This week’s “Encouragement From The Word” has two purposes. First, I want to tell congregants that you need to honour and encourage your pastor. And pastors, I want to tell you that there is hope. Intrigued? Read on.
As I visit a broad spectrum of churches in my work with the Canadian Bible Society, I am privileged to meet many members of the clergy. And, having been a local church pastor myself in the past, I’m prepared to say with assurance that being the pastor of a local church is the second-hardest job known to humanity. (You’re wondering about the hardest? Ask your mother. She speaks from experience.)
What comes along with the second-hardest job known to humanity is both great joy and great pain. And for some, sometimes, the great pain eclipses the great joy. This week, I have been privileged to spend time in retreat with seven other ministry couples, many of whom are at that point of experiencing great pain in their lives. Every month, some 1500 (yes, one thousand, five hundred) pastors leave ministry in North America, never to return. Many, if not most, of them were and are spiritually gifted and called to serve the Lord through the church. But their wounds are just too deep for them to carry on.
I understand their pain, because I’ve experienced it. I’ve known what it feels like to serve people, to give them the very best I had to give by God’s grace, only to have trusts betrayed, to experience such biting criticism as to have felt spiritually raped. For me, the good news is that the Lord has healed my wounds. True, there are scars that remain, but those scars serve as reminders of the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
At this retreat – and it is not over yet, as you read this – both my wife and I have felt sympathy and empathy for others who are in the midst of the valley of pain right now. And we have felt the soothing balm of love, acceptance, and affirmation. Oh, the joy I felt, when I was anointed with oil, prayed for, and even (in a quiet, gentle way) prophesied over! To hear, as if from God himself, that I am “chosen”, that I am “Kingdom bound”, that I am loved and cherished and treasured by God – it was a most exhilarating and humbling experience.
And then, to listen to these same caregivers pray over my wife – to hear them say how valued and loved she is, how important she is to me, and that she is better than a princess, but is a queen! It was this that sent the tears streaming down my cheeks, even more than the words said over me. What an experience.
If you’re a minister of Christ reading this, I share this so that you may be encouraged in your work. “Be strong, and very courageous”, said the Lord to Joshua (Joshua 1.6, NLT), as he led the people to the promised land. Don’t give up. Stop relying on yourself, and rely on the power of God to make your ministry happen. Catch his vision, and follow it. Give yourself wholly to the Lord, and he will heal your wounds and make you strong once again for ministry.
If you’re reading this as a person who normally occupies a pew instead of a pulpit, I share this so that you may be prompted to encourage your pastor. He or she needs to know that you are praying for him or her. Your pastor needs to know when what you do makes a positive difference. So many clergy only hear about their work when it’s seen to be sub-standard, or potentially hurtful, or even just politically incorrect. A healthy pastor doesn’t need your affirmation, but will be blessed by your affirmation. Paul told Timothy that those who “direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5.7, NLT).
All of us, whether church leaders or not, carry wounds within us. God longs to heal them, if we will open ourselves to his love and trust him to change us from within. The month of October has often been seen to be Pastor Appreciation Month. Folks, go and appreciate your pastor!
Pastors, know that you are appreciated. You are loved deeply by God. Your service to him and his kingdom does not go unnoticed. Keep up the good work. (And if you’re interested in the kind of retreat I described, email me and I’ll hook you up with some helpful information.)