Pastors are facing depression and anxiety in record numbers this year. As if the numbers pre-COVID weren’t alarming enough, the pandemic has added an unpredictable monster in the cave that could pop out or change form at any moment. Pastors are having to make decisions they have never had to face before and for which there was no training or warning.
Many pastors have been let go while countless others are facing church closures, either from a decline in membership and tithing due to COVID or because the pandemic exacerbated underlying issues causing the volcano to erupt.
As a pastor’s wife, I can vouch for the anomalous stress that COVID-19 placed on my husband. Trying to lead a church during a pandemic has been the most arduous time he has ever experienced in fourteen years of ministry. All of our pastor friends have unanimously agreed that the stress and pressure on them is overwhelming and their anxiety is higher than ever.
As I see the discouragement, fear, and criticism pastors are facing right now, my heart is heavy for them. I can see the weight of this burden pressing down on their frames. Their gait is sluggish; their expressions are downcast. Many pastors are wondering what to do, how to make the next decision, or how they can keep going under these circumstances. In fact many have quit or been asked to leave.
If I could offer any encouragement to my husband, to my friends, to all pastors, it would be this: the Word of God.
God’s words are sweeter than honey, giving life and nourishment to the body, and are a healing balm to the weary and hurting soul.
1 Peter 5
In his first epistle, the apostle Peter writes to exiled Christians facing persecution for their faith, and he specifically addresses elders, or pastors, who are facing suffering. Read chapter five in its entirety before going on, and then I pray that these words would be an encouragement to you. As a pastor’s wife who sees the struggles pastors are facing right now, and as a believer desiring to live in light of Hebrews 13:17, I pray over them for you also, dear pastor:
“The sufferings of Christ…”
Remember that your Lord has gone through sufferings as well. He was made like us in every way, yet without sin, when he condescended to earth. He understands everything you are going through.
“The glory that is going to be revealed…”
Remember that all of this is temporary. There is a future glory that is going to be revealed someday that will wipe away all of the sickness, suffering, and struggles you are facing.
“Shepherd the flock…”
If you are struggling with what to do next or looking for a new revelation or insight into how to get through this hard time, Peter simply reminds pastors to keep doing what they have always done—be faithful to watch over the flock entrusted to them. Continue to compassionately care for souls, continue to listen and offer biblical counsel, continue to preach and teach the Word, and continue to gently and patiently lead the bride of Christ into further likeness to her Savior.
“Not under compulsion, but willingly…”
There is a heavy burden that comes along with caring for people’s souls, and sheep don’t always make things easy on their shepherds. But Peter reminds the elders to shepherd the flock willingly. Don’t do it because you have to. It is a great responsibility, but it is also a great blessing, gift, and calling.
Remember the zeal you had upon first being ordained into the ministry; you saw it as a great privilege and joy to care for God’s sheep. Love them; have compassion on them like our Savior. Ask God to restore your joy and uphold you with a willing spirit. Do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up.
“Not for shameful gain…”
In this season, it can be far too easy to worry about numbers and how people will perceive you or your ministry due to a lack thereof. It can be easy to fret about tithing being down or even whether or not you will have a job next month. I do not believe those things to be shameful gain, but it can be far too easy for them to steal the focus of your ministry, causing anxiety and fear. Remember to trust the Lord for His provision and sovereignty over all events and circumstances.
“not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock…”
In times of uncertainty it is easy to let fear reign. That fear can transform itself into a controlling attitude—a panic response to things that seem to be spiraling out of hand. If you let fear affect the way you shepherd, you can become forceful or angry when people don’t listen. But Peter exhorts elders not to be domineering over the flock. Instead, pray for God to help you be an example of love, patience, gentleness, and humility.
“when the chief Shepherd appears…”
Remember that you are not ultimately in charge of this flock; you are an under-shepherd. Christ is the true Shepherd of his flock. This is a huge burden lifter. God has given you stewardship of this congregation and He wants you to lead it faithfully according to His Word. But the willingness of the sheep to follow is not up to you. You are responsible for that which God has entrusted you, but you ultimately cannot make or break a church. What an enormous relief this should be!
“The unfading crown of glory…”
For all your trials, you will be rewarded. Even if no one ever recognizes you here on this earth, your chief Shepherd sees all you do and all you patiently endure. If He is satisfied with your work, that is all that matters.
Be humble in all your dealings with the flock. No matter what kind of flack you take for the decisions you have to make, for stepping out to lead when it’s not popular, remember to always do so in humility. Look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. Outdo your flock in showing them honor, and consider them better than yourself. Be the first to admit where you were wrong, asking for forgiveness where needed, and lovingly extend that forgiveness to others, just as Christ forgave you.
When you submit yourself to God, He will lift you up at the right time. And again, this is not so you can be domineering. God will only exalt you when you are truly humble, because He knows that only then will you be able to trustworthily lead His flock.
“Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you…”
At a time of sky-rocketing anxiety, feeling isolated, and like no one understands what you are going through, remember that God cares for you. He is the God who sees you. Give Him your anxious thoughts, for He knows you, is with you, and loves you.
“Be sober minded; be watchful…firm in your faith…”
Remember to watch over yourself, dear pastor. It is imperative to be of sound and healthy mind during this time. Do this by staying in the Word and prayer. It is easy to become prey to the attacks of Satan when you are stressed out, overwhelmed, anxious, and physically isolated. Do not forsake the means of grace or spiritual disciplines with which God has blessed us. Remind yourself of God’s promises and cling to what is true.
“The same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world…”
Take heart and be of good courage, knowing that you are not the only one going through these difficult times. Faithful brothers all around the globe are dealing with the same kinds of hardships, or possibly worse. You are not alone. Reach out to one another and pray for each other.
“After you have suffered a little while…”
This is not going to last forever. The apostle Paul says our light and momentary afflictions are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory that is greater than anything we can imagine or compare them to. The things that you can see happening right now in front of you are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Fix your eyes on the eternal and on Christ. Although we can expect suffering, there is always the hope and promise that it will come to an end.
“God of all grace…”
Never forget that God has all the grace that you could ever need for any and every situation. Take immense consolation in that. Immense.
“Called you to His eternal glory in Christ…”
Remember, none of these difficulties changes your eternal standing before God—none of the criticism, the slander, the back-biting, the anger at unpopular decisions, the “success” or “failure” of your ministry—NONE of it can take away your eternal inheritance in Christ Jesus. Meditate on that incomparable truth and allow it to calm and comfort your soul.
“Will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you…”
After all of this suffering is over, God will restore you. No matter what storms you are facing right now, He will lead you beside still waters. He will confirm your calling. He will strengthen you for what lies ahead, even if it means making you lie down to rest and feed in green pastures. He will establish you in the work He has given you to do.
To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.