be viewed differently. It just goes with the profession we’ve chosen. But let me suggest a couple things that might help. First, tear down the pedestal you’re placed on every chance you get. Say, “I’m not perfect, I struggle just like you. We’re all in this together.” And secondly, always remember that you’re a follower of Christ first and a pastor second. Not the other way around.

What are some other things you wish people understood about you? If you’re not a pastor, does any of this surprise you?

Lane Sebring is a teaching pastor, speaker and author. He leads The Current, a worship gathering of young adults, in Northern Virginia. He created, a site to help preachers communicate better.  He has a B.A. in Communication from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. He lives in the Northern Virginia / DC area with his wife Rachel and their daughter, Olive. You can connect with him at and

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Lawrence Webb

commented on Mar 10, 2015

"Been there, done that." I've been in barber shops where, upon my entrance, one of the barbers would greet me loudly and warmly, "Hello, Pastor," as a warning to tone down the talk. My current barber and friend has a handwritten note on his white board: "May God bless you." So I don't have to worry about the earlier alert upon my arrival.

Derrick A. Cook

commented on Mar 10, 2015

I agree with your article. It is very frustrating that people put pastors on this pedestal. My kids are not perfect, my wife nags like your wife. I'm not perfect. I get upset, I have issues. You want to scream and say I'm not God! I am able to keep my balances because I'm not a full time pastors but fulltime you know what I mean. There is no such thing as a part time senior pastor. However, I worked another job. This may sounds weird but I appreciate the guys at work who be themselves around me. They will curse and say "excuse my french" and curse again. Although, I don't care for their choices of words but I do however appreciate their authenticity around me. They know who I am and I know who they are. When life gets hard for them, they may say something like, " hey, can you send one prayer to heaven for me?" I appreciate their honesty. Church members put on an act. They act one way at church and be someone else at home are the workplace. These are the very ones who pass judgments on the pastor and his family. Sad to say, it will always be this way until Jesus comes. In the meantime, we have to continue to let people know that we are human and we have struggles just like everyone else. ,

Chaplain Ron Cashman

commented on Mar 10, 2015

I am a police office. I have been a police officer for 30 years and for the past 5 years I have been a pastor. I serve as Chaplain for the police, fire, and EMS services in our community. I can relate to what Lawrence said about, "Hello Pastor". I get the welcoming of, "Hey stop what your doing the Cops are here". Lane is right when he says that we are just people doing a job God has called us to do but it doesn't make us less human. The surprising thing for me is that when I became a pastor, even my cop buddies started treating me different. I no longer fit in with the cops because I am a pastor and I don't fit in with pastors because I am a cop. So when it comes to the rest of society I get the double whammy. I am Ron Cashman, a husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather. I am just me. God Bless!

Mark Aarssen

commented on Mar 10, 2015

Hi Pastor Ron, I can relate. I was a cop for 10 years At 50 God called me to be a pastor - the old police crowd keep their distance. You have been set apart from the ordinary so that God can use you as an extra-ordinary person. True there is a dividing line but that will always be there. Know that your fellow officers respect you and admire you for being a pastor. A Christian set apart for the Lord is like Kryptonite to a lost world. Let your testimony speak for you. They now know who you are now let Jesus reveal what you are. God Bless.

Mary Wilson

commented on Mar 10, 2015

My name is Pastor Mary .... PERHAPS that is all I need to say. When I am asked, "What do you do for a living?"...I reply...and there is an audible gasp and people falling all over themselves. I find that I am then in charge of ANY conversation that follows because they don't know WHAT to say.

Gene Cobb

commented on Nov 7, 2019

Pastor Mary, Love your comment! As Clergywomen we get many different reactions. Thankfully mostly positive. I've had so few rude comments and they have been from male pastors, which is quite sad I think. I've been in the ministry since 1982 and have pastored the same church for 27 years. It's a wonderful journey! Blessings to you!

Gene Cobb

commented on Nov 7, 2019

Pastor Mary, Love your comment! As Clergywomen we get many different reactions. Thankfully mostly positive. I've had so few rude comments and they have been from male pastors, which is quite sad I think. I've been in the ministry since 1982 and have pastored the same church for 27 years. It's a wonderful journey! Blessings to you!

Gene Cobb

commented on Nov 7, 2019

Pastor Mary, Love your comment! As Clergywomen we get many different reactions. Thankfully mostly positive. I've had so few rude comments and they have been from male pastors, which is quite sad I think. I've been in the ministry since 1982 and have pastored the same church for 27 years. It's a wonderful journey! Blessings to you!

Michael Dissmore

commented on Mar 10, 2015

This is well written and so true. I can't add anything that hasn't already been said but I want to congratulate Lane for such a good job.

Tony Wolfenbarger

commented on Mar 11, 2015

I think all of your article is true. I think the worst thing is the constant manipulation of so called friends in the church. But as soon as you do not do their thing, or as soon as you make a decision that they do not like, you lose your friend, your wife loses her friends, and your kids lose their friends. But why do you really need friends anyway, your always working you have no time for a social life. Sad. I can only hope heaven will be different.

Ptr Dewi

commented on Mar 11, 2015

I find Lane's article interesting, but I think there is an issue which is unavoidable. Pastor IS NOT a career status from a biblical point of view, it is a calling. It is helpful and encouraging if it is paid appropriately as a position of leadership and responsibility ( the idea of CEO status also has no biblical credentials!!). Yet one needs to bear in mind that human reasoning cannot fathom the full implications of God's calling upon a person's life to pastoral ministry. In this sense, secular society can neither categorise nor expound upon the role of a pastor.Only the Bible can lend us such definitions, and only those whose reasoning is seasoned with the scriptures can enter the discussion responsibly. Sadly many who readily enjoy the status which 'pastor' can afford them in their cultural group, could well be asked the question - Oh so you're a pastor, and what do you do them?

Anonymous Contributor

commented on Mar 17, 2015

Ptr Dewi of Efg Cologne Ostheim. Your words of full of godly wisdom. I was called to ministry and not as a pastor.But to minister to the lost and broken as an ambassador. certainly the carnal cannot comprehend the spiritual so if you have received the holy ghost it is not that people do not want to be around you, but do not know how to approach the spirit that's within you. I assume it is the holy spirit, but just in case its not it may be another spirit that they can discern. Who knows. Its a blessing if they do have a respect for your calling or the Holy Spirit. People usually reject what they cannot understand and it certainly will be noticed if you were set apart from the very foundation. Many don't respect authority and to respect the authority of God, who they cannot see is a blessing. Maybe its conviction since we are to be salt in a world that appears to seem sweet. Maybe We are the salt yet a much needed savor from our Savior to draw those that are lost and bcuz you are found others become aware of their sin and stay away. Many people come up to me and just start telling me their problems and I would walk away praying for them and feeling burdened. I soon realized it was my countenance.But more so the fact that people either discern or exercise their intuition about others. despite their way of living, rebellious lifestyle, or what season they may be in on their journey, God equips us all with gifts and one of them is being able to discern pride, arrogance, perfectionism, seeming as higher or just unapproachable. I would hear this often concerning pastors and I don't agree or disagree just pray for them because we are all human, however, God expects us to be transparent yet wise concerning our association.

Gene Cobb

commented on Nov 7, 2019

Awwww the struggles of being a male pastor! Feel so sorry for all of you. Especially the male pastor with the nagging wife. Yes, I'm being sarcastic! I think if the author feels that self-conscious he needs to lighten up a bit. No matter your profession, people will respond differently. As a Clergywoman who has pastored the same church for 27 years and been in the ministry since 1982, I find most people to be encouraging and friendly. And very few are surprised! Pastor is a title, but it is also who I am as a person. I have friends who are doctors, nurses, accountants, teachers, sales account managers (all women) and yes I have many Clergywomen friends! When they tell their calling or profession they are all asked advice. Because what we do is who we are! It's so simple really! If you are in the medical profession, you are asked about ailments or treatments. If you are in finance, you are asked about the economy or stock market. When I'm asked what my profession/calling is I'm so thankful to answer, "I'm a Pastor." Many times people will want prayer, or advice, or they need someone to officiate their wedding. Male pastors have different struggles than Clergywomen so I wouldn't presume to tell any male clergy how to feel. But this article is quite enlightening. Maybe it's as simple as Clergywomen don't need as much attention as our male counterparts. I don't feel the need for people to know more about me. I feel the need for people to know more about Jesus Christ. With the condition of our country at this moment in time, this article, (which I realize was written a few years ago), seems out of place. To all my male pastor colleagues I hope you can find the help you need with these issues. Blessings!

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