Pray for, encourage your pastor, staff
I have a soft spot in my heart for pastors. I understand their struggles and pressures that cause stress and pain in their lives. The pastors and staff ministers I know are very dedicated people who love their congregation, want to do a great job and desire their churches to make gigantic strides forward.
They are driven into ministry and stay in ministry despite difficult circumstances and sometimes difficult people because of the mysterious dynamic referred to as God’s call. God’s call is very real. Most pastors can’t imagine doing anything else than being in the trenches of the local church ministering to God’s people and proclaiming God’s Word.
Yet, it’s tough. A 2001 Barna research study shared that “church goers expect their pastors to juggle an average of 16 major tasks. That’s a recipe for failure. Nobody can handle the wide range of responsibilities that people expect their pastor to master.” (“A Profile of Protestant Pastors in Anticipation of ‘Pastor Appreciation Month,’” www.barna.org, September 25, 2001).
Also, there’s the epidemic of clergy burnout. Pastors give and give and often don’t take care of themselves physically and spiritually. They wake up one day realizing they’re running on empty.
Clergy burnout has received vast attention in recent years. In an Alban Institute column, Wayne Whitson Floyd quoted a New York Times article: “The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.” Being a pastor can be hazardous to your health.
Floyd wrote, “For many clergy, their own stress and burnout, combined with their congregation’s unreasonable expectations and poor understanding of their calling, leads to conflict and often forced termination...” (Wayne Whitson Floyd, “Clergy Burnout,” Aug. 23, 2010, www.alban.org).
Then there are casualties. In May, the Orlando Sentinel reported a well-known local pastor resigned because of an affair. He was the third high profile Orlando pastor to step down in a six month period because of marital infidelity.
What we often forget is that, along with the pressures of unrealistic expectations, the burnout that comes from a job that is never done, and the demands of ministry, pastors wear a target on their back.
Paul in I Timothy 3, writing about the qualifications for the office of pastor, wrote, “Moreover, he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (verse 7).
The word snare refers to a trap that is set intentionally. We forget that spiritual warfare is very real, and that Satan has a plan to bring a pastor down. Usually, this trap is a temptation where, if the pastor gives in, he loses his ministry and hurts his reputation. The byproduct is a shattered family and a hurting church.
If we understood the full implications of “Satan’s snare,” in verse 7, we would never hesitate to pray for our pastors.
Last May, Charlotte pastor/writer James Emory White wrote about failing pastors in his “Church and Culture” blog, and gave insight into why pastors fail. He listed three reasons.
First, emotional depletion that leads to vulnerability. “If you don’t find something God-honoring to fill your tanks, then you’ll find something that isn’t God-honoring,” he wrote.
Second, the lack of sexual boundaries. Every person, especially ministers, should put a fence around their thought life and around their interaction with the opposite sex.
Third, spiritual deception. Just because we pastors do spiritual things like preparing sermons, leading in prayer, overseeing worship, doesn’t mean that we’re nurturing our souls with personal Bible study, or developing an energetic prayer life, or worshipping ourselves.
White wrote, “When you are in ministry, it is easy to confuse doing things for God with spending time with God; to confuse activity with intimacy; and to mistake the trappings of spirituality for being spiritual.” (Church and Culture, vol. 9, no. 39, May 16, 2013).
So, pray for your pastor. For his spiritual and emotional life, his family, his relationships inside and outside the church, his preaching, his physical and mental health, and especially for his protection.
Love him, encourage him, and never, ever take him for granted.
[Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org.]