Solutions & Suggestions
I turn now to the more practical aspect of this paper. If it is true that pastors are suffering under the burden of unrealistic expectations, isolation, double-lives and exposure to difficulties, what can we do to change this current crisis for the better? What can we do to ensure longevity in the ministry and pastors who are more spiritually healthy? I shall strive to offer solutions and suggestions to the problem of pastors who suffer from the lack of spiritual oversight and encouragement. These solutions and suggestions will be directed narrowly toward the problems and concerns that were addressed above. They will also be focused on two areas in specific. First, how the churches themselves need to assess their ability to care for their pastors and make changes to do so better. Second, how the pastor himself needs to assess his ability his and awareness of the condition of his own spiritual life and make changes to do so better.
It should be no surprise that often the reason a pastor burns out in ministry or falls into grievous sin is largely do in part to the unnecessary and unbiblical pressures and expectations placed upon him by his church. A church must be able to ask hard questions of herself in order to discover if her treatment is the cause of her pastors frustration and depression. Questions such as, “Are we treating our pastor in a way that makes him feel that he is separate rather than part of our church?” “Are we asking our pastor to do too much, is he offered sufficient time off, how many hours a week is he working?” “Do we give our pastor enough encouragement and love or do we take him for granted?” Answers to these questions can be very revealing. A church may discover that they have fallen prey to the celebrity pastor trickle down effect and have allowed their requirements for a pastor to exceed what is healthy. A church may discover that they have an unhealthy demand placed upon their pastor and need to make adjustments. A church may discover that they have not really cared for their pastor as they should. But changes can’t be made until the realization is discovered, and the discovery process begins with a self-assessment.
One simple way a church can make strides toward caring for their pastors in significant ways is by being intentional about it. Congregational awareness of the pains and difficulties of pastoral ministry is huge. If a church and her members show genuine care and concern for their pastor it will heal his soul in deep and immeasurable ways. If the pastor knows that his fellow elders sincerely care for him and his soul, and they have expressed their desire for him to be intimate and honest with them, many of the trials and tribulations he faces in the care of the congregants will be lessened in their burden. He will know that he is not alone, he will know that he does not need to keep up a false image but can confront his sins and struggles with depression alongside his brothers in the Lord. He will feel that he has advocates when he faces criticism from the people. And he will feel that he does not carry the burden of watching over souls all by himself. A church must strive to make known their love, appreciation, and care for the pastor who has been called by God to care for their souls. In doing so a natural give and take begins to develop in the culture of the church which facilitates healthy and fruitful ministry to the glory of God.
A pastor himself must also seek to be informed about the pitfalls of ministry. If he goes into parish ministry with unrealistic celebrity pastor expectation on his end, he will soon find himself in over his head, trapped in a cycle of bitterness and self-loathing. How is the minister placing upon himself an unnecessary burden? How is he cutting himself off from the grace of God that has been made available to him in his congregation and community? What could he be doing that he is not already in order to attend to the care of his own soul? The most useful suggestion one can make to a pastor is that any attempt at ministry apart from the empowering power of the Holy Spirit is a pursuit that will inevitably end in disaster. Martin Luther is quoted as once saying, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”1
A pastor can fall to the illusion that he is spiritual since his work involves spiritual things. But if he studies God’s Word only to create sermons, but never for his own benefit, eventually it will show. If he prays only in front of the congregation on Sundays and with parishioners, but never in his own closet, eventually it will show. If a minister pursues the work of gospel ministry, but is not himself deeply moved by the impact of the gospel in his own life, eventually it will show. The way that this disproportion expresses itself is in very unhealthy ways, and if things are not already in place for restoration, a pastor finds himself trapped. Therefore, I urge pastors to seek to establish relationships of trust and brotherly love with other pastors in your community and with the fellow elders of your church. These relationships allow for mutual encouragement as well as rebuke and the ability to spur one another on to love and good works.
When these two components come together, a church which is self-aware of its need to care for her pastor, and a pastor who is self-aware of the pitfalls of ministry and is on guard against them, a beautiful balance is reached. A conversation is opened up that allows for reassessments, readjustments, and the ability to nip in the bud the problem before it ever develops into another minister who resigns because of being overworked or falling into moral failure. The truth is our Savior has provided both the church and the pastor with everything they need for successful and fruitful ministry. We’ve simply cut ourselves off from his provision, and all that is needed sometimes is a reminder of that beautiful message of the gospel. The Church and the pastor both must ask the question, “Who shall care for our souls?” The One who always has, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:25).”
1 – Although widely attributed to him there is no direct source. Therefore it is probably the case that he didn’t say this, even though the quote is in harmony with Martin Luther’s perspective on prayer.