Editor’s Note: The weekend can be an incredibly distressing time for many pastors to enter into. The desire to spend quality time with family while juggling the pressures of an unfinished sermon can be an exhausting reality. What many pastors need are not more tips on how to prepare better sermons as much as some encouragement to better prepare their hearts to preach the sermon they have. Join Ronnie Martin every Friday for The Preachers Corner, where he offers some words of comfort and stories of hope to help preachers enter the weekend encouraged by the gentle and lowly heart of Jesus.
Not a great year for pastors.
I don’t have stats, but it doesn’t take hard data for us to imagine the level at which pastoral job boards and search organizations have been bombarded this year with overwhelming inquiries from frazzled pastors looking to get out and get on to something new. If that’s you, let me begin by saying two things:
It’s ok, friend.
Jesus understands completely.
So, here’s a word: Pastor, you probably need to quit. But before you quit your current ministry (and you might just need to do that, by the way), there might be some other things you should try quitting first.
- Quit saying “I know the last year has been hard, BUT…”. It’s probably better to say, “The last year has been hard, period.” You are on the back end of a bitter year and it’s understandable that your desire is to stop the bleeding and move on to some healing. But don’t miss this unprecedented place that God has lovingly and sovereignly placed you in. I wonder what He’ll do? You should pause long enough to let yourself wonder that, too. Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
- Quit being so productive. I get it. There’s a mad scramble to get things back to the way things were. People have left, budgets have diminished, and the questions of what to do and where to go are nagging at you endlessly. But maybe instead of working so hard to get your church out of the valley it’s in, you should see if there’s something God wants you to notice that’s only visible when you’re in a valley. Don’t miss something glorious that God in His grace has slowed you down this last year to see. But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41,42).
- Quit being so hard on yourself. It’s a sad thing to have less compassion on yourself than Jesus does. When He looks at you, He sees His beloved. He sees His faithful undershepherd. He doesn’t expect you to accomplish what only He can accomplish. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Ps. 103:14). Allow yourself to be known and remembered by God in this complex moment of your pastoral life.
- Quit thinking you’re the only one. We can so easily slide into self-pity during seasons of exhaustion. We can forget that what we’re experiencing is not unusual for a pastor…or a Christian. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Pet. 4:12). It’s that irritable sense of surprise that can keep us disgruntled, and worse yet, disenchanted, which leads to cynicism. Pray that God would open you up to the plight of other pastors right now, because they may be thinking they’re the only ones.
- Quit looking at everybody else. Pastors are all over the map right now in how they’re processing Covid, getting Sunday gatherings back in place, and finding how to best serve their people as vaccination numbers increase and restrictions are being lifted. To begin comparing your pace and your methods with other churches in different contexts than yours is probably not a healthy direction for your mind. Who you are and where you are is unique, so look to God to do something uniquely merciful and compassionate in the context of your life, church, and community as the coming days unfold. Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us (Ps. 123:2).
I could likely go on and on, but I wonder how your perspective might change if you took some time to reflect on these five points (so we’re clear, not those five points) and pray how God might help relieve you of some of the stress and anxiety they have brought upon you? It may be that God is using Covid to transition you to another ministry. It could also be that God is using Covid to tether you to the ministry you’re already in, but with much more depth of heart, renewal of mind, and restoration of soul.