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The Hardest Year Yet for Pastors


It is an understatement to say that 2020 has been incredibly difficult on all of us. Pastors and church leaders have carried a particularly heavy load in trying to survive personally and guide their families but also carrying the burden of an entire congregation that is struggling spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and financially.

As you probably know, I am privileged to lead a global fellowship of thousands of pastors (http://www.64fellowship.com/). In our connection with these church leaders they report unprecedented discouragement and even unexpected depression. Surprising numbers are quietly contemplating quitting their church in the midst of the pressures and uncertainties of the pandemic. Recent research by the Barna Organization estimates that 1 in 5 churches are facing permanent closure within 18 months due to COVID-19.[i]

Church members have become increasingly vocal, critical, and divided over issues related to regathering, wearing masks, and personal reengagement in ministry. Pastors field almost daily comparisons with other churches who are handling it the “right” way. They are also uncertain and anxious about what the post-pandemic church will look like in terms of attendance and ministry engagement. Will people return after getting used to watching church remotely? In many regions, pastors are struggling with oppressive regulations about the freedom to even gather anytime soon.

Financial concerns are another major point of stress. A new poll, released by the National Association of Evangelicals, involved more than 1,000 churches across all 50 states, showing that more than six out of ten churches have seen a decline in offerings since mid-March.[ii]

Twice in my decades of pastoral ministry I was called as the next guy (the “clean up guy”) following a highly-visible, megachurch moral failure by my predecessor. The lessons gained from these challenging experiences have provided practical insights about the pathway to ministry failure and, conversely, the keys to long-term integrity and endurance. I have written about this in my new book, Glorious Finish: Keeping Your Eyes on the Prize of Eternity in a Time of Pastoral Failings. This month you can get two for the price of one as our way of helping you resource your church leaders, or even better understand their unique journey.

What Can We Do?

As I interact with thousands of pastors from many denominational streams each year, I sense their great need for support from congregants, especially now. October provides a unique opportunity for all of us to act thoughtfully, generously ,and collectively in providing meaningful appreciation to our clergy.

First, we can pray earnestly for our church leaders and let them know we are doing so. The Apostle Paul openly asked for prayer (Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19, Colossians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, 2 Thessalonians 3:1). Besides, it is difficult to be a critic and an intercessor at the same time.

By actively serving we can all help alleviate their ministry burdens. Each of has a biblical responsibility to identify our gifts and talents — then jump in to faithfully carry the load or meet countless needs (1 Peter 4:10-11).

A note of genuine gratitude, positive feedback on a sermon, and appreciation for their sacrifices can go a long way to counteract the frequent criticisms they absorb.

Certainly every member can faithfully and sacrificially support the financial needs of the church. God gives us grace to be supernaturally generous, even in the toughest of times (2 Corinthians 8:1-7).

Beyond this, we can tangibly encourage the pastors and their families with a generous gift card, tickets to a local event, support for a special get-away, or an extra week of vacation. Get creative. Be generous. Enlist others in meaningful efforts of appreciation.

Let these verses guide you as you do the right and necessary thing this month.

  • “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
  • “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).
  • “…those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).
  • “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6).
  • “So receive him (Epaphroditus – a spiritual leader) in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men” (Philippians 2:29).
  • “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Strategic Targets

While I am not much of a bowler, I do know that it is hard to get a strike if you don’t hit the head pin. Similarly, the forces that seek to destroy the church fix their sights on the spiritual leaders, knowing the fallout will be significant.

In these stressful times, and especially in this designated month, let’s not miss this opportunity to support our pastors. The health of the church and the spiritual well-being of future generations may depend on it.

Copyright © 2020 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.

[i] https://www.christianpost.com/news/1-in-5-churches-face-closure-within-18-months-due-to-covid-19-shutdowns-barna-president.html

[ii] http://www.stateoftheplate.info/index.htm

This article originally appeared here.