Prayer for the Pastor
by Jason Overman
You’ve probably heard. October is Pastor Appreciation Month. But you don’t have to limit your support to just one month of the year. Your pastor needs your prayers every day. As the Now What? feature story, “Broken to Serve,” movingly illustrates, while it is common to put our pastors on a pedestal as super-spiritual and all together, the truth is that they are only human and subject to loneliness, fatigue, and depression just like everyone else, even if they have a special calling of God.
The title pastor derives its name from shepherd, and in the biblical Near East shepherd was a vocation that demanded tireless day-and-night dedication to the welfare and care of the flock. Shepherds fed, led, and protected. It is an impressive metaphor. For instance, in both Old and New Testaments, (Psalm 23:1; 80:1; and 1 Peter 2:25; 5:4), we notice that the Lord is our Shepherd (the definitive Pastor and Leader), and we are His flock — often demanding and straying, I might add! But the character and heart of God is to give Himself again and again for the sheep, as Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
A pastor has a heart like this. Jesus has called shepherds (pastors) to serve in His stead, to embody that sacrificial keeping of the flock — not like the greedy, self-serving shepherds that the prophet Ezekiel condemned (chapter 34) or that Apostle Peter warned against (1 Peter 5:2) or those shams we witness from time to time still, but authentic pastors devoted to the burden of care.
The Apostle Paul, known best for his unflagging evangelism, illustrated pastoral concern such as this in 2 Corinthians 11:28. After listing his numerous evangelistic trials (five times lashed, three times beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked), he concluded his catalog of bodily suffering with a poignant emotive admission: “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
We shouldn’t take this “daily pressure” and “anxiety” for granted; it’s the special burden of the pastor, and it takes its toll. According to a 2015 LifeWay Research study, the news is thankfully not all bad. A massive 93 percent of pastors say they “feel privileged to be a pastor,” and only a tiny 1 percent abandon their pulpit each year.(1) This is good news, but pastoral ministry is not without its hazards:
84 percent say they’re on call 24 hours a day.
- 80 percent expect conflict in their church.
- 54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming.
- 53 percent are often concerned about their family’s financial security.
- 48 percent often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.
- 21 percent say their church has unrealistic expectations of them.(2)
With this kind of day-in-and-day-out toil, and considering its intimate and personal nature, it is no wonder that pastors often experience emotional and spiritual burnout, or worse.
In 2014, another LifeWay study reported that almost one quarter of pastors (23 percent) wrestle with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.(3) Sadly, these pastors often suffer in silence, reluctant to discuss their struggles with others. Left unaddressed, challenges like these can cause lasting pain for pastors and their families. Professional counsel should be encouraged and not stigmatized, though the latter often occurs in some Christian circles. A significant 12 percent of pastors report having received a mental health diagnosis.(4)
Pastors can protect their well-being by setting healthy limits and good habits. It’s all about time. “Church” is often a pastor’s busiest day of the week; take a personal “sabbath” each week to refresh and repair. Spend personal devotion time with God each day, and carve out quality time specifically for the family. Other good practices: Cultivate friendships where struggles and worries can be shared. Be attentive to areas of potential conflict within the church. Be mindful of areas of personal weakness and avoid stumbling blocks.
The church can also be more proactive in supporting its pastors. LifeWay reports that a reassuring 92 percent of pastors say that their congregations are genuinely encouraging to them and their families. That’s excellent! Still, there’s room for concrete improvements:
- 71 percent of churches have no plan for a pastor to receive a periodic sabbatical.
- 66 percent lack a support group for the pastor’s family.
- 66 percent have no lay counseling ministry.
- 33 percent don’t have a list of counselors for referrals.
- 30 percent have no document clearly stating what the church expects of its pastor.(5)
Most pastors haven’t experienced anything as extreme as Pastor Gary did in our Now What? feature story (Broken to Serve). Many do, however, endure doubt, isolation, stress, and exhaustion in caring for God’s flock. They need our prayers.
Our pastors are a treasured gift; their calling and sacrifice directly affect the welfare of our personal lives and the life of the church corporate. But even shepherds sometimes need shepherding. Even pastors need pastoral care. Sadly, this need is often overlooked. Yes, this month, October, is Pastor Appreciation Month. Show your appreciation, but also be mindful of this biblical advice all year long:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).
So remember to lift up your shepherd to the Chief Shepherd, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you,” and let us “have the same care for one another” (1 Peter 5:7; 1 Corinthians 12:25). No one can carry the burden of care alone.
For more help on promoting pastoral health, visit Care4Pastors.com.
Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.