“People may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people,” Laurie wrote after Wilson’s death. “We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.”
There is similar introspection among clergy of many faiths across the United States as the age-old challenges of their ministries are deepened by many newly evolving stresses. Rabbis worry about protecting their congregations from anti-Semitic violence. Islamic chaplains counsel college students unnerved by anti-Muslim sentiments. A shortage of Catholic priests creates burdens for those who remain, even as their church’s sex-abuse crisis lowers morale. Worries for Protestant pastors range from crime and drug addiction in their communities to financial insecurity for their own families to social media invective that targets them personally.
Adam Hertzman, who works for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, witnessed the emotional toll on local rabbis after the October 2018 massacre that killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue.
“Somehow in the U.S. we expect our clergy to be superhuman when it comes to these things,” he said. “They’re human beings who are going to feel the same kind of fear and numbness and depression that other people do.”
– David Crary, Associated Press, “Stresses Multiply for Many U.S. Clergy: ‘We Need Help Too‘”
Eugene Peterson wrote, “The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”
Pastoring is hard work. It is challenging work. It is human work, and it is divine work. I’m not sure if being a pastor is any more challenging now than it has been in any other age. Regardless, two reminders are worth noting. First, be kind to your pastors. Second, offer them your help.
Truett Seminary has compiled a devotional guide for the upcoming Lenten season. I contributed a couple of entries and assisted in the editorial process. The guide outlines daily readings from Matthew and offers reflections from students, staff, and faculty that are inspired by the prescribed Scripture text for that day. Entries variously include exposition, poetry, imaginative prose depictions, guided prayer, recommended practices, and questions for reflection.
I share a quote on the board outside the Spiritual Formation office almost weekly. When a new quote goes up, I’ll post it here too.
As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, forgetful delight, nor with the quickness of impulsive thoughtlessness. But let us go out with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays hold broken and irreversible things for us. It is true that we have lost opportunities that will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past rest, but let it rest in the sweet embrace of Christ.
Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.
– Oswald Chambers, “December 31: ‘Yesterday’” in My Utmost for His Highest
Chambers’ entire entry for today is brilliantly true, for God is the God of all time, a God who can be trusted with what was, what is, and what is to come. In Chambers’ words, God offers “Security from Yesterday,” “Security for Tomorrow,” and “Security for Today.” We need not be shackled by the sins, mistakes, and failures of our past, we need not be overcome with worries about our future, and we can be assured that we will find grace enough for today.
Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” and Revelation 1:8 declares, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.'” God is God over all time and has acted in time, thus, I can trust God with my time, you can trust God with your time, and we can trust God with our time. Time, after all, is a gift, and we have been given time enough for love by God, love eternal.
So as you make resolutions, if you do so, or as you look to the year ahead, let go of the past, release anxieties about the future, and rest in grace for today. Then, with patient power, step out. God goes before you, God stands behind you, and God walks with you.