When I was a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist church there are a lot of things that just didn’t click with me. Since coming out as bisexual and finding myself in a more progressive space, a lot has become clear.
They say no one can be convinced of something that will cost them their job. It’s tempting to think that when I was a pastor I believed what I believed for the sake of my career. That’s probably not true, though. Becoming a pastor is a huge sacrifice for most people. We don’t go into ministry because it’s easy or lucrative, but because we are true believers. That slowly gets muddied along the way.
I often hear people say that pastors should be more open and authentic. I believe that’s true. However, in conservative churches especially, there are factors associated with the role itself that make it almost impossible to be open and authentic. Your role as a pastor places much higher scrutiny no you and your life. Many of us do little things like hide books (Harry Potter anyone?) because it isn’t worth the potential hassle. We might dress differently or avoid wearing jewelry in an Adventist church especially. There might be some more progressive opinions we tend to keep to ourselves if we are in conservative churches.
That’s because conservative church members generally prefer that the pastor be a bit more conservative than they are. And you never know when someone is going to call your boss (whether it’s a conference official or board members depending on your church structure). Even if your boss totally backs you up, you’ve still caused a hassle. Then there are the expectations of your board or your conference. When you are a pastor, the expectations can hit you from every direction, and the criticism.
I know a lot of people who have had little disagreements turn into big deals, with churches determined to kick them out. When that happens the family usually has to move, sell the house, take the kids out of school, spouse needs to find a new job. There are a lot of pastors walking around with genuine trauma because of the way they’ve been treated by their churches.
All that leads to pressure to present yourself just a little more conservative than you are, to take a few less risks, to be a bit more conventional. That adds up over a period of years. You can’t present yourself as different than you are without it having a real impact on your life. You can’t do it without eroding your ability to earnestly and wholeheartedly seek the truth.
All those little changes in how your present yourself add up in the end to prioritizing image over authenticity. Courage and vulnerability are both needed to seek the truth. It’s not so easy to wake up one day and manufacture these qualities. They are more like a muscle. If you don’t use them, they may not be strong enough when you need them.