Do you have a Bible verse that jumps off the page at you every time you read it? No matter how many times you have come across it, you always stop to ponder it. This verse is a never-ending wonder to you. You might be encouraged by it, convicted by it, or perplexed by it, but you always stop when you see it.
2 Corinthians 11:28 is that verse for me. To understand what is so startling about it, you must read what has come before. To prove his apostleship, Paul boasted in his weaknesses and cataloged the trials he had faced. He received thirty-nine lashes five times endured three beatings with rods. A mob stoned him. He was shipwrecked three times, faced countless dangers, and spend nights in cold and hunger.
Then, as if these things were not enough, Paul said, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” That this line occurs in a litany of Paul’s difficulties and sufferings speaks volumes about the weight that pastors carry in caring for their churches.
In one sense, pastors have a difficult job just like everyone else in the world. We all work in a world marred by sin and know the experience of work being hard, uncomfortable, and unenjoyable. At the same time, because of the unique calling involved in leading a church, proclaiming God’s word, and caring for souls, the pastoral ministry carries a gravity that is difficult to explain.
Every serious pastor labors under a heavy weight. This is not belly-aching or an embellishment, but rather this is the reality of being a pastor. The work is serious and the work has eternal ramifications. We have the burden of walking with people through the most difficult times of their lives, the pain of sleepless nights because of anxiety over the church, the task of preaching God’s word on a weekly basis, and the joy of seeing God use it all for his glory.
In this post, I want to highlight six weights that pastors carry. I do this not to elicit sympathy, but to remind pastors of the appropriate sense of responsibility that we carry and the danger of carrying the weight on our own. If you are not a pastor, my aim is to help you understand how to pray for and encourage your pastor in the calling God has placed on him.
Pastors carry the weight of modeling godly living
Every Christian has the call to live a godly life that is worthy of the calling with which he has been called. The pastor sits in the unique position of this being his primary job requirement. Ungodly men may draw crowds or wow audiences. Only godly pastors fulfill their calling in a way that brings genuine honor and glory to God.
The roadblock for the pastor is looking at every setback in the church as a verdict on the deficiency of his own godliness. “If I walked with Jesus more faithfully… If I spent more time in prayer… If I were a better man…”
Pastor, this is difficult, but remember that you are a Christian before you are a pastor. Your identity is found in Jesus’ work for you on the cross and your union with him by faith. Uncouple your joy and how you think God looks at you from the apparent fruit or seeming lack thereof in your church. Enjoy being a Christian, read your Bible, spend time in prayer, put your sin to death, grow in godly virtue, work hard in your calling and trust your Father with the fruit.
Pastors carry the weight of leading their families
God calls pastors to be an example to their church in the way they lead their families. The pastor is to be a committed, loving husband and a man who faithfully teaches and trains his children. Again, every Christian man carries this responsibility, but it is in the pastor’s job description. He must be this to function as a pastor in the local church.
Carrying the weight of leading our families can be tricky. I have four children between the ages of thirteen and three. Some days, it feels as if every word that comes out of my mouth gets ignored. They argue, they disobey, and I wonder how I can lead anyone else when my own children won’t listen to me. Then, suddenly, something will happen that shows you that what you are teaching them is getting through and God is using it to bear fruit in their lives.
Pastor, faithfully lead your family but resist the temptation to take the spiritual temperature of your family every day. There will be days that no matter how faithfully you lead, your children will show ample evidence that they have a fallen nature within them. Other days, you will see obvious evidences of God’s grace in their lives. Look at the whole of how you are loving, teaching, disciplining, and spending time with your children and do not let one poor snapshot discourage you.
Pastors carry the weight of preaching God’s Word
The Scottish Reformer John Knox once said, “I have never feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.” The weight of taking God’s word, proclaiming its message to people, applying it to their lives, and calling them to trust in Christ should lie heavily upon us. It is no light thing to speak to people on God’s behalf.
The weekly grind of preaching can be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting if you are taking it seriously. Every week, we wrestle with a passage of Scripture, seeking to understand what it means and how it should change the lives of the people who hear it. We labor over the Bible, commentaries, word studies, and possible points of application. We plead with God to take what we will say and use it for his glory. Then we preach with all of our heart and get up on Monday morning to start preparing to do it again.
Pastor, view the work of preaching like a craftsman, who is constantly sharpening his tools so that he might be more effective at his work. Grow in your knowledge of Scripture, develop a deeper understanding of the lives of the people you preach to, think carefully about structuring your sermon so that people will want to listen, and work hard to state old truths in fresh and compelling ways. Here’s the hard part, though, not one word will be effective unless God’s Spirit is at work through your words. Pray for the Father to take your labors and use them for his glory.
Pastors carry the weight of shepherding the church
If you think about the ministry and picture standing on a stage talking to people, you are only visualizing two percent of a pastor’s week. The pastor studies and preaches, but he also stands under the divine mandate to care for the church.
We show pray with people in pain, walk with people facing difficulty, and counsel people dealing with difficult decisions. We answer knotty theological questions and explain truths we have explained time and time again. This is not glamorous work, but it is the simple means that God uses to show love to his people and build up his church.
Pastor, do not neglect your personal ministry. We serve in the ministry of the Chief Shepherd, who loves his people and purchased them with his own blood. (1 Peter 5:1-5) We cannot neglect to listen to them, pray with them, and walk alongside them. Jesus shows his love to his people through our ministry and uses our personal presence to care for his people’s souls.
Pastors carry the weight of reaching their communities
I pastor in the most unchurched county in Alabama. While many of you may think that places don’t exist in the Bible Belt, only 14% of the people in my culturally conservative town attend church on a typical Sunday. For the whole county, that number is 16%. When stretched out for an entire month, barely 30% of the over 215,000 people in our area are not connected to a local body of believers.
The numbers will be different for your community, but the point is clear. Our churches exist to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9) As pastors, God calls us as pastors to lead our churches in reaching their neighbors and to model it personally. In the qualifications for the pastor in 1 Timothy 3, Paul says he must be “hospitable.” That is, he must welcome outsiders in the name of Jesus.
Pastor, you cannot reach your city alone, but you can look for opportunities to speak about the grace of Jesus throughout your day. Get to know your neighbors, develop a routine where you are meeting new people, engage people in genuine conversations, and pray for opportunities to talk about Jesus. Then, teach the people in your church how to do the same. We want people in our communities to come to know Jesus, so we practice evangelism and pray for God’s blessing on our efforts.
Pastors carry the weight of carrying the weight
Confession: writing this post terrified me. Knowing all that God has called me to do overwhelms me. It should. The work of the ministry is too great for a man to bear in his own strength and it is too much for him to carry in his own power.
When we feel the weight of being a pastor, it should drive us to work hard for the glory of God, but it should not drive us to work alone, in our own strength, or by ignoring the command to rest one day out of seven. We work in the strength that God supplies. We serve alongside godly elders who carry the load with us and one day a week we shut down because God’s Spirit is completely capable of working even when we are not.
Pastor, if you try to carry the weight on your own, it will crush you, your family, and the people around you. Your joy will be sapped and your walk with Jesus will suffer. Trust me about this. I speak from experience. Work hard, but trust the Lord for the results. It is not your church; it is his. He bought it with his own blood. Give responsibilities to your other leaders. You do not have all the gifts. Jesus’ body does, though.
The weight of pastoring can be heavy, but it can also lead to joy. We serve under the Chief Shepherd. He will give us strength as we work. He will bring fruit from our labors. He will glorify himself through our efforts. You may not see it all now, but when the Chief Shepherd appears, we will see what he has done through us and then give him the glory because he did it all.
As followers of Christ, time is one of our most precious and often wasted resources. We must be diligent to guard and redeem our time, because there are always people and activities that desire to spend it. Oswald Sanders argues that we often have more time than we admit. He points out that if we allot ourselves a generous eight hours of sleep per day, ten hours for work and travel, and three hours for meals, that still leaves over twenty hours a week to fill. What happens to those hours? He argues, “A person’s entire contribution to the kingdom of God may turn on how those hours are used. Certainly those hours determine whether life is commonplace or extraordinary.”
Do you remember thinking someone was just old when he said something like, “The older you get, the faster time goes”? Either I am just old, or age does not really have much to do with it. I think, as we get older, we realize how precious time is, and we begin to understand its value. The Word of God shows the value and swiftness of time. Paul tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). James reminds us of the uncertainty of time when he exhorts his readers not to make plans without seeking the Lord, and that our lives are but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13–17). Job certainly recognized the swiftness and frailty of time (Job 9:25, 14:2).
A lot of people have more money and more talent than I do, but nobody has more time. Time is the great equalizer; we all have twenty-four hours a day, and seven days a week. Sanders maintains, “Our problem is not too little time but making better use of the time we have. Each of us has as much time as anyone else. The president of the United States has the same twenty-four hours as we. Others may surpass our abilities, influence, or money, but no one has more time.”
A big step in guarding our time, redeeming the time, and creating more efficiency with our time is recognizing what I call “time-stealers.”
Sleep. Of course, I am not saying you should not sleep. But how much sleep do you really need? Are you sleeping more than you should? Are you just lazy?
We have been told we need a solid eight hours of sleep a night, but many people can function just as well on six hours. Get the sleep you need, but get up and start the day. Proverbs speaks much about the dangers of too much sleep. We will spend close to a third of our lives sleeping, but let us not overdo it!
Television. A recent report showed that the average American watches somewhere between four and five hours of movies and TV shows per day! Think about this: the average American watches more than thirty hours of television per week, and more than 1,600 hours per year. Take that one step further over the course of a life-span of seventy years and the average American spends more than thirteen years of his life in front of a TV screen. Is this really “redeeming the time” or the best way to build the Kingdom? We have to avoid legalism, but we need to ask these questions.
Phones/Tablets. The same article shares that the average “screen” time for an American is more than ten hours per day. That means we spend nearly thirty years of our lives consuming media through screens. There is much content available that is edifying and redeeming, but we must guard against unredeemed time and pay attention to how our time is spent.
A few reminders:
- You do not have to respond every time your device makes a noise. Alerts can be muted or even turned off. The world will not end!
- Time spent endlessly scrolling through social media can most likely be used more effectively on some other activity.
- The makers of game apps are good at what they do and desire to get you “hooked” on their game.
- Always avoid unwholesome or questionable content; it can never be redeeming.
Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Overscheduling. One final time-stealer that I would like to point out is that many of us just try to do too much! Sanders writes, “Often the pressure a spiritual leader feels comes from assuming tasks that God has not assigned. For such tasks the leader cannot expect God to supply the extra strength required.”
Many men and women overschedule their lives at work, at church, and even in their hobbies. Many families even add stress to their lives by overscheduling their children’s extracurricular activities. There are many good and wholesome activities and even ministries, but God has not called us to participate in all of them. Busyness does not equal godliness; oftentimes it can be the exact opposite.
I submitted this article because I was re-thinking through many of these issues. Guard against these time-stealers; pay attention to where your time is going. We must seek to spend our time in the way that brings the greatest glory to our Father who is in heaven. What would God have us adjust in the use of the time He has allotted to us?
J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 95.
Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 94.
Jaqueline Howard, “Americans devote more than 10 hours a day to screen time, and growing,” June 30, 2016, accessed January 5, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/.
Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 97.
 This article was adapted from material found in Tommy Kiker, Everyday Ministry (Fort Worth: Seminary Hill Press, 2018).