If you are a pastor, or a human being for that matter, hurting is not optional; it’s only a matter of time. Life is painful. However, pain takes on a new dynamic when the one who is hurting is supposed to bring comfort and healing to others.
Interesting things can happen when you are the pastor and you’re hurting.
While they sympathize with your pain, those you lead can feel vulnerable and unprotected because their leader is hurting. You can experience feelings of guilt and frustration because your pain is demanding your attention. And, shockingly, opponents can utilize your pain as an opportunity to move in for the kill. Although they are few, there are those who will kick you when you are down.
Because of these considerations and because you are a responsible leader, you may be tempted to ignore your pain so that you can keep ministering to others. Of course, there are times when this is necessary, because if we wait until we are completely healthy before we help others, they will be waiting a long time! But it is a mistake to ignore your pain.
Regardless of the source of your pain–illness, relationships, stress, trauma, occupational hazards–you should take the steps necessary in order to address it. Here is why: there is a spiritual principle at work when the pastor is hurting. It is found in Zechariah 13:7, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.“ The idea is that when the leader goes down, the followers are an easy mark. When a pastor is in pain, the entire church feels the repercussions. This explains why we must protect ourselves from the attacks of the enemy; in doing so, we are protecting the flock.
So how do we handle the pain that we all will inevitably experience? Here are some quick observations that may apply:
- Acknowledge that you are not impervious to pain. When necessary, take time to hurt. It may seem counterintuitive for a pastor to help himself first. But there is a reason that the FAA tells us to, in the case of the decompression of the cabin air pressure, first secure our own oxygen mask before helping others. If you care for yourself, you will then be able to care for others.
- Be transparent about your pain. It is vital, however, that you know how much to share, with whom, and when. If we are perceived as perpetually needy, people will lose their confidence in us. If we appear superhuman, people will not be able to identify with us. Balance of transparency is the key.
- Be an example through your pain. People will learn from you how to survive difficult times. If you maintain your spiritual equilibrium in tough times, they will be inspired to do the same. They should be able to follow you as you follow Christ–especially through painful times.
- Accept that pain is part of leading. Paul discussed his scars–the leadership stripes that he had earned–in Galatians 6:17. Among a million other things, we learn compassion from suffering. Surviving your pain and getting healed can make you a more effective pastor because you know what it means to hurt.
- One of the most important things to remember when you are hurting is to get help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Don’t worry about looking weak. There are people who care deeply for you. Everybody needs support and encouragement. Colleagues and family and friends are there for you. Don’t allow pride or busyness or fear to keep you from getting the help you need.
Most of all, know that Jesus cares and He understands. Take that verse that you have preached so many times (1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all of your burdens on Him because He cares from you!”) and apply it to yourself! The healing will begin, and the care that you receive from Jesus will be passed on to those you lead.