If you are going to be in pastoral ministry, you are going to suffer.
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but take a look at your own ministry. Mixed in with what I hope are moments of delight, of exhilaration, of deep satisfaction, there are moments (or periods) of suffering. If this is foreign to you, it won’t be for long. That’s true for you younger guys as well as veterans.
Pastors suffer with their people.
Didn’t Paul say, “Weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15b, ESV)? And didn’t he tell us in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (ESV)?
Years ago I used a personality inventory that made an interesting observation. The scoring guide said that those who worked in people-related fields: nurses, law enforcement, health and safety, and pastors often scored low on the part of the test that measured sympathy. Thankfully they went on to explain the reason. It seems that dealing with crises on a regular basis can result in being emotionally detached. In some cases that’s absolutely necessary. But as pastors, we have to do our best to avoid being clinical or appear aloof.
Suffering with our people means that we bear their burdens. You may find yourself unable to sleep because you know what’s likely going on in the homes of some of your people, or because of your concern for the woman who received the unexpected bad news from her doctor. It also means that we don’t become so immersed in our tasks that we fail to take time to make a phone call or make ourselves available to talk.
Pastors suffer through church troubles.
Some pastors seem to ride an easy path with minimal upset and grief. Others seem to deal with crisis after crisis. Whether troubles come infrequently or seem to be the norm for your ministry, trouble causes suffering. It may be that we suffer physically, with the particular crisis taking a toll on our bodies, robbing us of sleep. Perhaps we suffer emotionally as we deal with anxiety, discouragement, frustration, and a feeling of helplessness as we put out one fire only to have two others burst into flame. Maybe our work suffers, as we give time to the needs of our people and to problems in our churches, making it hard for us to find the time to prepare our sermons or do the other work that we’re supposed to do.
Pastoral’s suffer personally,
Pastors have their own issues that the struggle with. But I am thinking of those times when pastors are the targets of very angry and disgruntled people. When I cleaned out my office after retiring I shredded a pile of papers, some of them letters that were real scorchers. I glanced over a few of them, somewhat surprised they weren’t still hot to the touch. These had come from Christian people.
Consider the passage where Paul talks about the pressure of the anxiety he experiences for the churches in his care (2 Corinthians 11:28). We know some of the problems Paul encountered in his ministry, but I doubt that we know all of them. And the point here is not “Paul had to deal with so much more than any one of us will ever had, so buck up.” No! The point is that in that verse – and in many others Paul acknowledges that his was a ministry of suffering.
Peter has encouragement for those who suffer, and while his word are directed at all believers, they certainly apply to those in ministry:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-10, ESV).
Note that this paragraph follows one in which Peter gives instructions to Elders/Pastors on how they are to go about their ministry, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to apply it to those in ministry.
Pastoral suffering makes us vulnerable. We need to exercise great caution during times of trouble. We need to care for ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But when we suffer we can be confident that God has not abandoned us. But also notice this sentence in verse 9: “…the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
I’ve written often about the need for a fraternal relationship between those of us in ministry. You can’t get up on Sunday mornings and tell your church that you feel crushed by the various problems that you’re dealing with. You can’t tell them that last week you thought a situation was resolved but this week it’s twice as bad. But you can tell friends in ministry. I sincerely hope you are cultivating those kinds of relationships with a few other men so that you can bear their burdens and share your burdens.
Pastoral ministry means suffering. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If you are going through the fires of trouble right now, may God give you wisdom while you deal with them, and may he soon deliver you from them. And if you know a brother pastor who is going through those fires, why not make a phone call or extend an invitation to have lunch and pray together?