Walking on Water: A Great Gig if You Can Fake It

Several days ago, I had what many might call a “bad week.” Much of what was bad about it was self-inflicted, and it reminded me of the old phrase that affirms we’re “only human.” I hate it when that happens to me. I suppose you do as well. Sometimes, being human ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the midst of my turmoil, I texted a ministerial friend of mine and asked him to come over so I could “vent.” Fortunately, he was able to meet with me the next day. He arrived, I vented, and everything got better…sort of… I say, sort of, because venting only helps you on the inside. You still have the peripheral stuff to clean up and deal with.

Eventually, the knot in my stomach relaxed, the stress level dropped, and I returned to my normal, insane self. But the conversation with my friend stuck in my brain. It almost haunts me. It’s one of those things that I find hard to believe.
During our exchange, he conveyed a true story to me. He told me of a pastor who was instructed to go to a counselor for a variety of reasons. Among other things, the counselor told him that pastors have to “walk on water.”

“Lord, have mercy!”

I’m not sure why he would say such a thing, but apparently he believed it (at least figuratively). It’s no wonder so many preachers are on meds. We not only think we have to be perfect, so does everyone else. Lord, have mercy! Some of us are walking basket cases.

I don’t know if you’re keeping up with statistics these days, but 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month. Apparently a lot of our number has had more than just a bad week. They’re having bad pastorates and bad lives. Either we’re taking ourselves a tad too seriously, or someone else is. Probably a lot of both…

Though it may seem like it, this is not a complaint–merely an observation. If you’re one of those pastors who think you need to at least give the perception that you can walk on water, cut it out. You’re not helping anyone that way–not yourself, not your parishioners, not anyone. If you’re a parishioner projecting that onto your pastor, please reconsider. The preacher is just as vulnerable to human foibles as you are.

The pastor in my friend’s story told the counselor he spent most of his time under water (not on it), because that’s where the people who needed him were. He was correct, of course. Pastors don’t need pontoon feet. They need SCUBA equipment. Pretending we can walk on the waves is a killer. Please don’t fall prey to it.

Eventually you’ll convince yourself you can actually do it (or reasonably fake it). Somewhere along the way, however, you’ll discover you haven’t been walking on water at all. You’ve been walking on eggshells. Either way, you’re all wet (or at least you will be).

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and currently the pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]

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