I was struck by a tweet I read recently by a Christian author:
I’ve had 28 Pastor friends resign this year. Almost all of them are transitioning to a new vocation. What is occurring?
That’s just one tweet (from the US) but it resonates with my experience. In my position as a lecturer in a theological college, I know hundreds of men and women who have gone through college and are now in pastoral ministry and many of those are struggling in some way or another. Some are at the point of quitting ministry all together.
I know hundreds of men and women who have gone through college and are now in pastoral ministry and many of those are struggling.
There are, I suppose, myriad reasons for why people are leaving pastoral ministry. The challenges of the COVID pandemic and increasing cultural intolerance have made the issues more acute. However, tragically, sometimes the most intense pressure on pastors is caused by “friendly fire”—i.e. from people within their churches. Some are on the verge of breakdown because of constant criticism from people within their congregation.
In this article I want to briefly think about how as Christians we might more intentionally love and support our senior pastors; how we can encourage them, under God, to keep going.
I was going to write, “pray for your pastor” but that doesn’t convey the seriousness and urgency of the task. This is spiritual warfare (Eph 6:11-20). Your pastor is under more intense Satanic attack than anyone else you know. Satan wants to derail your pastor’s faith; discourage him; wreck his marriage; ensnare his children.
It is striking how often Paul—who has such a clear grasp on God’s sovereignty—asks churches to pray for him and his colleagues. Sometimes his request is general: “pray for us,” he writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:25. Elsewhere he asks for more specific prayers:
- for protection (Romans 15:31; 2 Thess 3:2);
- joy and refreshment (Romans 15:32);
- help and blessing (2 Cor 1:11);
- deliverance (Philippians 1:19);
- that he would proclaim the gospel boldly (Eph 6:18-20), clearly (Col 4:4) and effectively (2 Thess 3:2);
- for reunion with friends (Phm 22).
The author of Hebrews similarly asks his readers to pray “earnestly” that he would have a “clear conscience” and would be restored to them (Heb 13:19).
Do you pray for your pastor? Regularly? Daily? Prayer is hard work.
Do you pray for your pastor? Regularly? Daily? Prayer is hard work. Paul can describe Epaphras “working hard” and “struggling” in prayer for the Colossian church (Col 4:12-13). Do you “work hard” and “struggle” for your pastor? Do you pray specific prayers for your pastor along the lines above or do you simply pray that God would “bless” him? Of course, we aren’t just limited to the requests that Paul asks his churches to pray for him. We can pray for his spiritual growth, for his marriage, for his leadership, for his children, for his encouragement.
Many of us, myself included, need to repent of the lip-service we give to the idea of praying for our pastors. Our pastors need our earnest, prayerful support.
To say “be encouraging” seems banal but to write it off as banal means we can easily forget to do it. And all too often encouragement is reduced to a quick “Nice sermon, vicar/pastor” at the door on the way out of church. Paul reminds the Galatians that those who have been taught should “share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Gal 6:6) In its context, the command certainly includes material support, but I think it also establishes a broader principle of supplying the pastor what they need to keep going. If believers are supposed to encourage one another (1 Thess 4:18), we should especially encourage a pastor who is under pressure.
Why not send a text-message or email or even a letter thanking your pastor for his sermon and saying specifically what you found helpful? Tell him that you are praying for him and what you are praying for him.
Why not send a text-message or email thanking your pastor for his sermon and saying specifically what you found helpful?
So often the communication that a pastor receives is complaining. So, I know pastors who were still receiving complaints about the livestream technology months after their churches were meeting back in person. It was so draining and discouraging for them.
A pastor gives a considerable chunk of his time to preparing and teaching God’s Word. The New Testament puts him under the strictest warnings to teach only in accord with God’s Word, and to “preach in season and out of season,” (2 Timothy 4:2). So, in one sense, whether we encourage him or not, he still has to preach faithfully and regularly. But why not help him to keep doing it?
Paul certainly assumes that a pastor will be paid (e.g. 1 Cor 9:14; Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 5:17-18). Some churches, though, make life unnecessarily hard for their pastor and his family by being deliberately miserly. Years ago I heard of a church where the elders met to discuss how much to pay the pastor. They brought him into the room and discussed with him how much to pay him. After the meeting one of the elders told him that if he had pushed harder they would have been willing to give him more.
A congregation should be as generous as they can with their pastor. Let him give back to the church if he thinks he is paid too much.
That is precisely the wrong way round. A congregation should be as generous as they can with their pastor. Let him give back to the church if he thinks he is paid too much. If you can’t trust your pastor to be careful and generous with his money then you have the wrong man
Yes, there can be problems if pastors are paid too much. Perhaps in some contexts, ministers need to be more sacrificial and more generous. But I think in our context—evangelical churches in Australia—the problem is more often reversed: ministers struggle to care for their families in contexts where it is very expensive to live, or end up resenting the fact that they are paid so pitifully when their congregations are so wealthy. As congregation members, our responsibility is to be as generous as we can be.
In the Second World War, petrol was in short supply and so the British government put up posters asking people to consider: “Is your journey really necessary?” Do you need to take that trip and waste valuable, limited resources? Perhaps we need to ask, “is my criticism really necessary?” Do I really need to waste my pastor’s valuable and limited resources?
Every pastor will make mistakes. Every pastor will preach a dud sermon. Every pastor will let you down. Every pastor will hurt you. Obviously, if the matter is significant (a matter of serious sin etc.), something needs to be done. But, do I really need to inform my pastor that he did not handle verse 3 of the passage correctly? Do I really need to tell him that he seemed so distracted after church that I feel hurt? Do I really need to tell him that the church weekend away wasn’t organized as well this year?
Sometimes … maybe it may be right to raise these things. But let’s be prayerfully slow about it. Let’s be “quick to hear [and] slow to speak” as James commands (James 1:19). Not every hurt has to be fully and formally dealt with. As Peter reminds us, we are to “keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8). This isn’t a theology of atonement, but it is very practical advice: every relationship needs to be sustained by generous willingness to overlook failings and faults.
Those who don’t know the Bible tend to react with extreme hostility to the idea of submission. This is not the place to go into the question in detail, except to say that submission—whether in marriage or any other relationship—does not mean unquestioning obedience or allowing oneself to be abused.
Even those of us who know the Bible, however, are affected by the world’s hostility to submission, and are rightly nervous because of its potential for misuse. We might easily find ourselves reacting to the word or the principle when we hear it mentioned. Yet the NT is clear—there is a right and proper submission to those who are in spiritual leadership over us. For example:
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. (1 Peter 5:5)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. (Hebrews 13:17)
What does this look like in practice? Most commentators rightly concentrate on pointing out what this does not mean—and our own minds easily drift to how easy it would be to abuse this teaching (especially in the light of recent very high-profile failures). But submission and obedience to leaders is tied to their teaching of God’s Word. If Paul tells Timothy to: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2), then submission means allowing yourself to be rebuked. It means allowing your pastor to point out where you are being inconsistent in your Christian faith.
And this kind of submission is in our own interest! The more responsive we are to our faithful leaders, the better it will be for both them and us. Or, as Hebrews 13:17 goes on to say: “do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (v17b)
The Christian life is difficult. Christian ministers do not have a monopoly on suffering—not at all. But in my experience, and from the Scriptures, it often seems that pastors are under the most pressure. As Paul notes, “apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:28). Their role in teaching the gospel and guarding congregations means that they are generally going to be under more intense spiritual attack than the rest of us. I am deeply thankful for my pastor and my friends who are pastors, and, in preparing this article, I have been challenged to love them more intentionally and keep fighting for them in prayer. I hope you’ll join me…
 I am deliberately writing this article with respect to senior pastors, although I think the principles apply to others in full-time ministry. I wanted to concentrate on senior pastors, because in my observation they are the ones who are under most pressure – certainly in the contexts that I live and work in. For that reason, I have used the language of “he”. I am convinced that the Bible teaches that the role of the senior minister is reserved for men only. If you disagree, I hope that you can still benefit from what I read and apply it in your own context
 All Scripture citations ESV.