BY BENJAMIN R. LEE, Assistant Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church
It’s been a tough go for pastors of late. What with navigating the pandemic, shepherding through seemingly never-ending political turmoil, and deciphering culture chaos, all while trying to keep the church united around Christ, it’s no wonder Barna reports that 68% of pastors “have felt overwhelmed regularly in the last four weeks.”[i] And that survey is from May 2020! I doubt the numbers have improved since then. Ministering to people is always an incredible challenge, but the intensity has certainly been ratcheted up to another level these last few years.
Statistics like Barna’s, rightly, sadden us, it’s true. How can the thought of our beloved ministers being overwhelmed by all of this not draw out our hearts? But as saddened as we are, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Surprise, however, is what seems to me to be the primary reaction to the struggles of our pastors. We don’t seem to have categories for weak pastors.
I think I know why that is. I don’t have any Barna statistics to back it up. It’s just an observation from my own years of pastoral ministry, and from my experience prior to being in ministry. We don’t have categories for overwhelmed pastors because we tend to think pastors are supposed to be indestructible super-spiritual giants. If you’re anything like me you’ve looked at a pastor standing in the pulpit boldly preaching the word and thought, “Man, he’s got it together.” We often attribute a Yoda-like quality to our ministers. We see them as men who’ve advanced much farther than us in their spiritual lives, who are no longer troubled by the same trials we are troubled by.
And, speaking as a minister, I admit that “indestructible” is often what pastors think they’re supposed to be. As a result, it’s pretty easy for us to project that Yoda-like quality as if we’re more advanced than we really are.
But the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ministers aren’t so much Master Yoda as they are Baby Yoda. Yes, there are moments of ministerial boldness, but for the most part, we are weak and need the support and prayers of the saints in order to persevere in our callings.
When it comes down to it, weakness is what God wants in his ministers. It’s not the indestructible pot, but the beaten and cracked clay pot that God uses to reveal his surpassing power (2 Cor 4:7). While the world might consider weakness a detriment to effective leadership, it’s not so in the New Testament. As the title of J.I. Packer’s book suggests, in the New Testament, “Weakness is the Way.” The Apostle Paul certainly didn’t project any false indestructibility. On the contrary, he came even to boast in his weaknesses, because through his weakness God’s power was made perfect (2 Cor 12:8-9). Despite how we, ministers, often view our weaknesses (as detriments), Paul saw his weaknesses as the very things God used to minister. God has no time for self-confident, “indestructible” ministers. In other words, if your pastor is weak, he’s in good company. A weak pastor is precisely the kind of man you want to fill your pulpit.
For myself and other ministers, this means we don’t need to put on a face. We shouldn’t pretend to be stronger than we are. We ought to embrace and even boast in our weaknesses (and we each have many) so that Christ’s power might be revealed through us. What a terrible waste it would be if we pretend to be more than we are.
But for you, my beloved brothers and sisters, that God uses only weak ministers to build His church means you must have mercy on your ministers. How do you view our Pastors and Elders? Do they seem to you like indestructible spiritual giants who’ve already arrived? Or do you see them as your fellow sojourners on the journey to the Celestial City? Do you allow space for your ministers to be weak? To struggle? To weep? To fear? To not have the answer? When you disagree with your minister do you consider his weakness before you send that email critique? Are you willing to stand with the Session when they make decisions differently than you would have? Do you consider how God wants to use you to help your broken-clay-pot of a minister persevere in his call?
By God’s grace COVID seems to be nearing its end. But the challenge of ministry will always remain. Have mercy on your ministers. Delete the email. Send a letter of appreciation instead. And pray for them. Love them, serve them, trust them, follow them and perhaps we will see more of God’s power at Oakwood.