True Pastoral Pain

There are days where I’m not sure why I even bother being a pastor.

These days are not helped by pithy advice, happy thoughts, and “God is in control” statements.

There is a deep soul hurt. A pain that is so real, so vital; there’s no blood, no broken bones, no evidence of physical trauma. But on the inside I’m bleeding out.

It’s a hurt for people. It’s a hurt that wants to do so much more. A hurt that I have no idea what “so much more” means.

If I knew what to do for people; I’d do it. I just have no clue. I’ve tried everything I know. Been doing this long enough to have exhausted my ideas and resources. And yes, I know, “See, that’s your problem! It’s not about you and your ideas and resources. You gotta let go and let God.” I know. I tried that idea too.

I do what I think I can, what I think I am gifted to do. It’s not working. I feel helpless and yet I long so badly to help.

My personal life is fine. My marriage is good, my kids are turning out quite nicely, I’m doing ok financially. Spiritually I’m doing better than ever, making real strides against sin.

But as a pastor, nothing is working.

I know all the things people say at this point:

–you can’t do anything; only God can.
–preach the Word; they will come.
–stay faithful, you will reap if you faint not.
–God knows what you do and loves you.
–sounds like God has you right where He wants you; maybe now He can work.

I know them all. Heard them all. None of them address the pain. I’ve communicated this pain to people in and out of my church. I just get lectured, which increases the awareness that yup, it’s me, it’s my fault.

I’ve even said this to the people I am most familiar with in my church. They feel bad for two weeks and then off they go again. Nothing changes. They’re busy.

There is an ache in my heart over people and over my apparent inability to do anything remotely helpful for any of them. Makes me wonder if I should be doing this job.

For years my mind has been split 50/50.

50% of me wants to sell all my stuff and just head out to who knows where with my wife. Maybe hit up airBNB’s for a year. Just leave it all and never set foot in a church in a leadership role again.

50% of me can’t see how I could go a week without preaching, praying, visiting, talking to, and doing whatever I could to help people.

I’m in a strait betwixt two. I have a desire to depart this job. Except I’m increasingly not seeing any reason to stay in it. I can’t help but take it all personally. I obviously have nothing helpful to offer. No one is listening, so why am I still talking to them?

I don’t know. Not sure how much longer I can do this.

18 thoughts on “True Pastoral Pain

  1. I am so very sorry for your pain. I have seen it before and and it was the two pastors who made the greatest differences in my life. They both ached over the people they labored over and always always always felt like failures. But they were exactly what a pastor should be and could not have done more. They both changed my life, challenged, encouraged, taught and loved me. I think you are a bit like them and I want you to know you are in great company. Your calling is not an easy one, in fact I can’t think of a tougher one.
    Thanks for your daily anecdotes!

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    1. I appreciate that. I hope it is true that I have helped. I probably have in a few cases. But the pain of watching so many lives disintegrate is tough to take after a while. The “successes” don’t carry the same weight as the multitude of disasters. But it’s par for the course, it’s what the job is. Let the pastors who helped you know how much they helped you, not just in words but by truly living a new life in Christ. There is no greater encouragement to a pastor.

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  2. I’m a high school teacher, (with 20+ years under my belt) and I reach the point you’re at every six months or so. I teach Religious Studies in a state school, but my country’s legislation allows ample opportunity for me to teach and defend the Gospel (though I don’t evangelise, I can witness in a way most cannot). I also have pastoral responsibility for a group of teens. I’ve a calling, I try to stay faithful to it, and God keeps me at it. The love of my pupils and my subject keeps me where I am.

    But love can beat the stuffing out of you mentally and physically,

    I suppose I’m not offering encouragement so much as telling you 1) It’s no different in the secular world (if you take your calling seriously) and 2) If God called you to a place, stay put.

    That said:

    1/ As grinding as guiding teenagers gets, adults are ten times as frustrating. And Christian adults are ten times worse than that. So I feel for you.

    2/ You sound like you need a rest more than anything else. I’ve been there too. If you are lacking energy or motivation you should pause and reflect on your health. If you are not enjoying simple pleasures as much normal, you need to pause. That’s a key warning sign I ignored, and ignoring it led to an extended period of illness. In my case, small things like my love of reading vanished,

    Dealing with exhaustion early can save a lot of misery later on.

    3/ Success and failure do not apply to any kind of pastoral or teaching work. Ever.
    Nothing “works”. Ever. There are no metrics anyone can use to measure true progress.
    We’re not selling potato chips. We’re reaching out to hearts and minds. We can’t control those.
    And, for pities sakes, we don’t even know our own heart and our own mind. So how could you know what’s happening in someone else’s? We want to see lives changed permanently; but how can we see the future?
    How does anyone truly know what difference their words and actions have made – or will make in the future?

    In my experience, the only way you can find peace is to love your message and love those listening to it. (And love the one who sent us).

    If you try to assess how much you’re achieving, you’ll break yourself.

    Because the good you are achieving can’t be measured.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your words. There is some good advice in there. I know the grass isn’t any greener elsewhere. There is a certain load however that a pastor carries that I can’t imagine another job matching. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve had other jobs before being a pastor. None of them were this painful.

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      1. Not feeling up to the task is good. Keep that. I wish you could bottle it and pas it out to many pastors I know!

        But you seem to be describing deeper feelings of inadequacy, which get in the way of your calling. These wax and wane in my experience. Spiritual warfare is a possibility…you may be under attack for a specific reason. It’s possible…I’d pray about that if I were you,

        With that said…

        I view calls to ministry just like the call any other life. My guess…for what very, very little it is worth…my guess is you would have walked away long ago if your calling wasn’t real.

        I do think I recognise the feeling you’re describing (I may be reading my own life into yours, I know).
        And it does sound like you’re in urgent need of extended rest. So much so that I’d be worried for you.

        Our bodies can only take so much discouragement. Even Paul took time out to mend some tents.

        So, maybe a rest is a holiday or sabbatical is in order.
        Or maybe a rest is mending tents. Maybe for a few years…or more…and then God will put you back where you’re needed.

        And not every teaching elder needs to be a professional, full time teaching elder. Keep that in mind!
        You can serve as a pastor without being a full time, “professional” pastor.

        But consider resting…at least rule the option out.

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      2. Btw
        1/I had not read yakimabethels comments when I wrote that reply
        2/ I was raised Brethren (and I really miss it). I have prejudices about full time ministry, keep that in mind.

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  3. Oh ouch! I’m so sorry.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m “preaching” here, but when we are deeply wounded, bleeding out, and hurting for other people, we are walking in our Lord’s footsteps. That is a perfect reflection of Him. We are sacrificially loving others just as He first loved us. It can be excruciatingly painful watching those you would lay your life down for, reject your efforts at best, and at worst, destroy themselves. That’s what the Lord had been watching us do for eons, times thousands. It hurts.

    You said, “No one is listening, so why am I still talking to them?” I feel that way all the time. Not very many people listen to me, but I keep talking because when I wasn’t listening, God kept talking to me. My goal isn’t to make people listen, my goal is to reflect Him better and better in my own being.

    The Western world probably doesn’t teach pastors that God is in the saint making business? Saints are generally bruised and crushed. To be successful by His standards means to have a genuine love for people, which means willing to be wounded, bleeding out, and hurting for them. That really is success in His eyes, although a bit of self preservation and self care is in order, too. We can’t love others if we don’t let Him love us first. A lot of people like me would rather serve others than let the Lord serve us, bind up our wounds, stop the bleeding.

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    1. I cannot argue with anything you say. Just wondering how much is me serving following the Lord’s example and how much of it is I shouldn’t be doing this job. That’s the kicker for me. Maybe I just shouldn’t be doing this, maybe that’s the point and I keep thinking, “Yeah but all God’s servants struggled.” I don’t know. That’s why I’m stuck not knowing what to do.

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      1. So the enemy always comes at me in two ways, “what are you doing to do about it” and “you’re stuck or trapped.” It’s the Lord who always reminds me it’s not entirely in my hands and He loves me whether I “do something” about it or not. I can’t make a wrong life decision like that. Barring mass murder or taking over a small country or something, it’s all good. God’s not going to be mad at me if I move or change jobs. He loves us! Also, He knows us intimately, so we cant let Him down or disappoint Him.

        As to feeling stuck or trapped, that’s usually the enemy tormenting us. Jesus came to set the captives free. In my life what makes me feel stuck is usually fear.

        Also, you should be really, really kind to yourself right now. Your job is really hard. We’re in the middle of an alleged pandemic. There are some major forces in the world coming against us right now that none of us can handle on our own.

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      2. This is not a feeling I have during an alleged pandemic, I’ve felt this way for years. The majority of my pastoral career. It just hurts. Always has. Always will. If I were only flesh, I would have left years ago.

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  4. I can totally relate to this post. Been a pastor for 20 years and I am done. Time and space during Covid has exposed and revealed to me that I need to be done. I’m not done with ministry but with the traditional pastorate. I have been a pastor for 20 years. I figure I have about 20-25 years left of full time ministry. I have decided I will resign in the next few weeks and I am going to take the next year to determine how I will spend the last 20-25 years.

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      1. Honestly, I think it was a series of things. Since the beginning of Covid I have had a lot more time to spend with Jesus listening and discerning. Along with that my wife and I have had a lot more time than usual just processing together. I think the big issue for me is that I am tired of running the church, being essentially a CEO. I am tired all that it takes to keep the mechanism spinning. I have been live streaming our Sunday service from my back yard sitting around a camp fire. Last Sunday as we were starting service and my wife and friend were leading worship I was extremely overcome by the simplicity of what we were doing and a longing desire to get back to that simplicity. During this covid season I have spent so much time with people and discipling. I realized that the complexity of running the church has got me away from that. We have sensed for sometime that we are done with traditional church ministry. Now to enter the waiting so God can reveal what is next.

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  5. This place you speak of is real. An attempt to encourage may sound like something you’ve determined you’ve heard before, so I’ll not express those things.
    I will pray for and with you. My peace and rest comes in Him delivering me from my own expectations of what a pastor is supposed to be. That is sometimes a daily journey for me. I can’t deny His word to me: “my yoke is easy, my burden is light, come to me, find rest for your souls.”
    My life was greatly impacted by a message by a man named J H Osborn entitled An Empty Horn. I’m sure it’s still on YouTube.
    Grace and peace to you in Jesus name.

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