Inside the Pastor’s Office

Last week, Andrew Stoecklein, Lead Pastor of Inland Hills Church in Chino California committed suicide. He left behind a young wife, Kayla, and three precious children. He, like many pastors, faithfully taught, preached, and demonstrated the grace of God, and like many pastors, his battle with depression blinded him from being able to rest in God’s grace. 
 
I have pastor friends all over the country, and every pastor I know often wrestles to rest in the comfort of the God that they serve. Some commit suicide. Some fall into sexual sin. Some medicate with alcohol. Some leave the ministry. And some, by God’s grace, overcome through the tender love and care they receive from the body of Christ.
 
I have struggled with depression in the past. I went through some dark seasons when it seemed as though Satan had unleashed every weapon in his arsenal against me. I wished I could do anything else in the world besides serve as a pastor. Were it not for my family and church family’s obedience to Christ and their willingness to preach my sermons back to me, I could have fallen to temptation. I could have left ministry for good. Worse, like Bro. Andrew, I could have died.
 
With this in mind, I want to share with you a few reasons why pastoral ministry is so hard on the men who are called to it. I share this to give you an inside look at what it is like to sit at the pastor’s desk, and I share with the hope that you would commit to being the body of Christ to your pastor.
 
1. Recognize that your pastor is a broken human being who serves broken human beings. It is easy for pastors to feel like the whole world is out to get them. We learn from the life of Jesus why it is hard to be a leader. Even when you do the right thing, people hate you. They talk about you behind your back. They lie in wait to try to bring you down. They cannot help it. They are broken.
 
Every pastor has at least a small group of people in his congregation who don’t like him. It is easy for him to get distracted, trying to figure out who those people are so as not to be blindsided when someone pulls a power play or says something hurtful. Because of his brokenness, he can become crippled with anxiety which threatens to consume all of his energy and lead him into darkness.
 
Before I leave the issue of a broken pastor serving broken people, I want to say that some of the pastor’s opponents may have valid concerns. Too often though, the pastor never hears those concerns. His opponents talk to everyone except him. This hurts him deeply. There is no more hopeless feeling than knowing someone has something against you, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it because you don’t even know what the issue is.
 
2. Recognize the uncertainty he and his family have for the future. You cannot imagine the hurt and fear that invades the family of a pastor when a chairman of deacons sits him down and tells him, “your ministry here is done. A group of people is ready to vote you out next Sunday. If you resign now, we will let you stay in the parsonage for the rest of this month, then you have to go.” Many pastors have experienced this first hand. Even the ones who haven’t live in fear of it happening to their family.
 
Put yourself in your pastor’s shoes. He’s given his life and put his family’s future and well-being on the line to serve Christ and His church. One slip up can result in them being homeless and broke. He may never talk about it, but I promise you he at least thinks about that scenario every day. And his wife… she thinks about it even more often.
 
3. Recognize the burden of his calling. Few pastors go into the ministry for money and fame. The ones who do don’t last long. Pastors minister because they are called by God. This calling comes with an unimaginable burden.
 
Hebrews 13:17 says, that he will have to give an account for the souls entrusted to him on the day of judgment. When he looks out from the pulpit and sees the brokenness in the pews, he wonders “am I doing all I can? Maybe I should have prayed harder. Maybe I should have studied more. Am I really being faithful?”
 
When the baptisms are down, when the giving is short, when attendance is low, when families fall apart, and when relationships break down, he blames himself. On top of his own problems, he bears a heavy load for his congregation. All of their problems become his problems, but the heaviest burden he carries is the responsibility of his calling.
 
4. Recognize that most of his work is unseen. You may see him for an hour on Sunday, but what you don’t see is the other 49 hours he works during the rest of the week. That time is consumed with staff meetings, prayer, deacon meetings, committee meetings, home visits, hospital visits, speaking engagements, navigating conflicts, and planning. I did not even mention sermon prep. If your church has Wednesday and a Sunday night service, then recognize that he prepares for and preaches three times a week. A good preacher is able to make it look easy, but don’t be fooled, those sermons do not write themselves.
 
Just to give you an idea of what a full-time pastor’s schedule is like, I’m looking over my calendar. Last month (if you count the partial week at the beginning of the month) there were 25 weekdays. I was home from work before 8 p.m. only 11 of those 25 days. I came home after my children’s bedtimes on 4 days in August. This type of schedule wears on a healthy person. It can destroy an unhealthy person.
 
If your pastor is part-time or bi-vocational, it is even worse. I can at least come home and be home after work. I have a close friend who is a bi-vocational pastor. He is never “off.” These men are the most underappreciated men in the ministry, and they deserve better.
 
5. Consider the financial strain that he is under. I am blessed to serve a church who is able to take care of all the needs of my family. This has not always been the case, and many of my brothers are struggling today. Most pastors and ministerial staff are underpaid and have unmet financial needs.
 
Many times it is no fault of the church leadership. They cannot pay their ministerial staff money that they do not have. Like the priests of the Old Testament (Leviticus 10:14), our salaries are dependent upon the generosity and obedience of the members. I can tell you from past experience, it is tremendously depressing to see your family hurting because of unmet needs and know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
 
6. Consider the difficulty the pastor’s family has in making friends. Most people do not want to be friends with their pastor. They want to keep him and his family at a distance. They don’t want their pastor to know that they have an occasional drink, or that they went to the Kanye West concert last week. It’s like they think they will catch fire if they come into our holy presence.
 
Add to this, that many times there is a pressure for the pastor and his family to be friends with everyone. Where any normal person is allowed to have a close circle of friends with whom they spend time, the pastor has no such luxury. If he spends more time with one group than another jealousy can raise its ugly head.
 
Some of this pressure may be due to the pastor’s perception, but his perception is formed and framed by hundreds of damaging remarks. Some are said face to face. Some are said behind his back. He hears them, and they suck the hope of close friendship right out of his heart.
 
Here’s another issue with the pastor having friends. He has to be vulnerable and trusting to have friends. Most pastors have been burned too many times by people he thought were his friends. We pastors keep our hearts close to us. We find it hard to trust and be vulnerable. I know that this issue is not exclusive to pastors, but understand that in our position a friend’s stab in the back can result in being homeless, ruined, and broke.
 
CONCLUSION: I have read several blogs and social media posts in the wake of Andrew Stoecklein’s passing that give suggestions for how to encourage your pastor. I commend these to you. (Here is a great one from Tom Rainer.) Encourage your pastor.
 
As difficult as the pastoral ministry can be, your kind, encouraging, and spirit-filled words are powerful to build him up. Your attendance every time the doors are open and you are not providentially hindered say so much about your appreciation for him. The smallest hint that you understand his burdens, goes a tremendously long way to recharge him and keep him going.
 
Encourage and honor your pastor. The Bible says that those who labor well in this calling are worthy of “double honor” (1 Timothy 5:17). Your encouragement may save his ministry, his marriage, and possibly even his life.