1 Thessalonians 5:12: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;” October is Pastor Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate and encourage God’s under-shepherd that labor among us. You might be hearing some about the difficult job your pastor has, and you might be wondering why you never hear more about the particular difficulties this man faces. Why doesn’t our pastor let us know when we have made his job less than joyous? See Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;”
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, a time to celebrate and encourage God’s under-shepherd that labor among us. You might be hearing some about the difficult job your pastor has, and you might be wondering why you never hear more about the particular difficulties this man faces. Why doesn’t our pastor let us know when we have made his job less than joyous?
See Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
I know of two main reasons why pastors do not often disclose their struggles. The first is perfectly legitimate, the second not so much. The first has to do with what pastors do, and the second with who they are. After I share these two reasons your pastor often struggles silently, I would like to suggest some ways in which you can help these men bear their particular burdens.
My goal here is to help pastors and congregations work together, live together, and glorify God together. These men, my brothers, are dear to our Lord, and to all of us. We show our love for Christ when we love His servants. Through understanding, we might love them better.
Why Do Pastors Hide Their Struggles?
Now, then let us turn to our two reasons.
Acts 20:28: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
Pastoral ministry is primarily about caring for souls in the congregation and the community. Pastors counsel marriages that are falling apart, souls that are in agony, lives that are crumbling, and more. Our brothers sit beside hospital beds and in funeral homes and walk amidst the wreckage of disasters of every kind. These ministers hear of secret sins, childhood traumas, and hopes and fears. Pastors know a lot about hurting and vulnerable people. If the knowledge a pastor possesses were to leak out, the damage could be irrecoverable. So like counselors, doctors, and lawyers; pastors are bound to strict confidentiality.
There are some very heavy things your pastor simply cannot share with anyone. He has to protect those whom he is privileged to minister to. They cannot tell their congregation that such and such a family is going through some serious marital issues and that it is occupying much of his attention. He cannot share details about the young man who came into his office despairing of life. And when a widow calls him fretting over her granddaughter, the pastor cannot tell her that he has just come to a hospital visit with a man whose wife is dying, or that one of the deacons has lost his job and isn’t sure how he will feed his family. He cannot tell you precisely why he needs to go away for a week or two and recharge. Sometimes he is given permission to share some things with the rest of the congregation, but not always.
Philippians 2:14: “Do all things without murmurings and disputing:”
Jesus went to the slaughter without uttering a single objection, and He left us the command of Philippians 2:14 to refrain from complaining. Your pastor is meant to follow Jesus and keep His commands as an example to you: and of course, as a fellow believer. Moreover, to complain of the ministry is to complain of serving God and His people. How could your pastor complain of such a great gift?
Something happens in the soul of a pastor who begins to complain about his ministry. He loses an innocence he cannot easily get back. His perspective becomes jaded, sometimes even cynical. This makes his work much more difficult and toilsome.
Bound by confidentiality and the will to refrain from complaining, a pastor is vulnerable to attack from within and outside the church. He cannot defeat some rumors without violating trust. He cannot defend himself without seeming to complain. What is left for him? To pray, and to carry on living above reproach. Sometimes that is not enough to spare him. Some pastors fall to the opposing forces, others simply withdraw, and some surrender entirely leaving ministry behind.
Then there are pastors who succumb to the weight of the burden and faint from exhaustion, burning out before their time. Others might withdraw from key aspects and areas of ministry to protect themselves. Some pastors have even been overwhelmed to the point of taking their own lives.
For faithful pastors who have held firm to Scripture and followed their Lord unswervingly, these are sad ends indeed. The loss of trained and seasoned men is profound. The loss of ministers tarnishes the Church’s witness. What can we as members of the local church do to help?
How to Help Our Helpers
Pray for Your Pastor
God is able to do exceedingly more than we could ever ask or even dream. See Ephesians 3:20: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,” So there is no better help we can offer our ministers than to pray for them consistently. Pray your pastor has time to rest and to be refreshed in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Pray for his wife and children. Pray his financial needs are met. Pray he has the wisdom to minister rightly and well.
Be His Friend
Give your pastor somewhere to go where he doesn’t have to be “the pastor” for a while. Get to know the man when he is relaxed. I am quite sure you will be blessed by this friendship.
Encourage Him to Meet Other Pastors
No one understands pastors as pastors do.
Give Him a Vacation
I am not just saying to send him and his family somewhere but to let them go. Don’t call them, or expect them to check email. Better yet, volunteer to cover for him by doing some of his regular visits, or being on-call to pray with brothers and sisters.
Let him Take Breaks
Pastors are typically on-call, but they need time to be alone, or with their families uninterrupted. We need to respect those times and trust that we are not neglected.
Dear readers, in all of this remember that your pastor is not the head of the local church you attend, Christ is. See Ephesians 1:22: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,” When your pastor is struggling, or away recovering, or wherever he is or isn’t, you still have direction and ministry.
Christ Himself is always available, never weary or overwhelmed, and never struggles with anything. Leaning on this wonderful comforting truth will help us to help the man who is an instrument of ministry in the Redeemer’s hand.
Finally, I would like to encourage all of you to read a book about pastoral ministry, or about the Church. These are topics we often leave to our ministers, but ones which we all engage with every week.
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