It has been said that “perception is reality.” This saying is most especially true for the pastor and drives so much of what the pastor does. This principle is often a good perspective for a pastor to have as it can lead to a mindfulness to pursue personal holiness, avoid scenarios that might compromise our integrity, and give due diligence to the call to manage our household well (1 Tim. 3:4). Yet, this perspective can also be taken too far. Because our ministries and families are typically under such scrutiny by the church, we can be tempted to worry more about the appearance of them to others than our actual ministry and family themselves. After all, we are called to be above reproach and manage our household well as a qualification of our calling (1 Tim. 3:2, 4-5). However, if we feel the perception of one of these areas slipping, we can be tempted to fall into the trap of the quick fix to hide the struggle, instead of dealing with it.
For example, when marriage problems exist, the pastor and his wife will try to put on a happy face, instead of transparently dealing with the struggle. A recent poll of over 1,000 pastors at a conference revealed that 77% of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage. Yet, I think we can assume a much lower rate for how many of those pastors have actually revealed their marriage struggles to their church. In desiring the appearance of hard work, the pastor might be tempted to do what will give that appearance, instead of just working hard before God regardless who sees.
I once heard a pastor share about some church members who were growing in hostility towards him and were trying to build a case to remove him. One tactic that some embraced to charge this pastor was to drive by the church and keep a record of when his car was at the church and when it was not, thinking they could indict him for being lazy or not working. As silly and even juvenile as that was, this pastor confessed he was still tempted to accommodate them, change his schedule, visit less, and do what they wanted, even if it meant compromising the way he felt he needed to conduct his day. Perception is reality for the pastor, and it can make the demand of appearance control a pastor to the neglect of those to whom he should be tending.
Pastors, the perception of your ministry and family is important, but it is not more important than the actual reality of your ministry and family life. Guard from allowing this temptation to drive your daily life into a sinful deception. It is an empty pursuit and will eventually end with heartache. Trust me, if you are someone different at church than you are at home…your family will notice.