The Predicament of the Hurting Pastor

by Tom Warner

In addition to being a normal human being, with the usual struggles of life in a fallen world, the pastor may be the target of spiritual attacks which seek to destroy his peace, his moral integrity, his walk with God, his marriage, family, and church.

In the midst of such attacks, it’s very difficult for him to open up to members of his congregation. He knows that practicing transparency may cause some people to lose respect for him, especially if they’ve been conditioned to think of pastors as being on a pedestal, above the day-to-day problems of “average Christians.” Such people, and some pastors, have the idea that a spiritual leader should look like a suave corporate CEO whose always pleasant persona makes people feel comfortable. This false concept of what a minister is supposed to be like tempts the hurting pastor to keep his struggles hidden. People need to be educated about this. Paul dealt with this when the Corinthians were misled by some he called “super apostles” who were not at all impressed with his down to earth, struggling style (2 Cor.10:10; 11:1-6,12-15). He may also fear that some people will think he’s crazy if he describes the intensity of the spiritual attack he has experienced. They “believe” in demons, in theory, but don’t really translate that belief into reality.

When he finds himself at gatherings with other pastors, who might help to bear his burdens by sympathetic listening and prayer, there is often little time for “baring” his burdens to them. The program often takes up most of the available time, and focuses on issues such as church growth, discipling, etc. There is very little acknowledgment in such settings of the struggles of pastoral couples.

The pastor is tempted to wear a mask of professional competence that denies his humanity and problems. All the while, God’s agenda for shaping his servants is to help them realize they are not competent, apart from supernatural help (2 Cor.3:5-6)! God is teaching his servants that his power is made perfect in their weakness (2 Cor.12:7-10). Human brokeness needs to be exposed and find its adequacy in his grace and power. Where a sense of one’s weakness and mortality are very evident, there is a greater appreciation of his resurrection power for the present and the future (2 Cor.1:8-9; 4:11-18).

The hurting pastor needs to see someone who models transparency and doesn’t hide the brokenness and heartaches of those who serve the Lord, who can also point to the all-sufficient grace and power of God to meet the needs of his servants.

The hurting pastor needs to be able to talk about his struggles with others who listen and care and pray. The restorative grace of the Good Shepherd is often mediated through those who have suffered greatly. He comforts us so that we can comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received. It is easier for the hurting pastor to unburden himself, and find renewed hope, if he speaks to one who has travelled the same path, and witnesses to God’s grace out of his own weakness.

The book “I’m OK, You’re OK” offers some insights into the best kind of approach to counseling a very discouraged person. It won’t be received very easily if it comes from a professional who “speaks down” to the hurting soul. That may produce embarrassment and a deeper sense of failure. Counsel will be better received if it comes from a fellow struggler, a wounded healer, who comes alongside the hurting pastor and witnesses of God’s amazing grace.