Through the years I have had many conversations with seasoned and retired pastors who, at some point in the conversation, share that pastoring today is harder than it’s ever been. Many who are retired go so far as to ponder whether they would even be able to pastor successfully in this current situation. I am confident that they could, but I appreciate their thoughtful humility.
Pastoring Is Hard
Recently, I was thinking about the fact that I started pastoring in 1991. It hit me that moving into my fourth decade of pastoring means that my voice would now be considered by many as one of those seasoned voices. From that posture, my assessment of the current experience of pastoring is consistent with what I have heard from others: Pastoring is hard.
It has always been hard, but it seems to be getting increasingly difficult in the American context where I find myself. Recent events and responses seem to have only accelerated the steady decline that we have been witnessing in American churches since the last third of the twentieth century. Study after study in recent days indicates that many pastors are feeling the growing difficulty of pastoring. Many are experiencing burnout and depression and are choosing to walk away from the ministry altogether. Among those who stay at it, statistics indicate that a large percentage would rather do something else.
This leaves me asking the question, “What do pastors need right now?” Reflecting on that question has led me to the Apostle Peter’s first letter. Peter writes as a shepherd to fellow shepherds. He is acutely aware he is writing to those pastoring suffering churches in troubled times. What he offers them is comfort, encouragement, and inspiration in hopes of strengthening their resolve to remain faithful day in and day out to the finish. In three different relational contexts, Peter drives home the message that pastoring is a privilege gifted by God Himself, providing what I believe pastors needed then and continue to need today, a healthy dose of encouragement.
Pastor to Pastor
“I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed:” 1 Peter 5:1 (ESV)
Peter has just finished speaking to Christ-followers who are suffering because they follow Jesus. Churches and individuals are suffering and Peter has sought to put their suffering for Christ in a proper perspective – rejoicing. Now, he begins his direct address to pastors in the relational context of one pastor speaking to other pastors. These pastors are experiencing their own suffering while also leading churches full of individuals plagued by suffering. These suffering pastors are tasked with regularly reminding others to maintain rejoicing hearts amidst suffering. In light of this, Peter wants these church leaders to be encouraged in their call. The humility and confidence Peter displays are striking. He encourages pastors to action and engagement in the midst of pastoring suffering churches. With clear-thinking realism, he acknowledges the grueling and glorious nature of the call to shepherd a local church.
Peter does not identify himself by his authority as an apostle or by his denying of Christ on the night before the crucifixion. Instead, he steps into the world of his fellow pastors identifying himself with them in the context of their shared relationship with Christ. Pastors are in this together, not in competition with one another. There is no place for one-upping one another either by flashing our impressive credentials or by drawing attention to another’s ministry failures. We are equally ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming His sufferings for the salvation of all who place faith in Him. In this truth, we find our security and significance to partner in humility with fellow elders beyond the four walls of our local churches and across denominational lines. Peter recognizes the vital importance of encouraged pastors for healthy local churches. Pastor-to-pastor, we need to repeatedly remind one another to focus on the reality that pastoring is a privilege gifted by God himself.