My heart is heavy this morning and I’m wondering if you can join me in praying about this issue in the coming week.
Over the weekend, I just heard of another brother in ministry taking time off to be on stress leave. This is one more in a line of ministers who have effectively said “this is too much for me”. It’s happening in our denomination (at uncomfortable rates). But it’s happening globally as well.
I’m sure we can agree that there are a whole host of reasons for why one would need this sort of leave. The needs and demands of spouse and family (this is amplified if you have children or other family members with unique needs), ministry pressure (eg: many in your congregation/s looking to you for care and leadership along with the regular rhythms of ministry), what one is going through personally (eg: a deep sense of inadequacy, imposter syndrome, fatigue, feelings of depression), and more recently, COVID, are examples of some of those challenges.
Therefore, it is too hard to say: “if only they did x or y, then this would have been fine”. Ministry supervision, taking more regular breaks, personal renewal retreats, drawing healthier boundaries, self-care, and all the rest of it obviously have their place. To be sure, some of them have questionable assumptions. And it is beyond the scope of this reflection to challenge them all. The point is, there are no silver bullets.
My reflection on this topic also stands within the context of my annual reading of Christian biographies. A few times a year, especially at the beginning of the year, I love picking up a few books on some ‘heroes of the faith’ in order to be inspired and encouraged by them. They are not infallible. But pastors with last names like Calvin and Chrysostom, Tong and Teng, along with Youssef and Yi who are known for their boldness, faithfulness, grit, and tenacity stand in such sharp contrast to much of what we’re seeing today (with obvious exceptions).
How can this discrepancy be explained? Some will say that it is partly because we have lost a sense of calling to the ministry, that we need to rediscover the reality of hard work and sacrifice in the work of ministry, and that we have perhaps been encouraging the wrong sorts of people into ministry. Some will go as far as to say it’s because the concept of full time Gospel ministry is foreign to Scripture. I have my views as I’m sure you have yours. But the differences are striking, aren’t they?
So please join me in praying for 3 things.
1. Please pray for those on stress leave. I don’t know all the circumstances leading up to them needing these breaks. But please pray that these leaders will spend some time recovering, reconnecting with the Lord, and deepening in their sense of calling.
2. Please pray for those who are still in the trenches. I would say that our church GracePoint is decently positioned. We have 5 English congregations, all operating on approximately 50% attendance with the remainder still online, 2 full time pastors, a small handful of part time staff operating at varied capacities, and an amazing network of lay leaders who make so many ministries of care possible. Yet, I’d say that we’re still not doing super well. We’re not struggling – I don’t want to overstate it. But we’re not thriving. It is a struggle to reconnect with people whom we have lost some contact with, it is hard to minister to every single person, the experience of our gathered worship is slowly recovering to its state before lockdown, and many ministries are still in limbo. And yet, I’d say we’re doing decently okay. I think of many other churches like my dad’s which are far less resourced. He leads, preaches, pastors, teaches, edits videos, prints bulletins, and all the rest of it mostly by himself but also alongside a small handful of faithful volunteers. Most pastors are in his position. And they’re just praying that the Lord will sustain them every single day. So pray for all of us that God will refresh, encourage, and renew our sense of hope and vitality.
3. Please pray for emerging pastors and leaders. I’m taking 3 of our apprentices and 2 of our theological students on a retreat this week. And the idea is to prepare them for a year and a lifetime of ministry. Perhaps my heart is heavy because I look at these young leaders and I want to see them finish well. I wish the same for myself. Please pray that they will be formed well, that their foundations will be strong and their roots be deep, and that they will run in a hard and healthy way to the glory of God.