“Will you please make my life improve and improve now?”
Being a pastor is a “one size fits all” kind of job filled with lots of expectations. People want happier lives – all the time – so it’s not unusual that we are asked to do so much more than attend to the spiritual lives of our members.
Folks regularly want to chat with me about everything from marital relationships to how much money is in their bank accounts to their health to how they feel our church is or is not meeting their social and emotional needs.
In any given week, I can be found driving someone to a doctor’s appointment, talking with a struggling single mom about where to get assistance to pay past-due bills, or even taking calls from the social workers of some of our mentally challenged church members.
This is all outside that sermon that always must be prepped and ready by Sunday at 11 a.m.
Though we know that being “all things to all people” is an impossible task and equipping the people of God for the work of ministry is our ultimate goal, this does not change others’ expectations of us.
Fair or not, that’s just the way it is. Folks sometimes just need someone to blame for their unhappiness, and the church and its leadership are an easy scapegoat.
“Will you please make my life improve and improve now?” Such pastoral shoes are heavy ones to put on sometimes.
Sometimes pastors and the churches they serve feel helpless to improve the quality of their congregants’ lives simply because of all the responsibilities before us.
With all of this being true, I found myself listening differently to the White House staffers I met with last week.
As part of a 60-plus member delegation to converse with White House staff via an invitation from Paul Monteiro, associate director of the OfficeofPublicEngagement, I sat before some of the most hard-working and most severely criticized public servants in the country.
On topics of concern including the environment, human trafficking, housing, credit and immigration, our pastoral delegation listened and talked with the staff about concerns stemming from our “front line” experiences in ministry.
It was a civil and respectful encounter, I am proud to report. However, on countless occasions, questions from the pastors came in the form of, “I wish that the Obama administration could do more on this …”
This line of questioning felt like a broken record that went on for the duration of the three-hour meeting.
We all wanted our government to do more. We hoped our government would fix more of our deepest brokeness as a nation.
And as I listened, I couldn’t help but whisper to a colleague, “I want to say to these White House staffers, ‘I know how you feel.'”
Of course, my work in my congregation is on a much, much smaller scale, but the expectations and the constant “fix me” is something I do understand.
I am sorry that those who we elect to serve or are appointed to serve us in government have to feel this way, too.
I can’t imagine what it is like to meet with citizens day in and day out receiving little praise for the good work you are doing and instead being surrounded by voices that must sound like that of needy preschoolers who constantly say to their teachers, “Help me now! More, more!”
While we all have power to lead change, especially in positions of leadership, none of us are saviors.
I know no matter who we elect to the executive office, he or she cannot ever address every problem we face as a nation and world.
I also know that no matter how prepared, studied up or experienced in a multitude of situations as a pastor, I cannot save my congregants from their deep woes, either.
While it is easy to expect the impossible from our government’s leaders, I hope I will think with more compassion the next time I’m in a conversation that begins with “I wish this administration would do …”
There’s more work – great work – to do, of course, but we also must remember the people behind the scenes are just people, after all.
Like pastors, they can only do so much.
Elizabeth Hagan is senior minister of The Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, author and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care.