“I will probably be one of the statistics next year of pastors that left in the pandemic … and my church will be one of the ones that will not make it out the other side …” – a pastor
“I just had two families that I thought were very committed leave, because they were exasperated by the fact that I did not take a clear stand on some political issues.” – a pastor
“I had four couples leave the church because of my political positions on Black Lives Matter, Deep State, and Q Anon that I posted on social media.” – a pastor
The above quotes from different pastors came to me in the last 24 hours. I spoke with a denominational leader in a different part of the country that told me that he is seeing ministers staggering under the load of pastoring during the upheaval of the pandemic, the racial tensions, and the political fault lines in churches.
Many pastors are just one minor conflict away from quitting.
We are in a lose/lose season as pastors. If we take moral stands on Biblical issues, we run the risk of being labeled a socialist or a fascist—depending on the issue. If we choose to close the church to public gatherings, we run the risk of being called a “sheeple” and a “snowflake.” If we defy the recommendations of the public health officials and gather to meet on Sundays, we run the risk of spreading a deadly disease that is killing an American every sixty seconds.
Sometimes your pastor says things on social media that cause you to cringe. So do you.
Everyone’s soul is inflamed and tender to the touch.
Pastors are at risk of quitting and never returning just when we need them the most to stand at their post and do the two things that Scripture says pastors are to do: devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Would you like to hear from a pastor that is battling to stay in the trenches about what you could do for your pastor?
Ways to Help Your Pastor
My church is struggling to stay encouraged. She hasn’t seen the attendance this sparse since her birth over fifty years ago. Our giving is not great, but it is steady.
So, I am going to share with you some ideas that come from my heart. If they are true of this pastor, they might be true of your pastor as well. Two negatives and two positives. First the negatives:
Don’t give unsolicited advice.
This is good counsel during normal times, much less during a worldwide pandemic. Don’t send your pastor some esoteric blog or YouTube video. Don’t quote him scripture. Or platitudes that belong on a greeting card.
Chances are your pastor has been doubling down on prayer and spending time in God’s Word during 2020 along with reading everything they can get their hands on about how to survive this toxic year. They have time on their hands to do the research. Leave them to it.
Saint Paul reminds us,
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
Stop grumbling. Stop complaining. There will be a time to do a postmortem on how we handled the pandemic, but it is not right now. If you have a good idea that might really help your pastor, simply ask them if you could share with them an idea you have at some point. If your pastor says yes, share it. If they say no or are skittish, then don’t share it.
Don’t give your favorite media personality more spiritual gravitas in your life than your own pastor.
James Dobson, Eric Metaxes, and John McArthur will not stand before Jesus one day and give an account for how they cared for your soul. They are not your pastor. They are media personalities. They will never administer the sacraments to you. They will never visit you in the hospital. They will never attend or officiate your mother’s funeral.
Don’t let them have more spiritual influence over you than the one who speaks your name to the Father every week and stands before you to preach week in and week out.
Listen to the pastor that God has put in your life to walk with you on your journey towards life after this life.
The writer of Hebrews tells it straight, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you. (Heb. 13:17)
Are you causing your pastor to sigh? Are you the reason they are losing their joy? May it never be.
Now a couple of positive things you can do.
Do take some of the responsibility
Feed yourself spiritually. Spend unhurried time in God’s Word. Worship God daily. Make sure you are caring for your own soul. Spiritual arrested development is a real problem in the church today. Don’t put all that responsibility on your pastor.
Reach out to others in your fellowship. Nothing encourages a pastor’s heart more than to contact someone in the church and find out they have been ministered to by someone else in the congregation. Call them, send them a card, or an email. Perhaps a twist on an old question might help—WWPD. What would my pastor do? Reach out. Love. Care for the folks in your congregation as if you didn’t have a pastor. You can’t over care during these times.
If you can gather, gather. If you can’t gather or don’t feel comfortable gathering due to health concerns, watch online. If you can’t watch online, communicate to someone that you want to receive a DVD or audio recording of the sermon. Pastors spend hours and hours studying and praying over their weekly sermon. When only a handful of in-person people are there to hear it and a smaller amount bothers to tune in online—it is discouraging. Let your pastor know that you are there and are listening.
In other words, show up in his or her world.
There are two ladies that communicate to me nearly every week what they specifically heard from God through my sermon. They are a huge encouragement to my heart.
Do pray for your pastor and their spouse.
The isolation, the loneliness, the pressure, the political and social landmines—all can make a pastor feel as if they are running uphill in molasses. I promise you this, no pastor wants to not gather for worship. Not a single pastor in the history of the church hoped one day they would preach to an empty church and into a webcam.
Prayer sustains pastors. They pray for you. Pray for them. You need to know that the Evil one is coming for your pastor. The Devil knows if he can discourage your pastor, he has a foothold in the church. When he has a foothold in the church, the church becomes impotent at best and a public disgrace to the community at worst.
Let your pastor know in creative and specific ways that you are praying for them. And don’t forget the pastor’s spouse. Every single barb, jab, and slight aimed at the pastor—cuts right through the spouses’ heart like a knife through warm butter.
Prayer helps. Never forget that.
There a couple of lines from a John O’Donohue poem that has resonated with me lately,
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Decide today that you will never be a person vexed in spirit towards your pastor. Be a person of ease.
Pastors have known for years that they often are lightning rods for the internal pain of their congregants. We have been verbally assaulted in the wake of a tragedy. We have borne the brunt of folk’s fundamental disappointment with the church and God. We understand that. It goes with the turned around collar.
But please remember, we didn’t become pastors to make money or to make a name for ourselves. We obeyed a call to shepherd sheep. Smelly sheep. Sheep just like you. I know pastors are stinkers too. I look at the biggest stinker I know every morning in the mirror. Eugene Peterson said it best, “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors.”
Your pastor loves you. They have been awakened in the middle of the night with you on their heart. They have climbed out of bed to get on their knees to pray for you. Your pastor’s soul is tender right now. They are hurting, so remember,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
The running joke among pastors is, “Describe a day when you want to quit the ministry.”
The pastor responds, “Mondays.”
These days that might include Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and any given Sunday.
Covenant with yourself that you will never be the pebble in the pastor’s soul that makes him want to quit pastoring the church.
This is well said, and hits home. I have a pastor friend in my community who resigned this past Sunday, sharing with his congregation that he is exploring possible careers outside parish ministry. My prayers are with him and with all my fellow pastors out there facing these challenging times. Thank you for encouraging words, and blessings to you.
We have been without a pastor since January. In some ways the timing was really okay. But we did feel a bit unsure of how to proceed at times. Our new pastor pulled into town today and we couldn’t even help him unload because he is in quarantine! But we are thrilled to have this couple join us and want to nurture them in whatever way we can. Thanks so much for your wisdom and for being real.