Pastors Need Pastors Too!
By DR. MARCUS J. CARLSON
Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries
Recently I was asked to preach at our home church, where my family and I attend. Before the sermon, the Lead Pastor of the church interviewed me about healthy churches and healthy leaders. His final question was this: “What does it say that you work with church and leader health and you choose to attend here?”
True to Pastor form, I answered with a story. When I started college, one of my classes was with the most well- known faculty member at the school. He was also very
well known in Christian circles. I expressed a frustration
at the lack of good churches in the area and asked him for recommendations on a good church. Leaning in, he looked at me and said, “Marcus, if you find the perfect church, don’t go there, you will ruin it.”
There is no perfect church, but there is a difference between a healthy church and an unhealthy one. We attend the church we do because it is healthy, but is nowhere near perfect.
Healthy leaders lead healthy churches. If a church is unhealthy, one of two things is true: either the leader is also unhealthy, or the leader is healthy and will either become unhealthy or leave.
The church is often reactive rather than proactive. Sustainable health is not possible through reactivity alone. Health, both for leaders and churches, requires proactivity.
While I never want my identity to be found in my title and role as a pastor, pastoral ministry is an honor. It
is deeply humbling to be allowed to serve God in this way. Being a pastor, working in a church, earning a living by doing ministry, is a joy and a gift. Serving God vocationally through the church is also isolating and exhausting, perhaps more so now than ever. Serving in ministry of any kind, especially in the church and as a pastor, can be a very lonely and isolating work. It is hard to open up and to allow people to care for you as a pastor, but every pastor needs a pastor too.
I have two dogs. They are purebred border collies. They are very energetic, affectionate and smart. They know 30-60 commands and can open doors. Early on, when they were puppies, I took them to dog training classes. If you have ever done this you know that you go not to train the dogs, but to train the owners of the dogs! Dealing with high-energy dogs is not easy. I remember after one class the instructor told
me that I could tire my border collies out more effectively with 10 minutes of trick/command work than I could with hours of throwing the ball in the field. It would
be easier on me and save a lot of time if I learned that this breed tires out more quickly from intellectual effort than they do from physical effort.
As I was driving home, I got to thinking and reflecting about this revolutionary truth. Border collies get more exhausted by intellectual work than any other type of work. It struck me that we as humans get far more exhausted by emotional work than we do by physical or intellectual work. Serving in ministry and being a pastor requires a lot of emotional work, good and bad, beautiful and painful.
In the midst of a pandemic, the emotional workload has been higher than ever. Pastors are tired and hurting, and often have to deal with their hurt and exhaustion in isolation. A study recently indicated that about 1/3 of pastors have in the last year seriously considered leaving ministry, not just their current ministry jobs, but ministry altogether. This statistic is accurate to my own experience. At least once a week during the last six months, I have talked to at least one pastor, ministry leader or church staff member who is at a breaking point.
Now more than ever, I recognize how badly pastors need pastors too.
Pastors need pastors!
Pastors need people in their lives to mentor them, whether they have been leading for a lifetime or just for months. To be a disciple of Jesus and to be a leader means that we must be life-long learners.
Pastors need people in their lives to serve as counselors. This could include professional counselors, other pastors and friends. So often pastors and church
staff carry burdens alone, only sharing them with their spouse and family, adding to the burden of ministry to their families.
Pastors need people in their lives who will proactively seek them out and help them attend to their health in a proactive way. Just as pastors help those in their congregation to find health, they need people to do the same for them.
Pastors need pastors too.
Part of my own call in this next season of life is to be a pastor to pastors and ministry staff. When I first started attending our church after leaving full-time church ministry, I asked the lead pastor how I could best serve him and the church. The first thing he asked me was to care for his staff. I have done my best to honor that request, and it has been a great honor and joy. Pastors need pastors too.
If you are a pastor, church staff member or ministry leader, make sure you take care of yourself. Make sure you have a pastor.
If you attend a church, love your pastor and ministry staff. Make sure they feel safe to proactively attend to their health. Make sure that your pastors have a pastor too.
This is the third in a four-part series focused on the health of pastors, staff and other ministry leaders. The next article will look at the types of health for leaders to consider.
Dr. Marcus J. Carlson is an LCMC certified pastor, professor, consultant and non- profit ministry leader. He is the Executive Director of Preparing for Amazement Ministries (amazed15.org) focusing on church and leader health. He, his wife, and two teenage children reside in northeast Indiana. You can also visit his professional site: revdrorange.com.