Over the past few years we have seen a number of pastors either fall into sin or burnout and then decide to call it quits. Now this isn’t new or even unique to the past few years, but perhaps because of social media and the internet in general we are more aware today of what’s going on in the church around our country and the world. And so with more news of pastors stepping away, it led me to really begin thinking about my own pastor and how I can care for him.
But what we have also seen are tragic stories of depression, suicide, and pressures that many of us frankly may never have to deal with. Despondency is common among many but the pressure to walk out ones faith before the eyes of others isn’t. There can be a pressure on pastors to be the best friend, the always wise, the theological astute, and also down-to-earth leader of a congregation of sometimes opinionated, often needy people. I confess that I have been both opinionated and needy so perhaps I can only speak for myself. Regardless, your pastor is a person too.
Our pastors need us and I often wonder if they are given the freedom to struggle and be weak. I wonder if we unknowingly demand perfection out of them that is simply unattainable. We look at those scriptures about having pastors with high moral character and I think we forget that they are also sinful humans. Our pastors are a part of this world and, therefore, need the same grace that we need. This need and acknowledgment doesn’t excuse pride, it doesn’t excuse unapproachability, and it doesn’t excuse sexual immorality, but it does beg the question: Too often, do we assume that they have it all together? When we fail to acknowledge and recognize weaknesses, do we actually leave them more vulnerable to temptations? Of course, I also wonder if part of the trouble is that sometimes pastors assume they can handle it all and don’t fully recognize their own weaknesses.
We’ve seen these lists of how to pray for your pastor before—for protection, humility, grace, etc. But I wonder, in light of the unique struggles pastors seem to endure and the consistent headlines of pastors leaving the ministry, if there are additional prayers we might add. These are the five prayers I will begin praying for my pastor and pastors everywhere:
1. Pray for Weakness.
Humility is one of those words that is difficult to describe. We can often project what actions we believe equate to humility, but that aren’t necessarily what God thinks. So, I would like to pray for a weak pastor in addition to a humble one–a pastor who knows he is not God and who knows his limitations, and knows of his need for others. I pray that my pastor knows he is weak and that his weakness is good. May our pastors’ boast be in the Lord as they understand their weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). And in their weakness let’s pray that when they need help they will ask for it.
2. Pray for good and true friends.
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard sermons preached about the importance of the local church and yet so many pastors seem to feel isolated and lonely. My prayer is that our pastors would be able to find the sweetness of dear friendships. And that the dear and true friend would be able to speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard. I pray this friend wouldn’t abandon the pastor in fear when the pastor’s pride swells up (Prov. 17:17; Prov. 18:24). I pray this friend is a good listener and knows when to be silent. And I pray this friend isn’t a gossiper.
3. Pray they would know the Jesus they speak of.
Have you heard the term “preach the gospel to yourself?” It’s something I pray my pastor and all pastors would do every day. Not just that they would study God’s word (though I certainly do pray for that), but that they’d rest in Jesus. I pray that they would know that the Jesus they speak of from the pulpit is the same Jesus that died for them and was raised and is now interceding for them. I pray that they would know that they do not have to have it all together and that the sin struggle they study and share with us about is the same sin struggle they too wrestle with. I pray they would know that Jesus sympathizes with their weaknesses and invites them, too, to His throne of grace (Heb. 4: 15). Run, pastors, to that throne of grace and receive mercy and help in your time of need—you will receive grace upon grace.
4. Pray for character but also an embrace of their humanity.
I’d venture to say pray less for your pastors’ moral character and more for an awareness of their humanity. Here’s why—I think we forget that although pastors are to be above reproach (1Tim. 3:2), I’ve never read in the Scriptures that a pastor is to replace Jesus. In other words, they are going to struggle. And, as I shared above, do we allow them to struggle? Do we expect perfect pastors or do we understand that moral character does not mean perfect character. Let’s pray that they are ever aware of their weakness, not so sin may increase and, therefore, grace increase all the more (Rom.6:1), but so that they are aware of their great need of a Savior every day and feel no need to pretend to have it all together. An acknowledgement of our sinfulness and the absolute dependence upon Jesus and His grace, I believe, equals freedom.
5. Pray for his wife and family.
I could, and perhaps I will one day, write an entire post of five ways we can pray for a pastor’s wife, but really many of the same struggles that pastors seem to have the wife has too. These women are carrying burdens, even if their husband is protecting them from the drama and various hard things, burdens are still present. My prayer for my pastor’s wife is that she too would embrace weakness, have deep friendships, know that the gospel applies to her, and have an awareness of her great need for grace. I also pray that she would be her husband’s best friend and vice versa. I pray that our pastors who are married would have strong and thriving marriages. And I pray that when they struggle, and they will, they’ll have someone to go to for counsel and encouragement.
Your pastor likely needs you more than you’ll ever know and more than he will ever say. Today, you and I can make a difference—we can pray. Let’s commit to spending time each week praying for our pastor. Let’s commit to pray for those who labor among us, to be strengthened by the Lord and encouraged in their faith.