The pastor is unique in the life of a church. He is the undershepherd who carries the burden of leadership. Some pastors will feel compelled to please people, but the sincere pastor is always trying to please the Lord.
Few church members understand their pastor’s intense desire to please God. What burdens weigh on a godly pastor? What responsibilities does the average pastor shoulder?
The pastor carries the responsibility to take care of himself, his family, and his church. Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a Scottish pastor and preacher in the early nineteenth century. He gave his life to serving Christ, but at the age of twenty-nine he passed away in a typhus epidemic. On his deathbed, he said, “God gave me a horse and a message. I have killed the horse and I can no longer deliver the message.”
M’Cheyne felt a sadness, not for the loss of his own life, but for the loss of opportunity to preach the Gospel. He bore a heart of service and deep desire to teach the Word of God to others. This is the heart of a pastor.
Today the risks involved with the calling of the pastor are increasing. Studies have shown that most pastors face high levels of stress, work over sixty hours a week, and have struggled with depression or burn out; but there have always been risks tied with preaching—study the life of the Apostle Paul.
While we may not face religious persecution today in America, that could change. But every sincere pastor would be willing to give his life if it meant fulfilling his calling from God. Despite the risks, the statistics, and the expectations, pastors desire to please God.
What are some of the burdens a pastor faces? What goes through the heart and mind of a pastor?
A Deep Love for the Word Of God
A pastor thinks differently when he reads his Bible. The average church member will read the Bible devotionally. Some will deepen their reading with intense study, but the pastor surrounds his life around the ministry of the Word. If a pastor doesn’t love to plunge into the Scriptures, he needs to have his heart checked. His primary job is preaching the Word of God and preparing himself for those sermons.
This is why the first deacons were called in Acts 6. The Apostles saw the needs of the widows, but they knew it was not proper to walk away from the ministry of prayer and the Word to meet those needs themselves. They found deacons—godly servants—who could meet some important needs while the the Apostles continued their study.
A pastor studies the Bible like a website. On each webpage are links to other related webpages. Natural curiosity leads the reader to a network of information on any topic of choice. A pastor will look at Scripture in the same way. Verses are linked together with other verses. With a passion to mine truth out of Scripture, a pastor will follow a chain of references to understand the “full counsel of God.”
Preaching is communication, and the Word of God is the main message. The average Christian does not fully understand it, but the pastor’s job is to explain it.
Prayer for Power
A pastor prepares his sermons through intense study, but he knows that power in the presentation comes from the Holy Spirit. If a pastor fails to pray fervently, he does not walk away from his greatest source for power in ministry–he walks away from his only source for power.
God gives His vision for the church to the pastor through time in prayer. The pastor can’t delegate this crucial meeting with God to anyone else, because God only gives this vision to His undershepherd. It is paramount that a pastor has time for extended, fervent prayer.
Along with continual prayer and Bible study, a pastor is always looking for life examples of Bible principles. He can find a seed thought in almost anything. Even when meeting a stranger on an airplane, a spark of truth may spring from that conversation. If the pastor is walking with God, the Holy Spirit will tell him, “Use this to teach the people about Me.”
Jesus was always using everyday circumstances to teach truth. One day Jesus set a little child on his lap; He was greeting the children as someone who loves kids. The disciples tried to shoo the children away, they saw the children as an annoyance. Jesus used this opportunity to teach the disciples about the faith of a child.
The pastor looks for truth in small events. Everything is an illustration of the Word of God. He never knows when a new sermon may come along.
The constant preparation for preaching is—at its core—part of the pastor’s burden to train others. He has a desire to transfer knowledge from the Word of God to the next generation. This is done on many levels. Some pastors train through the Sunday School. Some train their ministry’s leadership team. God allows some ministries to begin a Bible institute or even full-time Bible college.
The pastor is responsible for training others through his teaching and example. People learn as much from a model as they do a lesson. Great teaching churches carry a contagious fervency—something the student can carry into his life, his family, and his church.
Love for Family
No amount of training can replace the pastor’s relationship with his family. If the pastor loses his marriage or children, he has lost his ministry. The qualifications of a pastor are high—the husband of one wife (not divorced) and able to keep his children in order. But the pastor cannot demand that his marriage be good; he can’t force his children to live pleasing to the Lord. He has to have the influence of the Holy Spirit in his home.
The average pastor puts in over sixty hours a week—a big job. It takes effort to make time for the family. He must be able to recharge. One of the best things a church can do for their own spiritual health is allow the pastor the time to take care of his family. Jesus came aside for a while, and it's necessary for a pastor to do the same.
There was a generation in fundamentalism that could be best described as driven. Pastors were intensely focused on the work of God, but some pastor’s lost their marriages in the process. This is one of the greatest fears of a pastor. Our pastors had to step back to nurture their families as they served God.
The Burden of Finances
It’s important for the church to take care of their pastor and his family because the pastor carries the financial burden of the church. All eyes are on the pastor to lead financially. He knows that if the finances go bad, he will be the one who leaves. The church may hire accountants and business managers to track the finances, but no one feels the pressure like the pastor. The buck stops with him.
One of the best ways a church can help its pastor is by meeting his family’s needs. Some pastors struggle with their personal finances and may take advantage of the church’s generosity, but most are willing to give everything they have to the ministry—life and finances. In most independent Baptist churches, the pastor is one of the top givers. By dollar amount, there may be church members that give more, but proportionally, the pastor often sacrifices the most.
Keeping Yourself Right
A pastor wants to produce for the Lord as long as he can. He has the burden to stay sharp physically, mentally, and spiritually. There have been men who have preached with tremendous health problems, but a pastor must stay healthy for his family and church.
Time with God is vital for a pastor’s spiritual health. A pastor never wants to walk into a pulpit feeling like he is not right with the Lord. He may not have committed some wicked sin, but he doesn’t want anything between himself and God. The responsibility to preach is too great. When he steps into the pulpit, the people look at him and think, “Bring it to us. Pull the hot bread right out from the oven.”
Pastors are just people. As my dad said, “We all put our pants on one leg at a time.” They are all men of flesh, but they want so much to be filled with the power of God. Very few pastors feel they are up to the task, but they have a sincere desire to faithfully serve God. A pastor just wants to please God.