Editor’s Note: We received this article after publishing the story of Andrew Stoecklein who tragically took his life last weekend. The reason Andrew’s story is so baffling is because it really seemed as if Andrew was doing everything he knew to fight off the depression he was facing. As we grapple with Andrew’s story, let us consider the unique pressure pastors have on their lives. The following letter is one such pastor’s perspective. While Neil doesn’t claim to have all the answers to this puzzle, perhaps his letter will give us a better glimpse into what makes ministry difficult and what we might do to support our spiritual leaders in their roles.
I’m an associate pastor at a rural church plant in little town called Ruckersville, Virginia. I’ve worked for multiple megachurches, and multiple church plants over the years. Each of these churches have been drastically unique in their own ways, yet all have very common themes. Obviously, each of these churches have the end goal in mind to make Jesus’ name known in their communities and around the world. They all have struggles and they all have significant insight as to how to deliver the gospel message to their communities.
The Weight is on Us
There is one common theme however whose weight falls not on the church leadership, not on the elders, not on the senior pastor, but rather the weight falls on the church body. Without fail, every single church has a significant group of people who gripe. They gripe about the music being too loud or not good enough, they gripe about a word or phrase that the pastor said one time 5 years ago that they didn’t fully agree with, they gripe about the seats being uncomfortable, they gripe about the church not having a ministry for _______, etc.
Pray for Your Pastor
What if, instead of griping about little things that have relatively little significance, we decided to pray for our pastor and church leadership. I don’t mean the type of praying engrained in our culture where when a tragedy strikes, even the most agnostic are throwing around the term “I’m praying for you.” I’m talking about falling down on your face, going to a quiet place, crying out for the leaders of your church. I’m talking about diving into the word of God, begging for peace, comfort, and clarity for your pastor.
Pastor’s Ain’t Perfect
We often place pastors on this pedestal of perfection and togetherness. In reality, pastoring a church can be one of the most lonely jobs in the world as well as one of the most stressful. Think about it this way…imagine if your job was to care for the needs of everyone at your church (or at your workplace). You have this responsibility of reaching those who are currently in your church, while also trying to figure out how to reach and care for everyone else in your community–particularly those who don’t know Jesus. On top of this, the very people whose best interest you have in mind are constantly complaining and telling you how to do your job better. Better yet, they are talking behind your back about how you aren’t fit for your role (feeding into probably one of your biggest insecurities). Oh and to throw a cherry on top, when you are at your whits end, you turn around and realize that because you’ve been so focused on caring for people, there are no friends surrounding you who you can open up to.
How Do We Respond?
Here’s a challenge for you. Every time you have even an inkling to complain about something (even if it’s just to your spouse or friends), take that time to pray for your pastor or for those in leadership at your church. Understand that no pastor is perfect and that no church is perfect. If the situation is serious enough that you can’t stand being there, but has nothing to do with the morality of the pastor (ie-loud music, uncomfortable chairs, worship leaders pants are too tight, etc), instead of tearing down the pastor or drumming up unnecessary drama, pray for your pastor, and pray about potentially finding a church that may be a better fit for you. If the issue you are seeing is that of morality, bring that up to the appropriate leadership and deal with it biblically.
Of all places, the church should be the place where their pastor feels both relaxed and nurtured as he cares for his flock. So let’s start a revolution of pastors who are loved well, prayed for, fought for, and not complained to. Instead of being a sheep who turns on their shepherd whose sole job is to care for their well being, let’s realize that even if we don’t agree with the small things, our pastor loves us, and fights for us every day. Let’s return the favor and love him and fight for him every day.