This article is an anonymous piece from one of our contributors. This pastor shares his experience with loneliness—a product of both the weight of his office and the temptations that beset him. Christians are called to pray for one another and for their pastors/elders (Hebrews 13:7). We hope this article reminds readers of the truth that they already know: that pastors/elders are fallen people too who do their best for those under their care. After reading this article we invite you to pray for your pastor and elders, who love you. While all pastors are fated to never fully meet our expectations all the time, they are vessels of God’s choosing for your good and for His glory. Let us honor them as Scripture instructs (I Timothy 5:17).
A pastor’s call is an interesting thing. It is an incredibly noble job and certainly has its fair share of perks. From “Pastor Appreciation Month,” to members having box seats at the local professional sports teams, to giving delicious baked goods “just because.” It’s a job that they love, and they consider it an honor to serve Christ. Pastors are often quick to tell the joys of ministry with those who ask, and share in the delights of their congregation, rejoicing in their victories.
But there is another side of the ministry that a pastor will rarely divulge, even to his closest friends and family. Not because he can’t. Not even because he’s ashamed. Perhaps it’s because he wants to protect others, or because he doesn’t want to seem weak. Or perhaps it’s because such a call to serve Christ comes with its fair share of spiritual warfare that the average Christian just doesn’t want to talk about.
But we need to.
Listen in on a phone call between me (a pastor) and my father. In this conversation, I will tell him all the things that I believe he wants to hear, not the suffering that me and my staff go through often. I put on that happy face, gentle smile, and give the “all good” signal while slowly suffocating on the inside. What I pray you will see is the ongoing need to pray for your pastors, and an unspoken desire to have Christ preached to them too
Listen in on a phone call between me (a pastor) and my father. In this conversation, I will tell him all the things that I believe he wants to hear, not the suffering that me and my staff go through often
From the listener’s point of view, here is the call:
It’s midday when the phone rings. The young pastor glances at one of the only names that pops up on his screen that makes him smile: “Dad.”
“Hey,” the young pastor says, trying to hide his excitement. He looks forward to this call almost every day. “How are you, my son?” his father replies, eager to talk with him too. The joy found in hearing each other’s voice is mutual.
The silence on the line is deafening as the young pastor contemplates how to answer his father this time around. “Pretty good,” the pastor replies, “I’m a little tired, but overall, pretty good.”
He chooses not to tell his father that the reason for his exhaustion is because he only managed three hours of sleep the night before. His father would certainly ask him, “Why did you only get three hours of sleep?” Then the young pastor would have to tell him that he can’t stop thinking about the different sufferings of his people. The very people that God has called him to shepherd. People that he loves so dearly.
He would have to tell him that it literally keeps him awake at night to think about all the problems in the community that he serves, but that he cannot fix. He feels utterly powerless: Winter is on the way. Will the homeless be warm enough? Tommy is being evicted from his apartment. Natalie is watching her daughter’s life crumble before her eyes as she fights the demon that is heroin addiction. Eight-year-old Emily is being abused at home. At twelve years old, Mikey combs the streets looking for someone that will love him, before returning to an abandoned house where he stays with his mother and brothers. Susie is questioning if God made a mistake when He made her a girl. Mark and Nancy are wondering why their kids don’t want a relationship with them. Every single one of these people, who he feels personally responsible for, runs through his mind constantly.
The young pastor stomachs these thoughts and quickly changes the subject. He croaks to his father, “Did you see the game last night?” “Sure did! Looks like our team is going to be great. We need to catch a game soon. Want to meet for dinner and a beer later this week?” his father responds, eager to see his son again. The pastor forces a smile. “Of course,” he says.
He doesn’t want to tell him that he is often tempted to nurse his sufferings with spirits. If he did, it would concern his dad. He can’t tell him that the sweet temptress that is that ice-cold beverage in a frosted glass whispers to him whenever he picks it up, “Drink me, and everything else will fade away. Drink me and for a moment, you won’t have to think about what I’ve done do your people.” Alcohol has taken the lives of so many he loves, after all. He worries that it may slowly be taking his too. It’s a polarizing dichotomy that he wrestles with every day.
Hoping to continue the conversation, the young pastor’s father asks, “How is Steve? Have you seen him lately?” Steve is the pastor’s best friend. He’s been with him during the highest of highs and the lowest of lows of his life. “Yeah, I saw him a little while ago,” he replies. “He’s doing well.”
He doesn’t tell him that “a while ago” is code for weeks, maybe months. Between caring for the flock, doing basic administrative work, studying and preparing for Bible studies and sermons, and serving his family, he doesn’t have much time for friends. He doesn’t tell him that even though he certainly has friends, and he texts with those friends and sends funny memes, he actually feels completely alone much of the time, and that loneliness gets to him all too much.
He doesn’t tell him the truth because he knows his dad would drop everything to come sit with him so that he wasn’t alone. He doesn’t want to burden him with that. He has better things to do. And so, he sits under the crashing waves of loneliness. It is here where the enemy (Satan himself), likes to remind him of all the times he has failed his church, his friends, and his family. The young pastor carries those painful reminders day after day, unwilling to burden anyone else with it. He wouldn’t wish it upon his worst enemy.
As the conversation wraps up, the father says to his son, “We will talk soon, son, hang in there. I love you.” The young pastor’s eyes well up with tears. He needs that love to make it through another day. He hopes to be half the man his father is and he is eternally grateful to Christ for blessing him with parents who always loved him, supported him, and exemplified the love of Jesus. He would be nothing without them. He then wipes away a tear as he remembers that not everyone has been blessed with the gift of family. He prays for them daily.
“I love you too, dad. See you soon.”
He hangs up and begins counting down the hours and minutes before he hears from him again.
While this conversation over the phone may not represent all of the pastors that serve around Christ’s church, it will certainly hit home for many. Probably more than we would like to think about. Pastors carry the weight of their congregation, they often find vices to cope with suffering, and they battle heavy bouts of loneliness and isolation, even when they are around their brothers. Untreated and ignored, struggles like this can course through the veins like a poison, slowly taking his life.
But there is an antidote; the very spoken word of love.
You’ll notice how much I needed to hear from my father that he loved me and that I should hang in there. A pastor needs to hear words from his family, his wife, his children, and his friends. He needs encouragement, wisdom, and grace. But what about when the words of man are not good enough?
A pastor needs to hear words from his family, his wife, his children, and his friends
Turn to the words of God.
God, who spoke to you at your baptism the same words he spoke to Jesus at his, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17). God, who says to you when you wander aimlessly in the wilderness with no direction and feeling the crushing weight of loneliness, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6, Heb. 13:5). God, who understands your desire for a vice and gives you promises that you can physically reach out and touch, breaks bread and pours wine saying, “This is my body given for you…and my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Matt. 26:26-28).
God, who sees your suffering, who hears your pleas, who feels your loneliness and refuses to sit idly by. So, he acts on your behalf. He takes all your suffering, pain, and sin upon himself. And he dies for you. He gives his life for you. He conquers death for you. And now He lives for you.
All of what Jesus does is for you, so that you would know with absolute certainty that you are a forgiven child of God with an inheritance so grand that you cannot even begin to fathom. Pastors need to hear that as often as they preach it. Probably more if we are honest with ourselves.
So, to the concerned parishioner wondering what you can do for your pastor, I say pray for him. Encourage him. And yes, preach to him. Proclaim to him that Christ Jesus died for him and that he is forgiven in His name. Remind him that he is the Lord’s beloved, and that nothing can separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:38-39).
So, to the concerned parishioner wondering what you can do for your pastor, I say pray for him. Encourage him. And yes, preach to him. Proclaim to him that Christ Jesus died for him and that he is forgiven in His name
And to the tired and weary pastor, you are not alone. Your brothers are fighting in the foxhole with you. Confide in them. Allow the words of Christ Jesus crucified for you to be preached to you. Let them wash over you until you are soaked in forgiveness, mercy, and grace, and then hear them again. Receive the Sacrament often; Christ present for you and in you. And do not give up. You cannot fail Christ Jesus when He has promised to build His Church (Matt. 16:18).
Rest in these promises.