For believers the Lord’s Day worship service is the centerpiece of the week. It is the time when they gather with their church family to praise and worship their King. It is a time of sweet fellowship and of edification. The cares of the world are left behind, songs of praise are sung, prayer requests and praise reports are shared, and spiritual batteries are recharged. But there is one believer in the church who experiences Sundays much different from all of the rest, the preaching pastor. For a pastor it is equally a sweet time of worship and fellowship, but it feels much different.
I have had the unique experience of attending worship, as an unbeliever, a new believer, a faithful church member, a leader in the church, and now as the preaching pastor of a church. While I long suspected that a pastor experiences Sunday differently, now I know just how differently. Let me share a few of the differences with you.
- It is incredibly busy.
There is an old Commodores song whose chorus is “that’s why I’m easy like Sunday morning.” This song was clearly not written by a pastor (least of all a small church pastor). When I get to the church, there are a thousand things on my mind, is the A/C going to be running, are there fresh batteries in the wireless mic, is there any thrash that might need picked up, are the chairs straight etc. etc.
While in modern evagelo-speak the person who leads the singing is typically called the “worship leader” in all actuality the pastor is the worship leader because worship is so much more than just singing. As the one who leads the church in worship your pastor sees everything that may distract the congregation from focusing on God, and seeks to remove them all before you notice them too.
But there is so much more to pay attention to than things that may distract from worship. Sunday morning is often filled with impromptu meetings and ad hoc counseling opportunities and other sundry minor ministry tasks. Your pastor loves you, he loves all of the people of the church and he loves the ministry of the church, and when a person or ministry needs a few minutes of attention, he is gladly going to spend all of the time he can on each and every need. He may not get to them all, but the ones he does keep him very busy. Even if you go to a church where your pastor seems to suddenly appear seconds before the start of the service, he was probably meeting, talking and praying with people all morning long.
But these are not merely things to be done, they are part and parcel of the pastor’s worship. As Romans 12:1 says, spiritual service is worship, and for the pastor that includes doing all of the things that need done on a Sunday morning before the worship service begins, whether taking out a bag of trash that was missed by the midweek cleaners, or an impromptu counseling session are part of his worship. If it seems like your pastor is rushing around on Sunday morning, it is because he loves you and loves God.
- It is exciting.
Before I went to seminary (and my reckless youth caught up with me physically) I was a little bit of an adrenaline junky. Whether I was rock crawling in Moab in my jeep, or skiing through the trees deep in the Colorado back country or solo camping in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I was always pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and seeking adventure. I know what a rush of adrenaline feels like, and I get that familiar feeling each and every Sunday, and as I have talked with other pastors, most feel that admixture of fear, anticipation and eagerness that comes from a sudden release of adrenaline. I have even heard someone (who would know) liken preaching to flying a fighter jet.
Why is preaching exciting? For pastors who truly take the Word of God seriously, mounting the pulpit is a fearful thing. James 3:1 sternly warns that not many should be teachers because they are liable to a stricter judgment, and those warnings are ringing in the ears (or should be) of your pastor as he gets up to preach. Preaching is a risky thing, your pastor knows that God will judge his life to a stricter standard, and he is acutely aware that He is a sinner who is in desperate need of grace.
Not only is preaching serious, it is also demanding. Preaching is a culminating event. To preach draws on all of the skill and the training of the pastor. Every minute of seminary training, all of the reading of theology books, all of the late nights studying, every Greek and Hebrew vocabulary word learned is for that moment. Every time your pastor was mentored and discipled was preparation for that moment. All of the time he has spent in prayer and study of that particular passage was in preparation for that moment. In a very real sense, the preaching event on a Sunday morning draws on all that your pastor is and has learned.
To stand in the pulpit knowing that you are accountable before God for every word that comes out of your mouth, and that you must draw on all that you have learned, been taught and experienced, to open the Word of God to the people whom God has entrusted to you is every bit as exciting and pressure packed as any extreme sport outing.
- It is Unique
Standing in the pulpit offers a unique perspective. For all of the years I attended church and served in various roles, my view during the corporate worship service was the same, I saw the back of the heads of the people in front of me, I saw the profiles of the people next to me, and I saw the face of the pastor as he preached. And this viewpoint naturally caused me to focus my attention on the pastor and what was being preached.
As a pastor standing in the pulpit, in many ways I have almost the opposite point of view. I look into the faces of the people of the church. While sitting in the pews facing forward looking at the pastor can reinforce our American tendency toward individualism, standing in the pulpit looking out at God’s people reinforces the corporate nature of the church’s worship. I am speaking and they are listening, but WE are worshiping as a local body of believers, and standing in the pulpit, I am viscerally aware of that truth as never before.
There is one other profound blessing that the pastor receives because he is looking into the faces of the congregation. The living and active nature of the Word of God is impressed on him as never before. [Of course this only applies to pastors who actually preach the bible!] From behind the pulpit I have seen people burst in to tears, tears of joy at the thought of heaven and the hope we have in Christ, and tears of conviction in response to a powerful truth of Scripture. I have seen the look cross a visitors face the split second they become offended by the gospel, and I have seen someone sitting with their arms defiantly crossed melt and soften as the Word of God washes over them. It is a unique blessing to be able to see how people respond to the preaching of the Word of God.
- It Is Exhausting
There is really no other way to put it. By the time I am done preaching I am spent. Having spent all week studying and praying, then considerable time writing the sermon and countless hours mulling it over in my head (often including a somewhat sleepless Saturday night), I give it all I have. In the parlance of sport, I leave it all on the field. Since I am not in the pulpit right now, I will repeat an unsubstantiated factoid I have heard many times over; it is said that preaching a 45 minute sermon burns as many calories as working an eight hour shift in a factory. While I tend to doubt the scientific veracity of that statement, experientially, it sure can feel like it is true.
If you go out to lunch with your pastor and he seems far off or even a little glassy eyed, it is probably not because he is uninterested in what you are saying, there is a good chance that he is simply spent and his mind has involuntarily wandered off or simply shut off. Just as mounting the pulpit often comes with a surge of adrenaline, stepping down from it often comes with a precipitous drop in energy, and can even come with a drop in mood too.
- It Is a Profound Blessing (and he knows it)
Everyone knows (or should) that there is nothing so special about them that they deserved salvation, and when you meditate on the undeserved grace that God has shown you in granting you faith and repentance that leads to eternal life, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the grace He has shown you. It is simply overwhelming to think that before the foundation of the world, God choose you to be a part of His kingdom and to fulfill a specific function within the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16).
For me, it is even more overwhelming when I mount the pulpit and idea flashes through my head that God ordained before the foundation of the world that I would preach that message to His people on that day. I can think of no higher privilege than for God to allow me to preach His word to His people, and I am utterly baffled that He has given that privilege to me. My favorite professor in seminary once walked up to me, gently put his hand on my shoulder and asked me if I knew why I had been called to ministry. Taken aback and humbled by the question, I said no. And he responded because I was the worst available. And as he walked away laughing, I reflected on the profound truth of that statement; God had taken a wretched sinner, saved him, and was now preparing him for a life of preaching His holy Word. Each and every Sunday, I am acutely aware of the amazing grace that has been shown to me, in being called to preach and to shepherd God’s people.
Of course there is so much more it than could ever fit into a blog post. But if you have ever wondered what Sunday is like for your pastor, this is a little bit of a taste. A good pastor knows that he is privileged to be where he is and is overwhelmed with love for his people, and looks forward to Sunday just as much as you do.