Another pastor took his life this past week. He’d had a history of mental illness, but spoke quite openly about it and was getting help. There were people around him who cared about him very much and yet many said they didn’t know he was hurting as badly as he was.
I wish this were just some random, isolated, tragic event but it’s not. Of course, suicide is more rare than other problems. However, those in ministry are often hurting and it’s not necessarily all their fault.
Having been a pastor myself for over 30 years, I know that we can cause our own angst and challenges. We work too much, avoid our families and take too few vacations all in the name of the God we serve. We forget that even Jesus rested and took time to relax and pray and He was only doing ministry for three years.
However, there is much that your pastor can’t control. The expectations are myriad, many of them impossible to fulfill. People’s problems don’t avoid their days off, vacations or personal times. In smaller churches they have to be the CEO, treasurer, grounds keeper and counselor, at least that’s what most people think.
In bigger churches, they are often required to become a high level executive, managing more people than is possible while having to cater to the hundreds of executives in their fellowship judging their work. At the same time, they must prepare a cogent, interesting and theologically acceptable message that will no doubt be dissected later in the day or evening.
So, what can you do, an attender, leader, parishioner or fellow staff member?
First, tell your leaders that you appreciate them. You don’t need to buy them fancy presents or send them to Hawaii. Just say thank you now and then, take them to a meal or coffee and let them know that what they do matters to you. This isn’t the time to bait and switch them with, “Oh, by the way, I have some concerns, too.”
Second, support church leadership’s efforts to give the pastor resources for breaks and special help as needed. Every pastor needs a mentor, coach or confidante. Sometimes they need confidential counseling and there should be some funds around to help with that. Require that your leader take a sabbatical at least every seven years and help pay for that, too. Vacation time should not be optional. If they get three weeks (and they should get at least that), then they must use it.
Third, pray for them. Pray specifically for their family, their heart, their relationships, their spiritual and emotional health and leadership. Prayer matters. Ask them now and then if there is anything specific but don’t be nosy if they don’t give you all the details.
Fourth, accept that they are human. Spiritual leaders get tired, need to rest, like to have fun, need to have time to build family traditions, like to do things that don’t involve the church. They’re not heathens because they engage in those things. They have goals and dreams just like everyone else.
Honor them, thank them, let them know you care. That will be a gift that a trip to Hawaii can’t match. Although they would probably take that, too.