A church should be involved in the care of the pastor’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.by Daniel L. Weiss
Pastors and other ministry leaders carry some of this world’s heaviest burdens. Guiding the spiritual lives of hundreds, if not thousands, as well as providing and caring for his1 own family is a juggling act few lay people will ever fully understand or appreciate. Unfortunately, tremendous stress and temptation often accompanies such awesome responsibility.
The thought that the pastor has temptations and struggles common to man is not something Christians generally feel comfortable with. They picture their pastor as the white knight who is not tempted by earthly things. The sooner we dispel that notion, the safer, healthier, and more authentic our churches will be.
Even if God were to find such ethereal leaders, He would likely continue choosing from among the fallen and restored (or “the weak among us”) to lead His Church. We tend to shy away from this biblical truth, but God is clear that His strength is perfected in our weakness. This is not to say that we should choose as our spiritual leader an ethical or moral implosion waiting to happen. But, if we can acknowledge the temptations our pastors face and support them in their struggles, the safer they will feel to draw strength—God’s strength—from these trials. Through this power and experience, they will be able to minister to those in the pew looking for guidance, deliverance, and transformation from the very same struggles.
A church body has a definite interest in keeping its pastor from falling into sexual sin, but its focus should go beyond preventing a moral failing to addressing the total care of the pastor’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.
This article details some of the ways pastors and churches can work together to safeguard and support the shepherd of the flock.
Considering that faith and the Bible infuse everything the pastor does, it may seem strange to discuss ways to support his spiritual life. Yet, ministering to our pastor’s own faith is one of the best ways to keep him vibrant, healthy, and safe. We can serve the pastor in this capacity in a number of ways.
The church can form a prayer team dedicated to lifting up the pastor and his family. Prayer should be directed toward the pastor’s responsibilities at church and at home, toward his family’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, or other specific needs. The pastor should have the option of sharing more personal requests with this group or refraining from such disclosure. In truth, the entire congregation is responsible for praying for the pastor and his family. This group should not be viewed as a substitute for each one’s duty.
One real difficulty for pastors can be summed up in this question: Who serves as confessor for the confessor? A pastor is trained and equipped to serve his congregation in a variety of ways, but he is not always able to find someone to minister to him in the same way. One way to alleviate isolation in our pastor’s life is to encourage him to find a prayer partner. This will likely be another clergy member, but it could be a safe, mature congregation member as well.
This relationship is meant solely to be a service to the pastor, not a requirement or burden. We want to offer tools to assist him, not regulations that bog him down. Simply acknowledging his needs will go a long way to demonstrating our love and support.
A common cause of burnout is the pastor and his family’s lack of close friendships. While we are to revere our leader in his office, we need to avoid placing him on a pedestal from which he cannot escape. True, deep, and abiding friendships for the pastor, his spouse, and their children will be one of the greatest services we can offer. Although we can’t appoint or elect someone to this role, a church that is willing to form friendships with its pastor will allow him to identify those individuals with whom he could safely develop a deeper bond.
Safeguards in the church
As we minister to our pastor’s spiritual and emotional health, we can also make the workplace a safer place for him and his co-workers. These steps are not meant to be seen as a punishment or as a leash, but rather efforts born of compassion and understanding for real temptations and struggles. It is also important for churches to work with the pastor to establish any of these guidelines.
A 2001 Leadership Journal survey of its readership found that 43 percent of pastors had viewed Internet pornography at least once, and 36 percent within the previous year. The survey also showed only one in four pastors had an accountability relationship and only one in five used filtered Internet access.2
This survey showed two things: Like other people, pastors are tempted while online and many of them have not taken the most basic steps to remove this temptation from their lives.
Online pornography is a particularly difficult temptation because of its accessibility, affordability, and anonymity. Whether bored, tired, lonely, or angry, there is little accountability behind a closed office door, especially after hours. A church can employ two types of programs to help relieve pastors of this temptation: filtering and monitoring software.
Internet filters are relatively effective at reducing inadvertent exposure to most pornography. One study found that at their most restrictive setting, the average filter blocked about 91 percent of pornographic material. Even at the least restrictive setting, the filters kept out 87 percent of harmful material.3 However, as these numbers indicate, not all pornography will be blocked. This is especially true of someone intentionally seeking it out. A person intent on seeing pornography can outwit any filter.
Monitoring software operates differently. Rather than block pornography, this software records every Web site visited and at what time. This product provides a level of online accountability. If churches were to set this up, one or two elders would need to take responsibility for regularly checking the log.
Pastors are often called on to provide advice, guidance, and counsel. When this involves members of the opposite sex, temptations can arise. In most circumstances, this will not be a problem. However, a number of well-known ministry leaders have determined to not meet with a member of the opposite sex without leaving the door of their office at least partially open or without another person in the next room. The pastor and church should work together to determine if and what type of office boundaries need to be established.
Similar to the idea of a prayer partner, an accountability relationship or group is another tool to facilitate the pastor’s spiritual growth and support him in his weaknesses. This also provides him the opportunity to minister to others in a safe environment for all.
Since God created us with a body, mind, and spirit, we need to offer care to our pastors in all of these areas. Before any trouble arises, however, the church might want to develop a policy allowing a pastor to seek professional counseling without undue supervision from the body. If a pastor feels safe and comfortable enough to seek therapy, a greater likelihood exists that he will be better equipped to address any problem before it becomes overwhelming. This policy is based on the idea that prevention is the best medicine.
Support of a pastor’s home life will go far in how well he is able to minister to the congregation. A church can assume a few valuable steps to support its pastor’s family.
Ample Vacation time
Most businesses offer their employees two weeks vacation each year. Does your church provide similar time off for its pastor? Pastors need time away from home to refresh, regroup, and gain perspective on their duties. Many also work at least six, if not seven, days, every week. Considering pastoral responsibilities, time commitments, and the church’s budget, extra time off may be one way to show extra support for all the pastor does.
Major church holidays are often the busiest times for a church, especially for its professional workers. Some churches take up a special collection at these times to distribute to all paid church staff.
Many churches consider the pastor to be their primary—or only—church worker. While a number of duties can only be performed by the pastor, many churches load up their spiritual leader with other responsibilities that could easily be performed by members of the congregation. Fair distribution of the church’s workload can be a tremendous support for an overworked pastor.
Churches should elect involved committee members committed to enlisting adequate volunteers or doing the work themselves. Committees or boards can bear as much (or more) of the responsibility for running the church as the pastor.
Involved lay people
Working in conjunction with committees and the pastor, much of a church’s vibrancy depends on the involvement of its congregation.
Ample elder or deacon/deaconess help
Pastors are not the only professional church workers that can serve the congregation. Deacon, deaconesses, and Directors of Christian Education (DCE) can all share responsibilities that often fall on pastors’ shoulders.
Supporting your pastor in his efforts to further his education will benefit the congregation in a number of ways. Many pastors should have opportunities to get counseling or education degrees in addition to their theological training. These can benefit family life ministry as well as continuing adult education. The more training your pastor has, the greater his service to the church can be.
The goal of love
A partnership, not unlike a marriage, is the best way to view the church’s relationship with its pastor. The goal is not to see what you can get from the other but what you can give. Healthy pastors more effectively minister to the church, making it healthier. While these suggestions are limited, they can be an effective start to express the love and concern you feel for God’s servant in your midst.
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