You can’t see it, but his head is hanging a little lower than usual these days. His brain is a fog of emotions, ideas, and information. At times he feels inadequate, lonely, helpless, anxious, and just tired. In this fourth week, social distancing is taking its toll on your pastor in a unique way.
I have the joy, in my role with the SBTC, to connect with and encourage pastors and wives across the great state of Texas. This season is one marked by an increased (and increasing) need for their intentional encouragement. While every pastor and every situation is different, there seem to be some common threads woven through the fabric of pastoral struggles these days. I thought I would share what I’m hearing with you, as a launching pad toward more specific prayer for your pastor through this season of social distancing. You can pray him through this. Here’s how.
If he’s like most pastors across the state of Texas, here are 13 internal conflicts your pastor may likely be wrestling through today:
1. Family and Marriage Tensions at Home.
I love my family so much, and we genuinely enjoy one another’s company – but right now it feels like we’re living in a sardine can. It’s your struggle, too. I know. But his is different. Your pastor and his wife live in a glass bubble. He wouldn’t tell you this openly. He can’t. There is an expectation on your pastor to model a faithful, gracious marriage and family life (biblically so, 1 Tim. 3:4-5). You feel the freedom to be open and honest with your pastor and friends about first-world problems in your home. Your pastor and wife do not feel that freedom most of the time. Pray for his marriage and his home life.
2. Leadership Disappointments.
Most pastors I know dream God-sized dreams for their congregations. They spend months—sometimes years—discerning vision, refining it, communicating it, then putting Jim Collins’ Good to Great bus into motion. But 4 weeks ago the wheels didn’t just fall off the bus; the bus turned over on its side, rolled down the hill, and caught fire. Many pastors are grieving the loss of their God-given dreams for the church family. Pray that God will keep his heart and mind focused on the church’s primary mission (the Great Commission) and core values while new leadership opportunities present themselves.
3. Relationship Withdrawals.
We are all created for community. It’s part of God’s design, and your pastor is no exception. Social media has proven more of a blessing than a curse in this season, but we would all agree it is no adequate substitute for regular face-to-face interaction. For many pastors, the relational vacuum of social distancing is beginning to wear on them in ways they did not anticipate. They love people. They love you. And they miss you. Pray the Lord will sustain him and his wife through this relational vacuum.
4. Inability to Effectively Do Pastoral Care.
Pastors love to preach and to teach. But deeply imbedded within the heart of every good shepherd is a genuine love for his sheep. When his people are in the hospital, he wants to be by their side. When loved one dies, he wants to minister through the funeral. When they’re homebound, he wants to visit. Full stop here. Over the past week, I have heard many pastors lament the ability to do pastoral care face-to-face. They love you, and they want to be with you. But they can’t. And that will slowly eat away at the heart of a shepherd. Pray for God to make a way, to give him meaningful moments of pastoral care.
5. Mental and Emotional Health.
It should be no surprise that your pastor is a real person who has real problems, just like you. Many pastors wrestle with anxious or depressive tendencies, or some other form of mental or emotional dysfunction, and social distancing certainly isn’t helping it. If you thought mental health was a national crisis before COVID19, get ready to be overwhelmed in the weeks and months ahead. As relational beings, we naturally medicate many of our mental and emotional dysfunctions within the context of relationships. Remove the relationships and you remove the balm. Pray that Satan would not win on the battlefield of your pastor’s mind and emotions.
6. Financial Crisis.
The unemployment rate continues to climb as our US economy has yet to stabilize. Some church members have stopped giving to their church altogether. Others have continued to give faithfully, but a tithe today is significantly less in dollar amount than a tithe yesterday. Many pastors have lost their second (and third) sources of income, and their wives have been laid off. In addition to his own personal finances, he is making some very difficult decisions today about church finances, staffing, budgeting, ministries, and missions giving. He is re- working the church budget to see what it might look like with a 30% cut, a 50% cut, or a 60% cut. Every dollar must be maximized for Great Commission impact. The pressure is real. Pray for God to provide for your pastor’s family and to give great wisdom through the re-budgeting of your church’s mission and ministry.
7. Hurtful Comments from Church Members.
Pastors expect a scratch or two from wolves, but it really hurts when the sheep bite. As has been said elsewhere, your pastor has never led through a worldwide pandemic before. They didn’t teach him this in seminary and the convention has not offered any seminars for it. He needs your grace and your support much more than your, “I wish you would have,” “I can’t believe that you,” and “Why don’t we just.” Pray that God will minimize the naysaying and fill your pastor’s eyes and ears with expressions of love and support from the people he is called to lead.
8. Knowing When to Turn Off.
His mind is racing. His work is never done, and in a day of digital connection and online ministry, there are no tangible check-boxes for feeling accomplished or successful in the ministry. Phone calls, text messages, and social media posts are lighting up his screen into the early hours of every morning. If he’s working from home, his computer is 9 seconds away from his bed. Usually he can leave his office and turn it all off (both literally and metaphorically). This is a whole new ballgame. Pray that your pastor will turn it off and shut it down every day, to spend time with the Father and with his family.
9. His Wife is About to Lose It.
Maybe that wording is a bit extreme, but you get the picture. She loves her husband and their children. But she’s working from home, homeschooling, home-keeping, and doing her best to be a positive voice in her husband’s ear every day. There’s a lot of unexpressed emotion bottling up in your pastor’s wife these days. One pastor said he and his wife got into a rather heated, lengthy argument this week and at the end of it they couldn’t even figure out why. They didn’t disagree and neither was actually upset with the other. But their emotions had been bottled and shaken in a crazy mix, and last week the lid just blew off. Pray that God would give healing to her soul, appropriate outlets for her emotions, and the time to herself she needs to bring her best self to the family table every day.
Your pastor is wearing down. The adrenaline rush from creating and innovating is wearing off, and the slump is fully here. The week after Easter Sunday always sees this kind of effect, but it is multiplied exponentially this year. Pray that your pastor would get the physical rest his body needs, and that the activity of his mind would keep pace with the limitations of his body.
11. It’s All Just so Weird.
That’s right. Maybe for the first time, it is your pastor who is saying, “We’ve never done it this way before.” Some mornings he wakes up in an ecclesiological twilight zone. Denial is the first stage of grief, and some pastors I’ve spoken to over the past week are still denying that this really is happening or that it will really have the long-lasting effects most project. This is a day of strangeness in ministry. It caught him off-guard—how could it not? It’s weird. And that’s hard to process. Pray that God might help your pastor lean into the steadfastness of His faithfulness and the urgency of the Great Commission through the weirdness of it all.
12. Feelings of Inadequacy.
Almost every pastor I have spoken with feels wholly inadequate for this season of ministry. Every evening he is asking himself, “Am I really the guy to get them through this?” or maybe even, “Will we get through this?” But if he will lean into it, he might find that the feeling of inadequacy in pastoral work is right where he needs to be. When the safety nets of charisma, experience, and formal training are removed, a pastor finds himself in a place of great dependence, where all he can do is lean on the Holy Spirit for guidance and power. The truth is, the pastor should live in that place all the time. Pray that the Lord might anoint your pastor anew, filling him with the Holy Spirit to rise to this occasion with unexpected effectiveness in ministry.
13. A Highly Scrutinized Public Image.
This sneaky psychosocial malefactor is manifesting itself in new ways for pastors through the crisis. Every pastor I know works exponentially more hours than the church actually requires – whether he is at home or in an office. But physically being at the office is a tangible, easily noticeable connection to work activity. Many pastors today are working more hours than ever, but the people do not physically see it so the pastor wonders if they would even believe it. Add to that, your pastor is getting more screen time today than ever before. His sermons, devotions, and encouragements are streamed live and replayed hundreds or thousands of times every week. He’s being compared to the megachurch pastor down the road and the one 5 states away. They’re all the same distance away in a culture of digital worship. Choices abound, and so do criticisms and unrealistic expectations. Pray the God of Heaven might grant your pastor a quiet confidence in who He has made him to be, and a measure of satisfaction in doing his work every day, “as unto the Lord.”
Your pastor and wife are praying for you daily. They are pouring their souls into serving you, ministering to you, and leading you through uncharted territory. Most likely you are telling them some specific ways they can pray for you and your family. I thought you might want to know some ways you can pray for them, too.
How bout it? Will you pray your pastor through this?
Grace and Peace, Tony