Pastoral ministry isn’t hard physically. Many aspects are actually totally enjoyable. One of my favorite things in the world is developing sermons and preaching them. Visiting people has become a good source of entertainment and fellowship. Hospital visits are even becoming more, well “enjoyable” isn’t the right word, manageable?!
Pastoral ministry is hard in other ways. It takes an emotional toll after a while. There are many sad aspects of the job that suck the life and energy out of me. Here are the leading causes of pastoral sadness.
Bad things happen to a lot of people. Watching the elderly woman take care of her husband slipping away with Alzheimer’s. Watching people slowly succumb to cancer. Parents who give birth to kids with health issues. Suicide. Accidents and injuries. Man, it’s tough walking with people through these things. It also seems like these things come in bunches. There have been times where these things just compound and I wonder where the energy comes from to deal with another one. I have learned to not take seasons free of these things for granted.
Many bad things happen to people because they sin. Watching people slip off into their sin is extremely depressing. You can see it coming. You can see the battle. You can see them give up and go for it. Then, after a season where it seems like they are getting away with it, the consequences come home. Sin really does a number on people. So sad to watch it eat families alive, destroy marriages, and consume lives. I offer help and throw in words of concern only to be rejected. Nothing to do but watch the slide continue and hope they’ll come around before it’s too late. I never give up hope, but rarely does that hope ever get realized.
Preaching the Word, doing my best to proclaim the truth, rarely goes over well. I’m so tired of arguing about Calvinism, baptism, easy-believism, speaking in tongues, faith and works, and all the rest. So tired. It’s sad to see people just sit in those issues and make no progress. They aren’t asking questions to get answers and grow; they are merely testing and trying to stir up dissension. Throw politics in there and oh man. Come on, people! Eternity is large. Spend more time talking about Jesus than your favorite political candidate. By this time you ought to be teachers, instead we’re arguing about whether or not James and Paul are both inspired. Good Lord, come on already. Move on to perfection, leave behind the foundational matters: grow!
4. Skipping Church
This isn’t some “oh poor pastor, all ignored in the corner” thing either. When people start skipping church regularly, I know bad things are going on. Church attendance is a symptom; it’s not the root problem. Even occasional skipping, and I don’t mean for illness or commitments that interfere with normal routine, I mean too tired, or the weather wasn’t just right enough. Such sloppy excuses, such laziness, such apathy just wears away at me. Especially since I know the skippers of church today will be the ones with the broken marriages and troubled teens in a couple years. Not that everyone who is at church has a perfect life, not saying that, but I do know skipping church means bigger issues. How many times do I have a sermon ready that addresses an issue a certain person has questions about, and inevitably they will be gone that day? Happens all the time.
5. Spiritual Warfare
There are other things going on. This is one thing I’ve noticed in my time as a pastor. The timing of events, the way people who leave in a huff all do it the same way, the eerie similarity in so much of how people go down the wrong path. Yet the church spends more time arguing with each other, fighting with some supposed enemy, all while skipping prayer and little to no awareness that other unseen things are going on. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, yet that’s pretty much all that church does these days. Our church, our doctrinal camp, our denomination, our political affiliation is the only right one. Everyone else must be beat into oblivion. There’s a larger enemy. We’re not ignorant of his devices. Sin is lying at the door. We keep opening the door and stepping in it.
I can’t help it. These things make me very sad. Throughout all these things I offer help and do my best to uphold the Word of God. Being ignored, being shoved into the corner, over and over again while these things continue to go on weighs at my very soul. I often wonder why I even bother. The sadness has taken root in me,
My hope is in Christ. I have joy that my name is written in heaven. But I can’t help but feel pain and sadness for the ruined lives scattered around. Jesus Christ was a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. I can’t see how it would be otherwise. I can’t see how having the mind of Christ would lead anywhere else.
Our hope is in heaven, my reward is in heaven. I’m cool with that. I just wish there were a few more glimpses of it down here.