Get your elbows up! Watch the ball! Bend your knees! Be a hitter! Keep your elbows down! Choke up on the bat! Jump on that fastball! Wait for your pitch!

I remember standing in that little league batter’s box, with coaches and random parents and teammates all yelling their well-meaning directives to me at the same time. And I wanted to please them all. I wanted with all my 9 year old body to actualize all their shouted instructions simultaneously — even when they contradicted one another. But most of the time, I felt practically paralyzed by their imperatives. The bat would often stay glued to my shoulder as the third strike was called.

preacher behave

As a 21st century pastor, believe it or not, I often feel like I’m back in the batter’s box. Via tweets and books and articles and blog posts from the outside, and gentle conversations and critical emails from inside the church walls, the directives tend to hit me all at once. Even when you factor out my people-pleasing tendencies and overactive conscience, the messages still seem practically shouted in my direction. Pray more! Learn our names! Cast that vision! Model what you preach! Stop whining about your workload (we don’t get sabbaticals)! Get out in the community and start something missional! Care as much for us members as you do for those visitors. Stop talking so much about money! Build a culture of generosity! Set goals! Stop acting like a business leader! Make the sermons more practical! Make the sermons deeper! Nobody can keep the Sabbath for you! The speed of the leader determines the speed of the team!

If this sounds like self-pity, it most certainly is! But I don’t think it is merely self-pity. Pastors tend to live under high (and often contradictory) expectations. Not only that, we live with this gnawing fear that our failure to apply these imperatives is wounding the church. We live with the burden of “the Dones,” those formerly active church members who are now done with church. Perhaps through graceless preaching or poor hiring or reckless decision-making or callous pastoral care, we produced people who love Jesus but are not too keen on the church. And while we celebrate the application of grace to those “broken by the church,” what of the gospel for those of us who unintentionally break the church? Or at the very least scratch or dent the church?

Once, during a particularly withering season of pastoring, when I was keenly aware of my manifold shortcomings, I discovered an absolute gem of a book — a Lutheran “Minister’s Prayer Book.” Think of it as part lectionary, part commonplace book (from ancient pastors and theologians), and part prayer anthology. One of my favorite prayers is from Martin Luther himself — his sacristy prayer.

”Lord God, thou has appointed me to be a bishop and pastor in thy church. Thou seest how unfit I am to undertake this great and difficult office, and were it not for thy help, I would long since have ruined it all. Therefore I cry unto thee; I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart to thy service. I desire to teach the people, and I myself would learn and ever more diligently meditate on thy Word. Use thou me as thine instrument, only do not thou forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction. Amen.”

Prayers like these give me great comfort each day, as I step gingerly into the batter’s box once again.