As a guy with a heart for pastors, I have spent many years thinking about how to help them. I’m writing to invite you to join this quest. Your pastor needs your help. Why? Over the years I’ve learned that most pastors don’t think enough about their need for care and support. Sure, there are whiny clergy who lament their burdens and hours. But that’s not most pastors. Most pastors will power along even when their battery is dying. Or even dead.
We’re a remarkably obtuse group, us pastors.
Yet I’ve learned that ministry longevity is fueled by the pastor’s care and support. What has been called “The Great Resignation” is happening, in part, because the past few years hand-delivered complexity and trials that were disproportionate to many pastors’ support systems. A friend of mine has a ministry where he cares for pastors all over the world. Each Monday he tweets: “Pastors, it’s Monday. Don’t resign.”
The problem is real… Take a guy who is called to love and serve people and isolate him or leave him under-supported and, well,..the probability of him rethinking his call shoots through the roof.
For pastors to thrive, pastors need care. They need our help.
The Cost of NOT Caring
Why? I can think of several reasons. Pastors need care because of the unique demands of their job. I know, I know—we all have demanding jobs. But hear me out. Pastors are called to “shepherd” a congregation, which involves Bible study, preaching, counseling, and leading—four comprehensive disciplines all wrapped up in one role. They are often on call 24/7 to deal with emergencies, crises, and other pastoral needs. This can be emotionally and physically draining, which easily leads to burnout. Cue the resignation.
It doesn’t take a prophet to anticipate the impact. Churches are destabilized, then paralyzed, then decline until they need life support.
Churches pay a steep price when pastors experience little care. It’s why we need your help.
Here’s another reason: Satan is real and church leaders are a primary target of attack. “Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter” (Zech. 13: 7). Pastors need care because their job involves spiritual warfare (Eph 6:10-12). It makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, not to appear overly dramatic but pastors work on the front lines of the battle between good and evil.
Maybe you think this is hyperbole. But maybe there’s another option to consider. Maybe you don’t really know the reality of your pastor’s world. Sometimes good church folk assume pastors live in insulated bubbles untouched by the complexities of the real world. You know, the world YOU inhabit.
In reality, the average pastor is dealing with a concentration of real-world complexities which most people rarely encounter. Adultery, same-sex attraction, divorce, prodigal kids, job loss, financial ruin, a loved one transitioning genders—that’s the world of pastors. Sometimes in one week!
No wonder Satan’s assaults are unrelenting. Pastors fight to free people from his dominion.
After all, Christians inhabit a world where a defeated foe (Col. 2: 15) has not yet been vanquished. Pastors are called to serve embattled souls on the front lines of that conflict. Seeing this more clearly can inspire our burden to pray for pastors. If we want tenacious pastors, we must persistently pray for them. They need our help.
Other things come to mind as well. Pastors feel lonely. The call to be an example to the flock is very real to them. Yet most pastors don’t feel exemplary. They feel weak and often overwhelmed. They are still expected, though, to be strong and have all the answers.
It’s the pastoral conundrum: How does he honestly share his struggles without undermining his credibility?
Living as an example while struggling as a person is no picnic. Pastors are not immune to the challenges and struggles that everyone else faces. They may wrestle with depression, anxiety, conflict, or parenting problems. They need care and support just like anyone else. Sometimes they find it. Often, they do not.
They need help. Our help.
Pay the Cost
What can be done to provide care for pastors?
One important step is to create a culture of care within the church. This starts with the elders. Elders, you should own the responsibility for ensuring your pastor experiences care. He should ensure you are cared for as well, but that’s a different article. For the elders, this can include consistent check-ins, prayer support, and specific (not generic) encouragement.
Actually, we (the whole church) can all jump in there to help. When I’m given a microphone in our church, I’m trying to celebrate our pastors. Sometimes I fumble my words, but they appreciate that I’m making the attempt.
Maybe you never get the microphone. You still have a voice. Use it to encourage your pastor.
Back to the elders. Urge pastors to connect with like-minded peers through networks. You may not understand, but this can become an enormous help. Sure, I said a pastor’s care starts with the elders. And I believe it too. But a wise eldership invests—and yes, I mean financially–in their pastor’s future by supplementing their care, training and supporting their need for mentors and models.
Pastors have two ears. Wise are the elders who discern that pastors flourish when hearing local church voices in one ear inside and trusted extra-local leaders in the other.
Elders can provide care, or they can authorize other competent leaders to do it—it doesn’t ultimately matter. What matters is for elders to feel responsible for ensuring the pastor (and his wife, if he is married) are receiving the kind of care that makes their service a joy and not a groan-fest. (Heb. 13: 17)
Another step is for pastors to prioritize self-care. This means downtime – time for rest, relaxation, date nights, and other activities that promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Elders should ask about this. Church members should ask too. And keep asking, because pastors often feel like it’s a betrayal of their call to mute their phones. Tell them, it’s fine. In fact, tell them you think it is essential for their future and effectiveness in ministry. Tell them you don’t want a flashy pastor. You want a durable one.
Finally, we all need to understand and support the biblical role of the pastor and how our elders want the pastor’s role to be applied in different seasons of church life. This means the church needs to know what the elders have asked the pastor to do. And not to do. The church needs to know the pastor has consistent study time because the elders believe preaching has a high value. They need to know the elders insist upon it! For the same reason, the pastor is also unable to accommodate certain requests for his time. Maybe the elders don’t want him visiting everyone’s home each month. Or each year. The church needs to know what the elders think.
When the church knows the elders are expressing care by protecting boundaries, they also see their pastor as an accountable man. Trust in church leadership deepens.
If the elders in your church express that kind of care for your pastor, thank them. Encourage them. Let them know you see what they are doing. Your voice can continue to catalyze their efforts.
We Need You
Pastors need care and support, just like you. But the unique demands of their job, the spiritual warfare they face, and their strategic role in proclaiming and applying the gospel make it essential for all of us– the elders and church –to be intentional about the pastor’s care. Too much is at stake. It’s too costly not to care.
That’s why I would encourage any pastor reading this article to forward it to your elders. Blame me. Elders, forward this article to your people. Blame your pastor. Just kidding, blame it on me. Because I want them to know how they can fight for the future of their church. We need them.
Where care is prioritized, the people invest in the one appointed by God to invest in them. We serve and sacrifice for each other. As this happens, we create and fortify a culture grounded more in love than expectations. And that magnificent circle of love becomes a source of nourishment and sustenance that reenacts the gospel and helps leaders last in ministry.
Photo by Quinten de Graaf