As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings… labors, sleepless nights, hunger…with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through…dishonor, through slander… We are treated as impostors…as unknown…as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful…as poor…as having nothing. (Selections from 2 Corinthians 6: 4-10)
The Apostle Paul understood what it meant to fill up the sufferings of Christ. As a servant or minister of the gospel, Paul carried the sufferings of the people of God and described them in terms such as hardship and sorrow.
All ministers of the gospel know something of this suffering. I will be the first to confess that I have had a very joyful and fruitful ministry, harvesting that which others before me planted and watered. Even in the midst of great joy and happiness, however, there is a burden I carry for the church of God that came with my ordination. I carry on my heart and mind the sufferings and trials and hardships and disappointments of the men and women to whom I minister. No amount of seminary preparation could adequately prepare a man for bearing the weight of a congregation. But for the grace of God, it is a burden too heavy.
In the midst of the weight-bearing, very few, if any take time to stop and ask us, “Pastor, are you okay?” This has stood out to me in several ways over the last couple of months. Not all pastors are okay, and even those of us who are okay—now—still need to be encouraged and challenged toward the vulnerability it takes to answer the question, “Pastor, are you okay?” What are some ways that the Lord has brought this necessity to mind? I will share three ways the Lord has pressed this concern upon me.
Elder visitation is an important component of pastoral care in a presbyterian church. Visitation is a means by which the elders share in the suffering of Christ's little ones.
Through the year, names get checked off as families and individuals are visited in homes and cafes. Burdens and cares are shared; plans are made for private reformation and encouragement. Without scientific specificity, I have come to the conclusion that most congregations are like my own. The closer you get to the end of the year, elder visits increase. If there is time, ruling elders’ families will be visited before the end of the year, or at least before the congregational meeting. And if one is lucky—pardon the expression—the pastor and his family will be visited last. Yet often the new year comes; the list of visitations is reset; and often, elders go unvisited and the pastor and his family are left without this important component of spiritual care.
And for another year, this question goes unasked… “Pastor, are you okay?”
Recently I was asked by a spiritually mature young woman, “What is the greatest thing you have suffered and how did you get through it?” I didn’t know what to say. I have not had much by way of personal suffering in my 8 plus years of pastoral ministry, but I have shared in the suffering of others.
How did I answer?
I couldn’t answer her.
Quite literally, tears filled my eyes as I considered the suffering that this young lady’s family had been through over the past few years. With tears and a broken voice, I answered, “Carrying others’ burdens… pastor’s carry great burdens.” That was my answer. It was all that I could say—and the burdens are great.
In the midst of these pastoral burdens, who is asking the question, “Pastor, are you okay?”
The global reformed community was left silently weeping. This month a beloved reformed minister went to be with the Lord as the suffering seemed to have been too much. Writing openly in his obituary, his friend and colleague wrote,
Yet, for all the consummate ease with which he presented himself in public, he was a very private man who seldom shared his feelings, and he exuded such an aura of calm competence that none of us thought to ask, ‘Are you OK?’ Now, too late, we know that he was in pain, and sometimes pain is more powerful than faith, and more powerful than reason, and altogether too much for the balance of our minds. Bereft of him, we are traumatized, our hearts bleeding, our minds stunned and our prayers turned into protests.
I find myself swirling in a vortex of questions, narratives, disinformation, regrets and fears. St. Paul assures me that ‘God works all things together for good,’ but never has my faith in that great promise been so severely tested. How He can turn this grievous loss into good, I see not. But grace shone brightly… such grace does not let go…
No one was there to say, “Pastor, are you okay?”
Friends, things need to change.
This is not okay.
Christians, pray for your pastors as they carry burdens on their hearts and minds that cannot be set aside; they cannot just cease from carrying them. Find ways to encourage your pastor as well as provide him with opportunities for respite. Show him the love of Christ.
Christian, ask the question, “Pastor, are you okay?”
Pastors, take care of your physical health through appropriate patterns of eating, sleeping, and exercising. Take care of your spiritual health, abide in the vine (John 15). Spiritual disciplines are to be exercised for the sake of your souls, not merely for the sake of your profession. Keep the Sabbath day.
Pastors, ask your friends in the ministry, “Pastor, are you okay?”
Elders, schedule family visits with your pastor. Love them. Shepherd them. Know them.
Ask them the question, “Pastor, are you okay?”