I have a unique role. I get to be a pastor to pastors. One of the primary responsibilities in ministry is to care about and care for 42 different pastors. This is a joy – usually. Like any pastoral call, there are things that weigh on my heart. There are times when I want to step in but I’ve not been invited. There are times when I lay in bed and wonder how a particular pastor and his wife are doing. There are times when I see a wounded pastor and wish I could carry his pain away. I feel what they feel deeply because I served as a local church pastor for 29 years before I stepped into this role.
During October, when many in the church are expressing appreciation for their pastors, I thought I might share some of the things that weigh heavy on your pastor. Most of these burdens are unique to the pastoral role. While you can’t take most of them away, you can understand and pray. Your pastor will just be happy that you care enough to consider these things that are his to carry and what you might be able to do to lighten the load.
1. A pastor carries the weight of what his family feels about the church. The church isn’t just his job. It is his family’s church. He wants his kids and his wife to love their church. That can be tough during stressful seasons. I know of pastor’s wives who have sat on certain committees in the church and heard people on the team criticize the pastor’s leadership with her in the room. The same has happened to pastor’s kids in the hallway of the church. He wants his kids to some day choose to be involved in church and serve faithfully.
What you can do: If you’re frustrated, first think about who’s in the room. Love the pastor’s family whether or not you like the pastor. Be tender with them. Include them in your life if you can. Do what you can do to make them fall in love with the church!
2. A pastor carries the weight of his own failures. I don’t know a pastor who can’t quickly list his latest failures. Unlike many jobs, a pastor’s job is tied to his spiritual life. If you blow it in your ministry, you know you’ve blown it with God. You know how it feels when you know you’re not praying enough? Or, you’re struggling with giving? Now make it your job and it adds another layer of responsibility. Failure adds another layer of guilt. It’s personal, and it’s professional.
What you can do: Communicate appreciation for what he’s doing well. Give patience and understanding when he doesn’t seem to get it quite right. In subtle ways let him know you understand his human frailty and you’re okay with it.
3. A pastor carries the weight of the church’s apparent success, or failure. Even when a pastor tries to measure ministry by Jesus’ standards of life transformation and discipleship, he knows that many in his church are measuring him by the budget and bottoms in the seats. Most ministries have seasons of ebb and flow. There are a lot of reasons for these things. Even if the pastor doesn’t own it all, he still knows that many lay it on him.
What you can do: Remind him often that we are all in this together. Find ways to celebrate the new life that is happening around your pastor and his ministry.
4. A pastor carries the weight of his own responsibility toward Christ. Have you ever walked away from a conversation with a neighbor and thought with regret, “I should have said…”, or “I shouldn’t have said…” A pastor feels that nearly every day. I know I have times I’ve thought about standing in front of Jesus while he goes through my sermons and measures what I said against the truth. It isn’t a comforting thought.
What you can do: Pray for him to honor Christ and let him know when you think he is.
5. A pastor carries the weight of serving in a confusing time. The same way you see the world changing, the pastor sees the world changing. For most, the ministry we were trained to do isn’t the same ministry which exists today. It is hard enough for all of us to understand the huge shifts. Your pastor has to try to help you navigate them with hope and joy of Jesus. He wants to lead people to Jesus when fewer and fewer want to be led.
What you can do: Help him by joining in the mission of Christ in your own neighborhood, workplace and family. Let him see you engaging your world and discover with your pastor, where God is moving and how we should join him.
6. A pastor carries the weight of caring for Jesus’ flock. Jesus has given your pastor a love for God’s people. He may be tired. He may be worn. But he still cares. It isn’t his job, it’s his vocation, his calling. And most do it 24/7 even when people would rather he not care. When one leaves because they are hurt and angry, it hurts. When people won’t make godly decisions, but are being choked by the world, it crushes his spirit. When people drift away, he still watches for their return, hoping it’s today.
What you can do: Show up. Ask how you can pray for him. Commit yourself and encourage others in the church to seek the path of peace before heading out the door.
7. A pastor carries the weight of other pastor’s failures. In our society, pastoral failure seems to be everywhere. Your pastor carries that. 25 years ago, I sat in front of a bank manager, applying for a mortgage. I thought being a pastor would be an asset, because the bank would know that I was a person of integrity and a good risk. The bank manager said it was a liability because many pastors walk out on their loans and just leave town. I was horrified when I realized I was carrying that reputation with me. Today we know the clergy stories are even worse.
What you can do: Affirm your pastor’s love for Christ which is lived in integrity. Let him know when his lifestyle is a positive influence in your life. And pray for him that he doesn’t become one of those statistics.
I am not asking you to shower him with “atta-boys.” But by your presence, prayer and involvement show you understand and appreciate his unique challenges. Most pastors I know gladly carry this weight and wouldn’t trade their calling for anything. But we should remember that the burdens our leaders carry are our burdens to carry together. That is the nature of community. And you are your pastor’s community! You are his church family.
I would love to hear of your pastor who’s doing it well, or any other comments you may have!
Note: I use the male pronoun because I come from a complementary tradition. If your pastor is female, I am sure she has many of the same struggles.