Shake it off. Take one for the team. Those are adages we often hear from sports coaches and fans. Publicly acknowledging injuries can sideline players and even threaten their future with the team. So, those players play through their pain knowing that it’s often easier for a team to replace rather than rehabilitate them. This same pattern of expendability is also evident in church cultures. Pastors often sense a profound pressure to perform even when they might not feel like it. To secure their positions, they often play hurt and try pastoring through pain.
Pastoring Through Pain Eventually Takes Its Toll
Serving as a pastor doesn’t mean you are immune from the personal struggles of life, such as depression, anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, or financial strain. Most congregations don’t fully realize the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual demands required to serve as a pastor. Individuals are often aware of the investments their pastors have made in their own life and the lives of their family members. What they don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire membership population of a congregation.
Pastors are often seen as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends, and spiritual advisors. When families are in crisis, their pastors are expected to referee, repair, and reclaim. At the same time, they are required to challenge their congregation with stellar sermons and songs every Sunday. If all congregants have the same expectation of pastoring through pain, then how can we not expect the stress of that responsibility to eventually take its toll?
The term belaying refers to a variety of techniques used in climbing to exert friction on a climbing rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A belayer is a climbing partner who secures the lead climber at the end of a rope and belays out rope as needed. When a lead climber loses his or her footing, the belayer secures the rope, allowing the climber to regain a secure foothold to continue the climb.
The reality is many pastors are so talented that they can fake it in spite of their pain and succeed without others holding their rope for a time. But, the reality is also that their talent will only take them so far, and the time will come when the inherent risks of trying to lead while pastoring through pain their own will cause them to fall alone. If their congregation is not willing to put safeguards or belayers in place to secure and invest in their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health as pastors, then maybe it is time for them to consider another congregation that will. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes said it a little more tactfully: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they can stay warm. But how can anyone stay warm alone? Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap” (Eccl 4:9-12).
TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- Why have churches created a culture of pastoring through pain that requires its pastors to fake it when they are wrestling with some of the normal struggles of life?
- What processes should we put in place to rehabilitate leaders instead of replacing them?
- How will we know if someone is ready to serve again?
- How might our congregations be healthier if pastors could openly model leading through pain?
- If we haven’t put safeguards in place to offer physical, emotional, and spiritual healing and hope for our pastors, then who will?
This article on pastoring through pain originally appeared here, and is used by permission.