This past week I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting for a few days with Adventist pastors in one of the German conferences. The sixty men and women who work in and around Berlin, and in what used to be East-Germany, met in a conference center in a village near Leipzig. A few years ago this conference invited me as their speaker and it seems that this had been appreciated, for once again I received a request to come and be their main presenter. This time I was asked to address issues that I wrote about in my last book (FACING DOUBT) which was published in the German language under the title: GEHEN oder BLEIBEN? (Do we go or do we stay?) As i traveled yesterday by train from Leipzig back tot he Netherlands, I had ample time to think about some of the aspects of this meeting with a group of pastors, and about what I saw and heard during several other pastoral meetings in a number of countries, for which I was invited in recent years.
My respect continues to grow for the men and women who pastor our local churches, and also for the leaders in conferences and unions who must coach them. In recent times the job of a pastor has become ever more difficult. This is also the impression I retain from my conversations of many colleagues in the past few days. Let me give just one example: Nowadays most pastors have more than one congregation. These may be very different in nature. One pastors told me that he has a very conservative church of mainly native Germans, also a church that consists mainly of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and a church of native Germans who tend to be rather liberal. Such a situation results in continuous splits. How does one deal with this? How does one retain one’s integrity, while constantly switching between different contexts?
In conversations in between meetings and during meals I heard about many personal issues. At times also pastors may have relational problems, but often there is no one they can confide in, and usually they must keep up the appearance that everything is fine. This can produce major tensions. Just like other church members pastors have teenage and adolescent children, who leave the church and who give them great worries.
In the past few days the main topic of my talks was: dealing with doubt. Pastors may have serious doubts about their faith and/or about their calling. Just as many of their church members they may have serious questions about some of the so-called Fundamental Beliefs. When they speak about these questions, some church members show signs of recognition, but others are extremely critical and emphasize that pastors ought to subscribe to all 28 doctrines of the church, and if they cannot do this they should resign. And pastors observe trends in their denomination that they would like to change. How loyal can you be to your church, when it discriminates women and rejects certain groups of people?
I could go on about these things at length. Being a pastor has not become any easier. That makes it important that they experience the support of their church members. It gives them courage when, from time to time, they receive some token of appreciation from their members. Of course, I ought to remind my readers that they should pray for their pastor. That is certainly true, but a book token when he/she had his/her birthday, or a weekend in a nice hotel when he/she has served the church for five or ten years, or an occasional box of chocolade for the partner of the pastor—these are tangible signals that say: ‘We understand that your task is far from simple. We love you and keep you in our thoughts, also when you may go through a difficult period.’ These are some of the thoughts that emerged as I came away from this week’s conference. Pastors are ordinary people who need warmth and appreciation. More than ever before.