I recognize that this post is self-serving, but the death of Darrin Patrick and Ed Stezer’s article really provoked the writing of this article. This is a personal post that considers the trials of all pastors. Be aware, the language used is very open and candid at times, so please do not mistake the openness for a lack of trust in God, or a lack of joy in the ministry, or a spiting of God’s people. This is not the case.
Many things can be true at once, and someone can lament over difficulty while simultaneously having joy in Christ. Furthermore, this is not intended to make light of other people’s struggles who are not pastors. This is not a declaration that a pastor’s struggle is greater than anyone else’s. This is just a personal expression of the heart and how pastors experience certain struggles in this context. I am not downplaying the trials of others.
The death of Patrick and the suicide of pastors in the past has got me pondering about ministry, friendships, mental health, and depression. Let’s be honest, pastoral ministry is hard. There is no getting around it. Some days you want to give up and just get a normal nine to five and some days you want to bury your head in the sand and hide from the world. Many pastors just want the freedom from the constant pressure of burden-bearing, difficult ministry decisions, and the discouragement from a lack of responses to the Word.
Pastors get discouraged. Pastors get depressed. And yes, like everyone else, there are certain burdens that only they themselves can bring to God. Like all other people, they too are responsible for their own choices. This is all true. However, this does not mean that church are members free from the responsibility of caring for their pastor, and it doesn’t mean they can’t help their discouraged pastor. To be clear, I’m not trying to put church members on the level of Jesus for the pastor, not at all. I’m also not accusing any church of having failed their pastor or bearing any type of guilt if their pastor has succumbed to any grievous sin due to overwhelming discouragement (please, do not misunderstand, tragic situations can happen in any church to nobody’s fault).
But, generally speaking, as it is the pastor’s responsibility to care for the flock, it is also the church’s responsibility to show love and support for their pastor. Plain and simple. Whether it is in seasons of discouragement or seasons of victory. Though the church does not bear the full weight, it can carry some of it. The church can be a source of comfort and grace to their pastor. It is possible.
Because of this, I’d like to share some ways that you can encourage your pastor or your pastor friends in your life.
Pray for Your Pastor
It’s not a cliche. There are so many Christians not praying in the church. This is evidenced by a lack of prayer in fellowship, a lack of prayer meeting attendance, and a lack of discussion about prayer in normal life. If you do not pray, commit to start praying right now. And pray for your pastor. Pray for him and tell him that you are praying for him. Pray specifically for his requests and actually ask him for those requests instead of generalities. Incorporate it into your schedule to pray for him. Without God’s sustaining grace in his life, he will not last in the ministry. Praying for your pastor may be the difference between ministry failure and ministry success. It could be the difference between life and death. Yes, it’s that important.
Communicate with Your Pastor
Another form of encouragement is open communication. Give your pastor updates on your life and family without his prompting. Let him know if you’ll be out on vacation or why you’ll be missing a Sunday rather than having him wonder if you’ve left the faith. Send words of encouragement through text or phone calls. Tell him what you learned from the sermon, interact with it. Reaffirm his gifts in the ministry. Don’t flatter him, but celebrate his victories in the Lord and where God has truly used him. Also, tell him how you’re serving the church or how you want to serve. Ask him where he needs help or where the church needs help and fill the need. Basically, just don’t remain in the dark and cut him out of your life. Healthy communication encourages the pastor.
Love Your Pastor’s Family
If your pastor has a wife and children, they are his greatest treasure after Christ. How you treat them is equal to how you treat him. Loving them is loving him. Be a genuine friend to his wife and kids. All the encouraging things that you do for him, go ahead and do it toward them too. Pastor’s wives can feel just as lonely and burdened as anyone else, and many false expectations are placed upon their shoulders. Be their friend, ask them how you can help them or help their kids. Play with and enjoy their children as if they were your own. Ministry can be a unique burden on the family of a pastor and people are not fully aware of it. The pastor’s family needs encouragement from the church. Some have internal family problems that you may not know about. Being a spiritual encouragement will help make sure your pastor’s family is a place of refuge and not a place of dread.
Correct Your Pastor in Love
This may be a surprising one, but it is needed. Some pastors are discouraged because of an apathetic attitude from the members. They’re looking for some type of interaction or sign of life from their members. Some pastors are so discouraged by the lack of healthy dialogue that they grow lethargic due to a lack of contributions. Give Christ-like comments to your pastor. Give meaningful contributions where there is a place of lacking. If you find something that needs correction in his life, tell your pastor in love. (The emphasis is “in love,” Eph 4:15). On the flip-side, some actually make mountains out of molehills, and only ever approach in a spirit of anger and malice without any type of love. You’re doing relationships wrong if the only time you talk to people is to correct them. Mix in a friendship and encouragement. And if this correction is done biblically and in love, then a godly/wise pastor will embrace it, especially if you are fighting in the trenches with him.
Check on Your Pastor
Many pastors struggle with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. This is why we’ve seen the increased in media coverage of pastors committing suicide. Some pastors feel very alone in their struggles and don’t know who to turn to. Many don’t have a best friend to call their own or feel like they don’t have any friends at all. Some are afraid to be candid and open to their members out of sinful pride or fear of being misunderstood. Some just keep to themselves. Or maybe, your pastor is just fatigued from constantly checking in on you (even though he enjoys it and loves you). It would encourage his soul if you for once just checked in on him. Ask him if he has any sins to confess, ask him what troubles him, ask him what his needs are. Send any form of creative encouragement, he might not be receiving regular encouragement. Anything will help. God may just use that text message you send to help him get through his week.
Be a Friend to Your Pastor
This is very similar to the previous point. But to reiterate, some pastors do not have many friends and could be due to a number of reasons (providence, time constraints, sinful pride, etc.). If you feel like you don’t have a close friend, it’s likely that your pastor feels the same way. Here’s the good news: some pastors will endure and persevere just knowing they have a friend who’s there just to be a friend. Sadly, some members only go to their pastor when they have problems, and that constructs 100% of their interactions with him. They don’t call to genuinely check in on him or be a friend, but they only call to problem dump and then hang up the phone if they don’t like the biblical advice he gives. (Honestly, this is really hard to experience on a weekly basis. Pastors are not Superman, and they have feelings, troubles, and take things personally too.)
I can’t stress enough how much friendship means to a pastor who feels lonely. Some just want a friend for godly catharsis and want a friend to just “hang out” with. They want someone to talk to about anything other than ministry, politics, or problems. They want someone to relax around, some who will let him figuratively “let down his hair.” If you have a good pastor, it’s likely that he’s tried to befriend you (in many different ways), so please respond to it. Reach out to your pastor, and try to befriend him in a natural way. You may be his only friend in this season.
Love God’s People for Your Pastor
Going to spiritual battle all by yourself can be taxing on the soul. Pastors sometimes feel as though they are fighting the war all alone, and on all fronts, in their own local church. Coming alongside your pastor and serving with him will be a great encouragement to his soul. This is not to say that your primary motivation in life is to please your pastor. No, ministry is not done for the pastor’s glory, it’s for Christ’s glory. However, simply serving in your context with your gifts and your talents will go a long way for your pastor and will glorify Christ. Be intentional about being present on Sundays and at church fellowship gatherings— prioritize God’s people in your life! In a season where many refuse to love God’s people, this is a welcomed oasis for him. To observe the church loving one another biblically will be one of the sweetest sights to see and will encourage him to continue in his ministry. He will gladly give his life to serve with you!
Love Christ for Your Pastor
This is really what will bring it all together and encourage your pastor the most. Your pastor is working for your joy in Christ and has no greater joy than seeing you love Christ in your personal life. This goes beyond all the superficial religious acts and goes against the notion that we’re doing all this because “we do not want to let the pastor down.” Nothing can be further from the truth.
A genuine love and fire for Christ will show itself naturally in the church and will show in how you love your pastor. Love for Christ cannot be hidden and will not stay hidden. It will show itself and affect the lives of others, including the life of your pastor. This is really the heart of his pastoral ministry and why he labors so hard for you. He is praying that your love for Christ will be steadfast and that you will be well with God. He is praying that you will be victorious over your sins and find godly success in your efforts.
This brings him great joy in knowing that God used both of you as teammates to accomplish these godly goals together. So, please, commit to living the Christian life alongside your pastor. You are there to do this together as teammates. There is no special formula, just both of you loving Christ. Do this and it will bring encouragement to his discouraged heart. Your pastor just wants you to cherish the same great Savior that he cherishes so dearly.