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A black pastor’s lament: ‘Must we do it all?’

Updated: November 21, 2011 10:15AM

Today’s column is an excerpt from a letter from an anonymous pastor I received years ago in response to a critical essay on the black church published across the country and also in this newspaper. October is National Pastor Appre­ciation Month. This is the first in a series of articles titled, “Letters to a Pastor.”

Dear Sir, I am a prominent minister who reads your letter and feels your pain. I shared it with many other pastors in the hopes that we can hear the soul of it . . . We needed to hear from you.

First, I am so glad that not only does your sharp rebuke of the church come through loud and clear, but also your wincing pain and love for it. Thanks for both the blistering critique and the glaring opulent love that provoked it. I am sorry for the pain you have experienced. I truly am.

Though much of what you have shared does not surprise me at all, it is a perspective that we need to hear. But that perspective is just one side of the elephant.

I am also a black man in America who also searches for relevance, though I pastor and lead one of the most influential congregations in the nation today. My search isn’t just the search in church and its blatant “bling bling” approach (though many would include me in that category of a “bling blinger”). I wanted to tell you about the weighted back — bent from the heavy lifting of broken people, bent from years of being expected to fill in the deficit, which has us suffering from poor leadership from other areas.

Our pastors have had to fill in for no black leadership, insensitive presidents. . . . We are called to be spiritual leaders but required to be everything else.

We are lost in a fog of too many demands, unfair job descriptions, endless hours, countless funerals, graveside services, ripped off by builders, forsaken by wives, hated by media, afraid of our own peers . . . [The church] expects us to be its civil rights, social service, psychologist, community builders, event planners, land developers . . .

He is struggling with paying off the mortgage, trying to find out what his role is and who should set it. Is it the times he lives in, the color of his skin, the bible that seldom seems to be mentioned in such dialogues?

Now he must be spiritually relevant, socially adept, a great administrator, and so much more. He doesn’t want to admit to anyone that he lacks the skills to counsel countless weeping mothers, endless people seeking help with jobs, showing up at court to speak on behalf of how good the young person is who is now being carted off to jail . . .

I stopped shaking hands on Sunday morning . . . I was tired and overworked, exposed to countless people who wanted something from me — more than I had to give. I had loaned out money that I needed and was never repaid. I had been hit on by the women, ignored by the brothers who say they wanted to help but who more times than not took the position but not the work that went with it. I was tired of shaking hands with people who only wanted me to pay for the funeral, hire them to do work they used to do for free at their old church and find out ways they could get into my finances.

Frankly, many pastors have collapsed and are equally disheartened as you seem to be . . . Statistics say that 75 percent of pastors of all races secretly want to quit, confess secret depressions, struggling marriages and endless demands weighting them down . . .

The black community brings every issue to the feet of its pastors. What happened to the NAACP, the Urban League, National Council of Negro Women? Must we as black pastors do it all?

Has he lost his soul? Yes, some have . . . But not all successful clergy are greedy or imbalanced. They are often busy and tired overworked and weary.

Many of the average-range pastors are just confused as to which fire to put out first: the one in the White House, the one in the church house or the one at his house! Not all of us are the pimp-like creatures you described. Even those of us who have a Rolex buy it to compensate for not having a life!

You know, the scriptures themselves ask us to be like Jesus, which is a bit intimidating. If that were not enough — to be like Him, represent Him, teach about Him and preach great every Sunday, less they leave you.

I could go on and on . . . I am just a preacher who wishes guys like you would come back and help this first generation of churches who now finally have their own buildings, do suffer from misplaced priorities, but only because they are trying desperately to keep up with a changing definition of what a great church is.

Boy, we need you . . .

Unnamed Pastor

Next week: At long last, my response.

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