By Aleksander Saar
Actions begin with understanding. Congregations won’t take any action unless they first realize that their pastors are not some kind of foreign species of being. They are flesh-and-blood men like themselves, who need rest, they need affirmation, they need people they can confide in and lean on. I remember a pastor friend of mine telling me he’d just done his daughter’s wedding. “I bet that was awfully emotional for you,” I said. “How’d you get through it?” “Oh, I just went into pastor mode,” he said. I remember thinking, Is that a thing: pastor mode? Do you turn off your emotions? Put your regular self in storage? Is it like suspended animation? What a commentary on the state of ministry today that there is evidently such a thing as “pastor mode.” You just flip the switch, and voila, pastor mode is on. No sensitive creature here, just the man in black: someone to be called upon for a service, like a plumber or a landscaper—or like a vacuum cleaner. Employ his service, then put him away till next time.
If pastors are in danger of being ‘professionals,’ perhaps that is because that view is assumed and reinforced by their congregations. A few measures can be taken to ensure that ministers feel loved and cared for.
Church leadership can make it known that all needs can’t be catered to by the senior pastor. Let there be a buffer zone created: first, let the pastor have a secretary or administrative assistant who is a good “gatekeeper” and filter, who can both keep him informed and who can also redirect the kinds of concerns that can be handled by others. Let the pastor choose which needs require his personal attention. Second, let the responsibility for visitation be shared by some kind of care committee or deacons or elders, so as to limit the number of engagements for the pastor, and allow him sufficient family and leisure time. This has long-standing biblical precedent with Moses’ leaders of tens, fifties, and hundreds. The pastor is only one man; please don’t take it as a personal insult if some other church member pays you a pastoral visit.
Another great help is when families or individuals in the church invite the pastor and/or his family for recreation. His wife and his children need to have friends among the congregation without feeling like they are being put on a pedestal or under a microscope. Take the pastor or his wife or the family out to a restaurant, a cookout, or bowling or golf or jogging, or help him with a fix-it project at his house. Some generous church members have been known to open their vacation home to the pastor’s family for a week’s getaway. And during such occasions, it is often preferable not to “talk shop.” They need the freedom not to have to be “on” all the time. Do with him as you would do with any friend: ask him about himself! Find out what authors, artists, and music he likes, what makes the world beautiful to him, where he grew up, and so on.
Along this line, a pastor needs at least a couple of very close friends that he can confide in, talk through his struggles with. Maybe it is best if these are from outside the congregation, but the church leadership should be sure that such people exist in their pastor’s life. Some, but not all of them ought to be other ministers, and some of those ought to be of a different generation than the pastor himself. “Bear one another’s burdens.” The pastor bears the burdens of many others; who helps him bear his?
Something churches have to root out is disharmony among the leaders. Nothing runs a pastor down faster than a hostile board member (or Session member, or what have you). The origin of this trouble is the view of the church as a business model, with goals like those of a business (build, succeed, gain, win), and with the pastor as CEO. If churches would carefully appoint their elders and deacons according to the character qualities in Scripture, instead of basing their choices on mere availability, or family legacy, or earthly skills, then love and mutual respect among the leadership would become the norm, instead of power struggles, alienation, and burnout.
A related trouble spot comes from a spirit of competition and comparison with other churches and other pastors. Remember that your pastor is . . . himself. He is not someone else, and it is not fair to expect him to be. Neither is your church some other church, and God never said it had to be. Quit thinking that your church has to “keep up with the Joneses’ church.” All you do is put pressure on your minister to be something he’s not. Be content with what you have, rejoice in the Lord’s goodness, and don’t be envious.
Finally, when it comes to making progress and growth, cultivate a healthy sense of “all in God’s good time”—we like to measure and quantify results, and if we don’t see results quickly, we think something must be wrong. But most of life is the labor stage, the watering and waiting stage; the harvest stage only comes at the end. Be still and know that God is over all. Not everything is a 4-alarm emergency that has to be addressed and fixed ASAP. Professor Chatham said that God is more concerned with our character than with our comfort; I would add that He’s also more concerned with our character than our pile of accomplishments. Let’s not cross the line from healthy diligence into self-destructive stress.