by Rick Grover
Recently I had a conversation with a minister from a Christian Church in Texas who said, “It appears that many ministers struggle with the challenges of ministry, and they don’t know where to turn.” I think he’s right.
We spoke on the phone about how many ministers are drying up spiritually, burning out emotionally, and giving up professionally. And they’re not sure if their elders are even aware. LifeWay Research recently conducted a survey of 1,500 ministers, and here’s what they found:
- 84% say they’re on call 24 hours a day.
- 80% expect conflict in their church.
- 54% find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming.
- 53% are often concerned about their family’s financial security.
- 48% often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.
As someone who has served in full-time pulpit ministry and church planting for over 25 years, I can relate. A few years ago, I went through a season of great difficulty, and one of the marvelous gifts God used to see me through was our eldership. I turned to our elders for help, and rather than scolding, shaming or rejecting me, they chose to help me.
During this trying time, one of our elders asked, “Rick, we want you to be with us for the next 20 years, so how can we help you not only survive but thrive?” Over the next six months, they worked on a plan to “shepherd a fellow shepherd,” and their plan nourished my soul and may have even saved my ministry. There is no perfect plan for pastoral care for pastors, but here’s what our elders did to shepherd me.
First, they listened. Inside and outside of elder meetings, they asked me questions about my physical and emotional health, marriage and parenting. They listened as I poured out my heart, and they withheld judgment and offered grace.
Second, they responded. They invited my mentor, Alan Ahlgrim, to meet with them, and when they found out about a new ministry he established for “pastors covenant groups,” they not only blessed the idea for my participation, they funded it. That’s right. They, along with former elders, put their money where their mouths were, and they personally invested in my “soul care.”
Third, they challenged me. They asked tough questions, and they held me accountable. I had a heart attack during that difficult season, and afterwards they encouraged me to eat right and exercise. They inspired me to keep my weekly Sabbath and monthly Sabbath retreat. With firm but loving counsel, our elders have spoken into my life and ministry.
Fourth, they modeled health. Our elders saw what can happen to a church through inattention and lack of spiritual and emotional guidance. So, they stepped up to the plate in returning to their first love as a model to our entire congregation, and it significantly helped me stay the course in turbulent times.
Fifth, they prayed. Our elders’ meetings turned into prayer meetings. If we met for two hours, at least thirty minutes of that time was spent in the most important work of all – prayer. When I would see them in the church hallways on Sundays or at times during the week, they would tell me tell me of their constancy in prayer for me and for our flock.
Elders are to shepherd the flock, but remember that your minister is part of your flock. He is not just a “church employee;” he is a servant of our Lord Jesus Christ who needs others to come alongside him in prayer and in the ministry of the Word. A healthy eldership who shepherds its ministers and staff well will develop a healthy church for the glory of God and the furthering of His Kingdom.
What is your shepherding plan for your ministers?