Sometimes we think pastors are the people with all the answers. After all, they stand up at the front of the church and tell the rest of us how to live our lives – don’t they?
But pastors can struggle with life, just like anyone else. They know that Jesus helps them in those struggles, and they feel a divine calling to help others to reach out for the love and grace of Jesus – but that doesn’t make them unbreakable.
Pastors come face to face with pain and grief in its rawest forms. Last night I visited a wonderful Christian lady who, earlier that afternoon, lost her husband of many years to cancer. Then I immediately drove on to visit another woman of faith who, only the day before, learned that her brother had been murdered. We talked and prayed – and as I returned home afterwards I carried a heaviness in my spirit. What I was feeling, of course, was nothing like the grief those two women are carrying – but I felt it nevertheless.
Then, early this morning, I logged onto the BBC website to check the headlines and read about the suicide of a young pastor on the staff of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California. BBC Report
Jarrid Wilson was open about his struggles with mental well being and suicidal thoughts, and had recently officiated at the funeral of a another Christian who had taken their own life.
A few days ago, on this blog, I wrote about how suicide is increasing among pastors, particularly in the United States. The pressure to be successful, growing a congregation and running it like a well-oiled machine, can be overwhelming. The Christian culture holds up successful megachurch pastors as role models – sometimes with the subtle implication that if you don’t reach those dizzy heights of success then you must be doing something wrong.
I remember attending a pastor’s conference a few years ago at a large church. The conference speakers told us how big their congregations were, how wonderful their children’s facilities were – even how savvy and efficient their social media teams were. This was all intended to ‘encourage’ us. As we drove home, I turned to my wife Janice and said, “After listening to all that, I don’t feel encouraged at all. I feel more rubbish as a pastor than I ever have in my life! I feel like no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to match up to everything they were boasting about today.”
Thankfully I’ve learned to look for my worth and validation in what God thinks of me, not what other Christians think of me, or even what I sometimes think of myself. I learned long ago that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
In the Irish context, most pastors are also bivocational, working in other jobs to pay the bills and provide for their families. At the end of a day’s work, they concentrate on fulfilling what they believe to be God’s calling on their lives to minister to others. Others are full-time but live from week to week, hoping that there won’t be any unexpected bills next week that will necessitate them forgoing their salary again.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those preachers who continually harps on about how hard a pastor’s life is. I would rather be doing what I’m doing than anything else in the world. But my heart goes out to those Christian leaders who are working hard to care for others when they barely feel like they are managing to care for themselves.
So please, remember to pray for pastors and other Christian leaders today.