Frequently I read articles that speak of the heavy responsibilities pastors carry, and point to related depression, moral failure rates, and burnout among church leaders. The discussion usually involves how congregations should treat (or not treat) them as to prevent such fallout.
As a pastor I’ve experienced the struggle with depression. I desperately need the grace of God. And I’ve felt so overextended I wanted to quit (and have friends who have). Being appreciated, supported, and prayed for by my church’s members often has made all the difference.
Recently it occurred to me: do we as pastors return the favor? What about the unpaid ministry leaders in our churches who give and give and give? These are volunteers who can experience depression, moral failure, and burnout just like the “professional Christian,” the pastor. How should we be treating these committed brothers and sisters?
More and More and More
The common advice on how to treat pastors usually includes tactics like the following:
- “Don’t critique her on Sunday.”
- “Encourage him frequently.”
- “When it comes to negative members, fight for the pastor, not against him."
- “When pastors struggle, be there to pray with them.”
How much more should pastors extend the same grace to their overworked ministry leaders. We should not forget they have jobs, families, personal stresses, and complex lives just like everyone else. Yet many times we thoughtlessly ask them to give more.
We ask them to give more time. We push them hard and often ask for extra quantities of their precious time for a season of ministry or an event. We lean hard on them to “get it done” or “just make it work.” They feel the pressure to not drop the ball. They want to see lives changed for Christ. We should not forget they have jobs, families, personal stresses, and complex lives just like everyone else.
We ask them to give more financially. This kind of generosity is Christ’s sacrificial spirit alive in them. We tell them the van broke. The children’s ministry needs a new projector. A single mom needs a car to get to work. They are generous tithers and givers already, and when we present needs they meet them, often denying themselves something in the process. Acknowledge this fact.
We ask them to buy into a vision for the church they can’t see yet. They publicly support you and your vision to the teams they lead, yet behind closed doors they may struggle. It may seem like they are fighting against you; some may be, others may not. Pastors, your leaders want to be heard. They are not blind to your faults, yet they are choosing to follow you, so don’t be deaf to their words, body language, and heart.
We ask them to serve others at their own expense. Sometimes leaders serve at the expense of worshiping with their family or attending their own discipleship class. They stand in the gap and buy into vision. They are willing to give up their own time in the church service to serve in the nursery or greet guests or count the offering. They need you to watch over them as they do and ensure they have time to sit and worship the Lord.
You See What It Costs Them
Pastors, when you see your leaders do the work that is hard—the work that costs time, energy, money, and lasts for more than one season—know they are doing it for Jesus. When you see them serving within the vision of the church that may end up going in the opposite direction than they want it to go—know they are doing it for Jesus.
When you see it, look them in the eye and tell them you see what it costs them. Tell them what it means to you as their pastor. Tell them the difference they are making in the Kingdom.
Encourage them, and then pray with them. Praise God together for the opportunity to give, to serve, to love others in the name of Jesus. This will encourage your heart and will strengthen you, your leaders, and, in time, the church as a whole.
Peter Epler is lead pastor at Ketchikan Church of the Nazarene, in Ketchikan, Alaska.