Pastors oftentimes endure struggles that are hidden from the people they serve. However, one Florida pastor recently openly shared with his church, through a blog post, about the pressure he feels to live up to their expectations, and what he's learned from personal experiences and conversations with church leaders throughout the country.
Cole NeSmith from City Beautiful Church in Orlando, Fla., posted the letter yesterday as his way of letting his congregation know that a consistent relational struggle exists between pastors and their members and despite feeling the divide, he wants to be known and loved the same way his members do.
"There are mornings I wake with a deep pain. That pain is related to something I touch on in the letter, the pain of feeling abandoned and the anxiety of feeling it again," said NeSmith to The Christian Post. "I know there are people who surround me who love me very much. I know God will never leave or forsake me. But the consumer nature of the church often means a 'surface' connection with the congregation. When things get tough, when there's a relational struggle, people bail."
NeSmith writes about members who give up on their commitments without enduring through them, leaving others just hanging.
"The church is meant to be a family of people who push through the tough times and come out on the other side stronger in our relationships with one another and with God. But too often, we're willing to run to the church down the street when things get tough where we are," said NeSmith.
Throughout his time in ministry, NeSmith expresses in his letter that dozens of friends have disappeared along the way, which has driven him to think that it will continue to happen. Among his pressure to cater to the needs of the congregation, he also finds it difficult to discern who "the close ones are."
"One of the mistakes I made early on in ministry was the belief that I had to be everyone's close friend. I want to embody the love and kindness of Jesus to everyone I encounter, but it is impossible for me to be intimately connected to every person I meet," said NeSmith.
He added, "I believe affection, being drawn to another person, is a gift. But affection does not sustain a relationship. A decided commitment is the thing that keeps relationships together. The tricky part is when meaningful relationships are born in the context of our congregation, and then that person removes themselves from our spiritual family. That's one that I haven't figured out how to deal with. Ultimately, that feels very personal."
He says many hold him to "a thousand different standards" as they expect him to act, talk and be a certain way. Those expectations make him have to prove himself to be "worthy of being trusted and followed," he said. However, he also realizes that not all expectations are necessarily unrealistic and negative.
"I'm like you," writes NeSmith, in his letter. "I want to be loved. But it seems you feel much safer when I'm not part of your everyday life, when I'm locked safely away in an ivory tower. Those looks I get when I walk into the room and make you feel uncomfortable. Hiding things, editing your words, trying to be on your best behavior…all this seems so insurmountable."
And yet, despite his anguish and fear that he will fail at meeting every expectation, and the unsettling feeling of constantly being scrutinized, he can look past that because he believes people can change, he says. He hopes that his church will be a congregation of individuals who have unrelenting love for one another and who remain committed while he builds a platform for them in which they can realize God's vision for their lives.
Having that type of intimacy will foster the congregation to embrace the meaning of what it is to be a church, a Christian and a human, says NeSmith.
"I have a few very close people that I care very much about and who care very much about me," said NeSmith. "I have to work hard to make sure those relationships are not neglected because those are the ones who help me refuel. The ones who see me and receive me. The ones who point me to the purpose and heart of what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Jesus had his 12, and even among the 12 there were three who he let in closer. I want those kinds of relationships."