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preaching article Letter to a (Real Life) Hurting Pastor

Letter to a (Real Life) Hurting Pastor

based on 8 ratings
Oct 10, 2012
Scripture: none
(Suggest Scripture)

Of all the communication I receive in response to my writing ministry, among my favorites are those from fellow pastors. Even prior to entering full time ministry I was sympathetic to the unique challenges and pressures that pastors face. As one commentator put it, “People expect the clergy to have the grace of a swan, the friendliness of a sparrow, the strength of an eagle and the night hours of an owl—and some people expect such a bird to live on the food of a canary.”

I recently received the following email from a man who signed his email only as "Hurting Pastor." “I am a local pastor. I have been serving a church for 10 years faithfully. During these years, I have never had an appreciation service of any kind. I know it is biblical for the church to do this for their pastor in love. Is there ever a time when this should be preached? I have addressed this matter with my leadership team. Should I just teach on this matter from the pulpit? What do you think?”

What should a pastor do when he feels underappreciated? Sadly, this man’s story is not exceptional. It isn’t hard to find real-life accounts of hurting pastors. Many reports suggest that pastoral tenure is at an all-time low. Pastors stay shorter and look harder for bigger and better opportunities. This is often attributed to excessively ambitious clergy. That may be true in some cases.  However, is it not possible that in at least as many cases pastors are hurting more than church culture allows them to admit? Perhaps churches could use training on the unique challenges placed upon pastors and their families. Here is the core of what I wrote back to Rev. Hurting Pastor:

1. Pastor, your first and deepest "appreciation" comes from the Lord.

We really do have to learn to rest in Christ and find our value and purpose in being a child of God, not a servant of the Kingdom. There is a difference. It’s easy to think that being a pastor is what we are, but it’s not. It’s our vocation in the Kingdom. It’s what we do. We are foremost a child of God, just like everyone we serve.

2. Pastor, we all feel similar struggles to varying extents.

We have to learn to "get life" from multiple sources so we don't dry out. I write a weekly column in a newspaper, contribute to various ministry-related websites, and write books and tracts. I get life from these activities. They help me stay focused and refreshed in the sometimes arid times of pastoral life. While you may not consider yourself a writer, consider a blog—even blog as "hurting pastor" anonymously—and you might be surprised the impact you could have on other pastors wading through the often mucky waters of pastoral life. 

3. Pastor, don't stop being who God created you to be. 

Invest in your interests outside of ministry. Like many pastors, I’m guilty of investing into precious few activities that are not directly related to my work in the local church. Do you have an interest in travel? Incorporate your pastoral life into a trip to visit a missionary your church supports. I’m presently planning just such a trip with my wife and tribe of kids going along.


4. Pastor, we are servants of the King and His Kingdom, but we are not without value ourselves.

Even a slave should have his needs met. Churches will unwittingly take as much life from a pastor as he is willing to give. People are needy, but we are people, too. Don't forget self-care. You and I are among colleagues who seldom seek health care or spiritual care for ourselves. It doesn’t honor God to focus so much on others that we let ourselves burn out.    

5. Pastor, teach on the subject of pastoral care, but be careful how you do it.

Early in ministry, a mentor advised me wisely to take care every sermon is a "we" thing, not a "you" thing. A sermon titled, "You chumps don't know how to care for a pastor to save your life” is probably not a good idea and won’t be effective. Whereas a series of sermons on the topic of community care in the Church, which includes teaching on pastoral care and concerns, may be effective. Educate them on this subject with some degree of subtlety for, as most pastors have discerned, it’s altogether too easy to look self-serving in the pastorate.

Highlight biblical passages where it is seems obvious that a person’s faith is connected to how they think about the church and its leaders. Look at the example in Acts 16 of the Philippian jailer: "At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized." (Acts 16:33 NIV84)  After he received faith, he cared for the Lord's servants. Perhaps bring in a guest speaker to talk on this subject. It is not selfish to help the body of Christ understand that healthy pastors make for healthier churches. Pastoral health is good for the Kingdom and therefore it matters. 

While the pastoral journey is a long and arduous pilgrimage, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Pastors do get a lot of blame they don’t deserve and little of the credit they do deserve. We need to care for ourselves, and the body needs to appreciate the work of their pastor.  However, at the end of the day, all of the glory belongs to the Lord. Pastor, sincerely, earnestly, cast your cares upon Him (Matthew 11:28-30).

In addition to shepherding the flock as Pastor of Liberty Spring Christian Church in Suffolk, Virginia. Chris Surber is also Founder and Director of Supply and Multiply in Montrouis, Haiti. 

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Talk about it...

Anthony Jones avatar
Anthony Jones
0 days ago
I would just like to say, as a fellow pastor. It is so easy to say cast you cares on the Lord. But the truth of the matter is, it's really not that simple. I have had the experience to have been pastoring now a little over 10 years. In my organization Pastors are appointed and not hired. I was appointed to a small church which was the first church for me to pastor. I was there for about 5 years. Then I was moved back to the church I had gotten saved in to pastor. Yep, you guessed it, hard transition. First of all, you must understand, I was saved from a life of drugs, crack cocain to be specific. And I had the opportunity to go to a place called team challenge, and that's where God saved me and filled me with the Holy Ghost. So I came back home and my girlfriend and I got married and joined this church. Well I came in and served faithfully, God saw fit to elevate me. Making a long story short, because I'm starting to tell my testimony, I was sent back to the church to pastor. I had 2 things against me, first I was younger than most of the people there, and second it was the church where I started out. It was not good. But I most admit; I put my trust in God, and asked him to stregthen me for whatever was ahead. And let me tell you, it has been quite a journey. But God has been faithful. We're a small member church, but I'm expecting great things to come
David Buffaloe avatar
David Buffaloe
0 days ago
Been there, done that, bought the t shirt. I'm recovering from sheep bites now. Someone once said they aren't fatal, but yes, they can be. When the sheep continuing the attack even after you leave, it destroys your ministry. God save us from cannibalistic sheep.
Rev Janet Jolly-Lockyer avatar
Rev Janet Jolly-Lockyer
0 days ago
My 'pastoral hurting' comes in a different guise. As an ordained minister I came to Canada when I married a Canadian. Second marriage for us both (both widowed) I came expecting, hoping and believing that I would be able to minister here. I worked as an itinerate minister for various denominations, but my own choosen denomination has neither recognised my anointing, allowed my acceptance as an ordanined Pastor, or encouraged anyone within that denomination to do so either. Eventually God took my husband and I to Africa, a life-long calling of mine, and there - over a period of almost 6 years, I ministered in every denomination, (including the one that rejected me in Canada) with many world Christian Organisations... and today we are preparing to return for an unknown period of time to minister, disciple, teach, preach and church plant. God is using myself and my husband to reach and save 000's of souls.... yet here in my adopted home, I am not seen as more than a 'good lay person'. Why do we do these things? Is it because I am female, is it because I was trained somewhere else, or is it prejudice in another garment? God called me, blessed and anointed me for ministry, He sent me to Africa, He used me to draw souls out of darkness into His glorious light... and yet, still men do not recognise my credentials. So Hurting Pastor... it is not always the flocks that we shepherd that hurt us the most - often it is those that should know better and be welcoming ... we must all remember that we all serve the same risen Lord Jesus, and Him only do we serve. Amen
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Yes, it is easy to say "Cast your cares on the Lord." And we should. But remember, when God created Adam, he had a perfect relationship with God. They communed together, walked together, and had unhindered fellowship. But even though all of this was true, God still said, "It is not good that the man be alone." He needed someone like him, someone with flesh. So God created Eve. In the same way, God knows we need each other. We need encouragement, uplifting, love, support, etc. from human beings. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) After all, people expect that from us. It still isn't good to feel or be alone even though we have God. It hurts when you don't feel appreciated. Birthdays, Christmas, Pastor's Appreciation, Aniversarys, come and go with little acknowledgement. It hurts. Even Jesus felt hurt when nine of the ten lepers He healed didn't come back to thank Him for what He did for them.
Steve  Bloem avatar
Steve Bloem
0 days ago
I went to Bible College, married a wonderful Christian woman and was ordained by my home church. People told me I was a good preacher and pastor. But then something happened, at age twenty nine, I experienced a severe clinical depression. The doors for the pastorate rapidly shut. For years, I was rejected as a pastoral candidate even though I took medications that helped correct the brain chemistry. I grieved the loss of not be able to fulfill my calling for years. Finally, my wife and I wrote a book that champions the cause of those who have a mental illness. We started a ministry, which reaches out to those who have depression, bipolar etc... This opened up opportunities to minister but the stigma still is deep and wide among evangelicals. Pray that this stigma would cease to exist. Like the writer of this article said at the end of the day, I seek to please my Lord in what I do. He tells us to comfort those with the comfort that we have received of the Lord (See, 2 Corinthians 1:3-11). I don't want my intense suffering to be wasted. Rev. Steve Bloem, Palm Beach Gardens, FL
David Buffaloe avatar
David Buffaloe
0 days ago
@ Rev Janet - If you're called, preach. My affirmation comes from God, not from man. Start a Church plant, or go Methodist/ Presbyterian/ Assemblies of God/ or any number of denominations that allow woman preachers. Do what God called you to do and I'll be praying for you.
Sergio Galvan avatar
Sergio Galvan
0 days ago
As a young pastor in the ministry but been save the Grace of Christ for almost 24yrs l have learned that all pastors should be honored and appreciated I learned this the hard way before I became a pastor the body of Christ should be taught this it is very important in the church but most important is to be appreciated by our wives because when our wives appreciate our work as pastors and affirm us in our work and in everything we do sometimes that is all that we need ,to me I rather be appreciated by my wife and my kids it would mean more to me because they are my first ministry that God called me to sometimes church members can be unkind without them knowing it so in conclusion yes it is important for church members to appreciate pastors but at the end is God that will always make us feel appreciated he is the one that knows and sees everything that we do for the glory of God
David Buffaloe avatar
David Buffaloe
0 days ago
@ Steve, God used you in your afflictions to put you where He wants you to be. Praise God! I'm praying for you and your ministry, Brother. There are many in ministry that suffer depression and anguish but hide it lest they lose their posting. Keep on keeping on!
Paul Fritz avatar
Paul Fritz
0 days ago
God comforts us in all afflictions so that we can comfort others with the comfort that we receive from God. (2 Cor. 1:3,4) There is encouragement in Christ, consolation of love, fellowship in the Spirit and affection and compassion . So we are able to be of the same mind, maintain the same love and be united in one Spirit. Through worship, thankfulness an singing songs of gladness to the Lord, He really becomes the glory and the lifter of our heads, minds and hearts. There is power to deliver through praise.
Jeff Glenn avatar
Jeff Glenn
0 days ago
Yes, unfortunately, I also belong in the ranks of "hurting pastor." I was "pressured" to leave a full-time ministry in May '08 because I confronted a biblical issue with a church leader. But praise God a smaller church in our area "called" me as their pastor. I'm bi-vocational now, but thank God the church I serve "remembers" my birthday and pastor appreciation. Don't forget that Jesus has also been where we (hurting pastors) are. The ones who cried "Hosanna!" "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" also cried out later, "Crucify Him!"
Michael Morton avatar
Michael Morton
0 days ago
Dennis, I think this is your best post ever. Thank you for caring.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
@ Michael, you are very welcome. And, thank you!
Anthony Jones avatar
Anthony Jones
0 days ago
I want to all pastors that has posted; this has really been uplifting. It's not everyday you can peep inside the heart of other leaders. Thanks for the transparency.
Chris Surber avatar
Chris Surber
0 days ago
Blessings on all of you who've posted. I wrote this article and write other such articles hoping to prompt just this kind of thought and insight cultivation. Thanks for the feedback and thoughts. There is much work to be done in the area of pastoral health, pastor-church relationships, and inner church dynamics in our day. Thank you for your service to the Lord. Many Blessings in Christ! - Chris, www.chrissurber.com

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