To some, this post will seem self-serving. Such a response would be cynical and after struggling with the thought that some might misunderstand what I’m about to address, I’ve decided to go ahead and write about it.
Have you ever considered that shepherds sometimes hurt?
By shepherd, I mean pastors. The guys who stand before congregations large and small several times a week trying to share a Biblical Truth that will take root in the hearts of those who listen. The one who marries and buries people. The one who misses family events so that he can be there when you need him. He listens to your problems and prays with you and cries with you. He sits in his office late at night praying that God will inspire him to preach one more sermon, solve one more problem, write one more lesson, carry one more burden even though he feels empty and drained.
This week, I’ve heard from a pastor who was attacked by his best friend. I corresponded with one who has a child who is absolutely breaking his heart. I’ve left messages for a young man who wants to be a pastor and whose child is fighting a life-threatening illness. I’ve prayed for three different men in the ministry whose depression gets so bad that they can barely get out of bed some days. I listened as a bi-vocational pastor shared his dream to buy an abandoned old building in a major metropotian area and which is one of only two properties even remotely available to use as a church — asking price? $12 million. I learned of a missionary who has lost 50% of his support since his last furlough. I know of several pastors whose wives are struggling with cancer. I regularly hear from pastors who have a member, or a small contingent of disgruntled folks, who are bent on forcing them to quit often using tactics that would make the mob blush. These guys are broken, frightened, have young families and feel all alone.
There are tremendous blessings in ministry. Please don’t infer anything different. Good shepherds don’t enter the ministry because of the glamour — they do so because they are obedient to the calling. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t hurt and struggle.
Therefore, I want to offer some suggestions on how you might want to help your (under)-shepherd when he is hurting….
First, genuinely pray for him. Not, the kind of pray that is more of a glib expression than a certain reality. Not the kind of prayer that includes world peace, everyone who is hungry and Cousin Jethro’s upcoming parole hearing in the same breath. But an intense and personal prayer which asks the Lord’s protection on him body, soul and spirit, that he be filled and walking in the Spirit, that his family would be encouraged, that he would be edified by the church and that he would have unusual wisdom and stamina. Very specific prayers for very specific and real needs.
Secondly, allow your pastor to be human. Every pastor knows that certain professions have an aura in which people don’t really want to think of them in anything other than professional terms. The President of the United States, the Pope, your doctor, celebrities — we really don’t want to think of them as having things like dirty laundry, requiring oil changes in their vehicles or wanting to sit in the living room in old comfortable clothes watching an NFL playoff game. But pastors are people too. Our kids get detentions. The dog piddles on our carpeting. We wake up in surly moods sometimes. Our breath smells when we eat garlic. It’s life and we live it. Don’t have unrealistic expectations of him or his family. Let him enjoy a day off. If you don’t have to call until business hours, give him that courtesy. Don’t be upset with him when he reschedules a meeting so that he can see his son play basketball or his daughter play a recital piece.
Next, if you offer a criticism — be kind and offer suggestions. If you are leader, you will be criticized. If you can’t deal with that — you have no business in leadership. But there are different kinds of criticism. There’s what my dad used to call “belly-aching” — which is generally just an unpleasant venting and criticizing session. Then there’s also constructive criticism which not only identifies a problem, but which offers a solution. Don’t be offended if your pastor already knows its a problem, but hasn’t come up with a solution or if you offer a solution and he tells you why it won’t work. If both of you try, you might be able to continue the dialogue until a reasonable solution or an acceptance of the current state is reached. Pastors should not be afraid of good suggestions and valid criticisms — when we cut ourselves off from feedback, we make ourselves less effective.
Fourth, make sure your pastor is getting some “recharge” time. Most evangelical pastors that I know (not all, but definitely MOST) work 60 hours or more per week. Even when they aren’t at work, they are generally on “call.” If they take Saturday’s off, they do so with the pressure of the next day weighing on their mind throughout the day. Add to their schedule evening services, meetings, events and visitation and you’ll find that their schedule can deplete them physically, emotionally and spiritually over time. FORCE/REQUIRE your pastor to take periodic vacations. Make it possible for them to attend conferences or go on a missions trip each year. Work to protect their private time. If you own a personal retreat or have access to a secluded getaway, offer to let him go there to study and read and plan and rest. Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement and a few days each month spent planning and refreshing themselves will help them rid their minds of the clutter that weighs them down.
Also, make your comments to them about such exercises positive. Every pastor I know endures comments like, “Wow…I wish I got a car as part of my compensation package!” or “It must be nice to be able to work only 1 day a week.” or “Sure must be sweet to take a vacation and call it a conference.” I could list a hundred cruel things said to pastors when they are trying to make themselves more effective in the ministry that truly suck the joy out of what you are doing. People are often just trying to be witty (they failed) or they are simply petty and small-minded when they say it, but it adds guilt and robs joy from the pastor.
Next, give your pastor professional tools and privileges. A cell phone is a must today. Take care of his travel costs as he ministers. Give him a book allowance. Send him to seminary classes if he so desires. Every real professional must take professional development work. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, architects, contractors, real estate agent and many other professionals must take continuing education courses and seminars or they will not be recertified in their fields. Should not the one whose responsibility it is to watch over your souls be afforded the same courtesy?
Finally, be thoughtful. Offer to watch their kids so the pastor and his wife can get a night away. Remember his birthday or the anniversary of his call to your ministry. Allow him to vent privately or be humanly frustrated without using it as fodder for gossip to others. Let him know when he does something that makes a difference in your life. Protect him from the unkind words or actions of others. If you’ll minister to him, he’ll be a better minister to you.
I’m not writing this from any sense of deprivation in my own life. After 23 years in the ministry, I realize how blessed I have been by the people I’ve served. But there are a lot of guys out there who are struggling and could use a word of encouragement or a reminder that what they do matters. If you’ll invest in your pastor, he’ll be better able to invest in you.