It can be lonely being a pastor. My dad served more than 50 years in pastoral ministry, primarily in Central Pennsylvania. As a boy, I would watch him selflessly give of his heart and time for the calling that God placed on his life. While there were moments of pure joy and a clear leading of the Lord in his ministry, there were also some times of deep valleys and confusion. No position has a higher calling than those whose “… feet shod with the preparation of the gospel…,” as Paul says in Ephesians 6:15 (KJV). However, if your ministry is providing value to the kingdom, I believe all hell will be against you.

Consider these startling findings from Pastors at Greater Risk by H.B. London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman:1

  • 90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their family negatively
  • 33% believe that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their families
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 75% report they have had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministries

Pastors are human. They have families that they love, pray for, and struggle with every day. Ministry marriages deal with their own unique struggles… not to mention the challenges of marriage that are realities for us all. Marriages take time and work and can be filled with disaffection and distance. Pastors’ overly demanding schedules can make it seem like they are married to the ministry more than their spouses. Also, pastors may have interpersonal issues where they struggle with “what it means to be successful,” doubt, discouragement, depression, or anxiety. Most are underpaid. They can serve a congregation of sheep that is often not very docile—sheep that bite, kick, and do not appreciate you… even loathe or despise you in some instances.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Most of the pastors in this country do not serve large congregations. Instead, they serve, like my dad, in rural, country churches or small congregations. Charged with the responsibility of faithful serving and leading God’s people, most pastors get little, if any, affirmation and appreciation. However, they need it… buckets of it, in fact!

A few years ago, I was speaking at a special conference on missions and was asked to do a closed-door session with some of the attendees. There were about 50 pastors and missionaries in the room. We began with discussion of what it was really like to serve in the ministry. As we continued to press in, I began to feel very uncomfortable because I realized I was standing on what felt like sacred ground. I was in the midst of a group of men and women who had served with much more depth and sacrifice than I ever had. During our time together, I will never forget the gentleman who stood up in the back of the room and said, “Tim, I guess what we want to know is if what we are doing matters?” Of course, they know they have the “applause of heaven,” and that means everything to them, but they were referencing their everyday lives… the “attaboys” from those around them. It dawned on me how much we have lost perspective on encouraging, edifying, equipping, and strengthening our fellow Christian leaders in the small towns, backwoods, and overseas. You get it… it is a lost art these days.

And, yes, I know there are pastors who are not healthy, but I also know a lot who are godly and strong and more deserving of our love, respect, and encouragement. In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul said, “… If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (NKJV), and, “… for they watch out for your souls…” (Hebrews 13:17, NKJV). A calling. A responsibility. An opportunity. A ministry.

We need to pray for, encourage, and stand with our pastors for such a time as this. Send them a text, make a phone call, and go out of your way to show some love and appreciation.

I heard a radio announcer once call my dad “a long drink of cold, refreshing water.” I’ll never forget it… and I bet my dad didn’t either.

Endnote

1London, H.B., Jr., & Wiseman, N.B. (2003). Pastors at greater risk. Ventura: Regal Books.