Recently, we received word that another young pastor took his life. While many are critical whenever this happens (and it does, more often than we are probably aware of), we need to be introspective and come to grips with the fact that we all struggle with something. Everyone is aware that pastors are not perfect people; I know this because I am one. Yet people often expect their pastor to be some sort of superhero, with the gifts of omnipresence and omnipotence. This will sometimes cause a pastor, whether insecure or not, to construct a hard shell or wear a mask in order to keep people believing that he is fine.
The numbers vary, but the fact of the matter is that well over half (some say 70%) of pastors suffer from depression on some level. While the Pharisaical-minded people will attribute this to walking not closely enough with the Lord, the real people will admit that ministry is filled with pressures that come at us from every direction. Whether a congregation expects their pastor to be a maintenance man in the middle of trying to study what God wants him to bring before them in the worship services, or perhaps requiring him to be present at every single church function, it is enough to run a human being ragged!
The only thing that keeps me going some days is the clear calling on my life to preach the Gospel (in the capacity of a pastor/elder in the church). As sure as the nose on my face, I know that God has called me to do this and I want to do it with all my heart. However, in addition to being a pastor, I am a husband and a father, and since God instituted the family before he instituted the church, I must be true to my responsibility in the home. In fact, this is biblical because one of the requirements of becoming a pastor is to rule one’s home well (not perfect, but in a godly manner).
Personally, I feel that many of us as pastors are afraid to take off the mask sometimes and admit that we struggle just like everyone else, because people expect us to be super-human. Listen, there is only one who is Superhuman and we’re not he—that’s the supernatural Son of God! Being real is not being weak. Admitting that life is hard is not saying that you cannot handle certain things, rather it is evidencing humility before others as you admit that you are not perfect and that you do have limits. Do you want to know something? I am far from perfect (understatement of the day)!
As I continue on this plane of thinking, it strikes me that those with greater responsibilities face greater opposition, and I believe this is very biblical. For those who fulfill their calling in a half-hearted manner, they will likely not face as many speed bumps on the road. So if a successful pastor who experiences a thriving church that has grown spiritually and numerically is honest, he will admit that his stress is many times that of a pastor who is in maintenance mode. Why? Because he is working his butt off! Plus the fact that the Devil hates any form of church growth and will use people, both inside the church and from without, to try to hinder any progress.
Having said all this, I want to major on something—many pastors are afraid to reach out to others when (not if) they need help for fear of coming across as a failure. I mean, those in larger churches are making a pretty decent salary, so to complain would seem to be ungrateful. Stop thinking like this!
Additionally, being a pastor takes its toll on a family. Most pastor’s wives feel that they are in constant competition with the church people and may even build up a resistance against, or a resentment toward, the other people their husbands are trying to shepherd. Rather than a partnership in ministry, it can actually pit one against the other, in complete antithesis to the plan of God for marriage and for his church as the marriage picture illustrates (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33). Most pastor’s kids feel like they live in a glass house and many grow up to abandon church because of critical people who never let them be normal kids who inevitably make mistakes.
I urge my fellow pastors and ministry workers to stop hiding behind a mask if you need help. Do not ever be ashamed to admit that you are not perfect. The thing that sets you apart from the rest of the flock is not that you are better than they, as some may erroneously expect, but that you are called to that position by the God who has a specific purpose and plan for your life. I would never be critical toward someone for reaching the depths of despair that some of our brothers have, because life is hard.
Before I conclude, I will be very transparent with you. While I trust God to meet all of my needs, I often become concerned about finances—it is something I struggle with regularly. If you saw the size of my family in contrast to the paychecks I bring home every week as a full-time pastor, you would likely ask “How do you do it?” Honestly, I do not know, other than the fact God has called me and he will provide for me—he simply requires me to be faithful. Does it stress me out at times? Of course, because I want to be a great provider for my family. But I know that he will always supply and meet every need, even when I cannot see how. He’s God!
So, my friends, please speak up if you are to the point that you feel alone and are beginning to believe that this life is not worth living. Reach out to others for help, knowing that we all struggle, and since we were created to be people of community, we need each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Just hold on, because you are precious to the Lord, as well as a whole lot of other people who are looking to you for wisdom, guidance, and love.