challenges of ministry, john chester, Ministry, pastor struggles, Pastor's Wife, Pastor's Wives, pastoral challenges, pastoral ministry, Pastors, Pray for your pastor, Prayer, Preachers, temptations of ministry, things pastors struggle with
and let’s chat about it.
7 Ways You Might Not Know
You Need to Pray for Your Pastor
by Pastor John Chester
Being a pastor is odd. There is no other way to put it. It is entirely unique. No other profession or vocation or calling is like pastoral ministry. That is not to say it is better or more noble. It isn’t, it’s just different. Really different. (And it is certainly not to say that I am somehow superior, better, more valuable to the Kingdom, or holier. As one of my favorite seminary professors said to a class of future pastors, “You know why God calls men like you to pastoral ministry? Because you were the worst available.”)
But pastoral ministry is unique, it is a unique job, it is a unique calling, and it is a unique lifestyle. And every pastor needs prayer, desperately. Most believers pray for their pastors (Thank you!). One of the questions I am often asked is, “How can I pray for you?” I am always happy to answer, but frankly I don’t think I have ever thought to ask for prayer related to the uniqueness of pastoral ministry. I know that you want to pray effectively and specifically for your pastor, so I am going to let you in on some inside baseball. Here are seven things you may not know about pastoral ministry and your pastor.
He is often under deep conviction
You know that sermon on that hard text that had you squirming in your seat about eight minutes in because the Word of God was so clear and strong in saying that you are in sin? Well your pastor has lived in that passage all week and has probably been thinking about it for weeks or even months. I remember after I had preached James 3:1-12 a dear saint coming up to me after the worship service and saying how hard it was to sit through that message because of how convicting it, and that text was. I said something along the lines of, “I know, we all fail to control our tongue as we should,” but what I was thinking was, “I know and if you think it was hard to listen to for 45 minutes, imagine studying for 45 hours for those 45 minutes.”
Don’t get me wrong, it is a great blessing to spend so much time and to be able to spend so much time studying God’s Word, even and especially the deeply convicting passage. Full stop. Yet is also true that it is emotionally draining to spend so much time in those passages. A few years ago I received an angry email from a visitor to the church (the time stamp on the email indicated that he must have written it on his phone in the parking lot), and his complaint was he didn’t feel uplifted by the sermon. Of course he didn’t feel uplifted by the sermon, no one did. Like everyone else, he was deeply convicted by it, the text was Mark 9:42-50, where Jesus says if your hand causes you to sin cut it off. I was preaching that sermon to myself when I was walking the dog on Thursday morning. Of the many things that I didn’t expect in pastoral ministry this is probably the most significant one.
How to pray for your pastor: Pray that when he is under powerful conviction of his own sinfulness the Lord would use it to conform him to the image of Christ, that he would feel the power and weight of forgiveness in Christ and that the Lord would bring passages like Colossians 2:13-15 and Psalm 103:10-13 to his mind.
He works a lot
I’ll not beat around the bush, I don’t know a single pastor that works less than 55 hours a week. Most of them work 60+ hours a week. Most church member know their pastor works a lot, but here is what you might not realize – the smaller the church, as a rule, the more hours the pastor works. It is very easy to think (or not to think about it at all) that your pastor doesn’t have the workload and responsibility of that famous pastor with a huge church, but he does, and probably much more to boot. It goes without saying that small church pastors spend as much time laboring in prayer and study as pastors with big churches (at least they should).
But small church pastors do something (often everything) else too; they are often the chief maintenance man, the church secretary, the webmaster, the youth pastor, the counseling pastor, the director of Christian education, etc., as well as the preaching pastor. Maybe you think, “Sure, but our church has three staff pastors and a secretary.”. To put that into perspective, the large church associated with my seminary has 14 staff pastors, staff elders who oversee non-pastoral areas of responsibility, and a veritable army of support staff and compensated interns. And that is in no way a criticism of that church. I rejoice that there are so many hands to make the work lighter, but the thing is that huge church has no more kinds of ministry going on that your small church. Your church probably doesn’t have a thousand kids in Sunday School, but it has Sunday School. Your church may not have hundreds of people in counseling at a time, but your pastors counsel people. You get the idea.
How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would find refreshment in his work, that the Lord would move in the hearts of the saints to motivate them to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), that the Lord would provide him with the rest and respite he needs (remember everyone is different), and the Lord would protect him from the deleterious health effects of overwork.(Bonus tip: encourage him to take actual vacations and days off and respect them.)
He is a man apart
I don’t mean that pastors are somehow different or better than other Christians, what I mean is that other Christians as well as non-Christians act like it. One of the strangest things to me when I moved from seminary to ministry – a move that entailed a cross country move to a place where no one knew me – was that everyone acted as if my first name was “pastor.” And the first 7,367,489 times someone called me “pastor” in conversation, I said, “Call me John.” But as the years have gone by I’ve learned to stop saying that, not because I’ve come to think of my self as different, but because no one has listened. And I get it. I never thought of my pastor, especially before I went to seminary, as just “Ron,” and, truth be told, I still think of him more as “Pastor Ron” than “Ron.” I think it is good for people to love and esteem their pastor – after all they are worthy of double honor (1 Tim 5:17) – but it is strange to be that person.
And if it’s odd being treated that way in the church it is even stranger being treated as a man apart outside of the church. I’ve had a handyman (who I learned was Hindu) sent by my landlord to paint an outside railing tell me he was going to do an extra good job because I was a holy man. My neighbors all are very stiff and formal with me. When I went to a gym in the smaller town I drove through on the way to the church, a hush would fall over the locker-room whenever I walked in because word had gotten around the gym that I was a pastor. The pharmacy tech at the drug store (who is also Hindu) asks me for marital advice, and I could go on.
Putting it all together it adds up to, functionally, a man apart, and that can be tough. (And this applies to your pastor’s wife too. A dear saint in the church one introduced my wife to one of her friends as “the First Lady of the church.” Often pastor’s wives experience profound loneliness. Don’t forget to pray for them too.)
How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would be satisfied in the Lord, that his marriage would be a sweet friendship (Proverbs 5:18), that the Lord would bless him with friendships with local likeminded pastors, and that he would maintain the friendships he forged before pastoral ministry.
He is not always hungry
This one may seem trivial, but trust me it is important, especially if you love your pastor. Ask yourself this, when was the last time your pastor visited that you didn’t offer him something (probably a baked good) to eat. I can count on one finger the times I’ve been in someone’s house when someone hasn’t offered me something to eat. And every time it is offered I accept, because I know it has been prepared with love and the last thing I would want to do is make someone feel unloved or rejected because I refused what they had prepared for me. Yet, often, I eat it knowing I shouldn’t. I love desert – one look at me would confirm it – but I really don’t need it on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. It can really be an act of love not to offer it.
A few weeks ago was the one time I was in someone’s home where they didn’t offer me something to eat. This family was relatively new to the church and wanted to talk about how they could serve, so we set a time for me to come over. And make no mistake, this is the kind of home visit every pastor loves and looks forward to. But I try to eat clean, and I was dreading the pastry I was sure was going to be offered. When I came over and it was suggested that we sit at the dining room table, I was sure that there was going to be a coffee cake on it, but there wasn’t. I was grateful and greatly blessed when I was simply offered something to drink. I don’t think it is a coincidence that both the husband and wife had long personal histories of formal ministry in local churches.
And as a corollary let me say this (and I realize I am about to step on some toes), your pastor may not like Chik-Fil-A. I would estimate that at least 75% of the time someone asks me to meet them for lunch they suggest CFA. I know that it is approaching heresy to say it, but CFA is just fast food, it is not an especially spiritual place to eat. If your pastor is not someone who eats at Taco Bell or Wendy’s regularly, he probably is not someone who wants to eat at CFA all the time.
How to pray for your pastor: Pray that he would eat a healthy diet and get adequate exercise.
John Chester is the pastor of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket, Virginia. Prior to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. He hails from The City of Champions: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra. Read John’s blog articles at ParkingSpace23, and read more of John’s excellent posts for Michelle Lesley here.
This concludes part 1 of John’s article.
Be sure to come back next Tuesday for Part 2.
Pastors and pastor’s wives-
What would you add to this list of things that church members
may not know to pray for their pastors about?