As a seminary professor in Australia, I have been involved in training hundreds of men and women for ministry over the last decade. A significant number of those who have completed training and are in ministry—whether as senior pastors, women’s workers, or assistants—are facing personal, psychological, or relational challenges. These difficulties are so intense that many are leaving their posts—some to parachurch ministries, some to secular jobs, and some— tragically—leaving the faith altogether.
Two friends immediately come to mind. One recently wrote to me, “I always thought energy and optimism were my secret power—the thing that kept me from burnout. But here I am, struggling to function and on four weeks of medical leave to recover from it all. I’m not fully aware of what caused it. I think just the collective toll of a thousand difficulties and disappointments.” Another pastor friend had to take medical leave because of some serious accusations made against him. He developed mouth ulcers, struggled to sleep, and was consumed with anxiety. After a year of intense stress, he was exonerated, but the effects remain with him and his family.
Of course, every Christian faces difficulty—Jesus called us to a life of carrying our crosses as we follow him. However, the challenges of those in pastoral ministry are often more acute. They have the same struggles as every Christian—following and living for Jesus in a world that hates him. However, they have the added role of leading other Christians who don’t always want to be led and proclaiming the gospel to a world that does not want to hear. Being in Christian leadership has always been challenging, but recently it seems that the pressures have multiplied.
Think of the difference between climate and weather. The “climate” for pastoral ministry is constant. The world, the flesh, and the devil are long-term climate factors that remain between Christ’s first and second coming. But it feels as if—in the West, at least—there’s been a change in the “weather.” There is now a general weather front of apostasy, secularism, unbelief, and so on that is making the life of a pastor—particularly a conservative, complementarian, and evangelical one—more difficult.1 Whether on matters of sexual ethics, gender, or the uniqueness of Christ, a faithful pastor who proclaims and stands for the word of God faces rising hostility from the world.
Pressure doesn’t come only from outside. High-profile scandals have rocked the evangelical world, and these have raised questions about pastoral “power.” Congregation members are wary—rightly so—of overbearing pastors. However, for every bullying or abusive pastor, there are many more who are seeking, however imperfectly, to faithfully lead our churches. But because of the failings of a few, even these godly men are now regarded with suspicion. It is hard to rebuke a congregation member (something Paul expects a pastor to do: Titus 2:15) when so many voices are proclaiming that pastors are drunk on power.
I am calling you to fight for your pastor.
The pressures caused by the recent pandemic further increased the pastor’s burden. Many had to pivot quickly to online ministries. They were hit with criticism for not closing down quickly enough or for not opening up soon enough— or, conversely, for closing down in the first place. They faced the discouragement of congregation members continuing to stay away from church “because of COVID”—while happily attending restaurants, sporting events, and so on. A pastor friend of mine was complimented for his online resources since they enabled a family to “do church” at a more convenient time. Even better—by playing the service at 1.5 speed, “church took less time” out of the family schedule. With compliments like that, who needs criticism!
The Christian life was never meant to be easy. We follow a crucified Savior. Christian ministers have no monopoly on suffering. But in my experience and based on what the Scriptures say, pastors are the group under the most pressure. As Paul notes, “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Pastors’ role in teaching the gospel and guarding congregations means they are under more extreme spiritual attack than the rest of us. Discouragement and opposition weigh heavily on them. Such spiritual opposition is part of the job, but it can be incredibly draining when it takes the form of unfair criticism or unrealistic expectation from believers.2
There is a crisis among pastors. As Christians, we can do little to change the prevailing “weather,” but we can support our pastors as they lead us through stormy times. This is written as a call to more actively love and support our pastors. If you are reading this, I am sure you love your pastor, but I want to nudge you to love him more intentionally. I invite you to pause and think about how you can support him more. In short, I am calling you to fight for your pastor.
- I am grateful to my friend Rory Shiner for this illustration.
- Portions of this paragraph and others throughout the book are adapted from my article “Fight for Your Pastor,” the Gospel Coalition, Australia edition, May 14, 2021, https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/. Used with permission.
This article is adapted from Fight for Your Pastor by Peter Orr.
We can, with true humility and firm confidence, call our people to repent when they are sinning, assure them of God’s care when they are hurting, promise them eternal riches when they are dying—all on the authority of God’s most precious word.
Pastor, you also must keep a close watch on yourself. Neglect your own soul, and your public teaching, however seemingly fruitful, is a ticking time bomb.
We challenge people to lead, we train and equip them to lead, and we celebrate and praise them for leading (or condemn them as the case may be). Followership, in contrast, is almost completely ignored.
Scripture offers wisdom for those leading churches in roles of pastoral ministry. Return to the words of God for guidance, hope, and encouragement about this important calling.