Monday, September 22, 2008


Over the past two weekends, I've run into runaway pastors. Their pain lies only slightly below the surface. Who can they tell?

Last Saturday morning, at a hotel a couple of hundred miles from home, I happened onto an old friend. He's been a pastor for a few decades. He is the picture of success. The congregation he pastors has grown by about 20-30 times. He has many respected positions in his denomination. He is a winner.

But after asking about how he is doing, tears formed in his eyes. Practiced skill kept them from spilling on the table where we sat. Seems to me, he'd like to run away. I heard stories of depression and feelings of "What else can I do to earn a living?" He is a friend. Please pray for him.

Then he told me of a mutual friend who ran away without a plan. A pastor for years, who kept his secret well--the secret pain he felt--until he could no longer. And recently, he followed through on his deepest desire, and quit.

The weekend before last, I met a woman who is married to one who had a secret. After years of ministry--again as a success in all of our eyes--one day he went to the office and quit. She found out later that day. They were not prepared with other jobs. They are seeking them now, and life is hard. But the sense I get is, he wouldn't change a thing.

One pastor tells me of fantasizing of how he could get kicked-out of the ministry, without losing his wife, or going to jail. It was then he made his plan to step aside...instead of running.

We speak a great deal of sharing burdens with each other. We ask for prayer requests, and others release their worries and pains. But we are the wall. We soak in the sound waves and witness the tears and even share them. And we display the same wall of portraits, with our perfect family and our own ever smiling face--even when the smile is fading--or fake.

Most ministers, when they hurt, keep their pain secret. Must they? Who can they tell?


Rich Schmidt said...

Reading this makes me glad that I know a few other young pastors on our district in whom I can confide. We've sat for coffee and talked about these kinds of things. OK, so we don't do it every week. But we know that there are others out there who are safe to talk to, who will listen, pray, make suggestions, etc.

I don't think any pastor should just "go it alone." No one should assume, "This is just the burden of ministry" and keep the hurt, fear, disappointment, questions, etc, bottled up inside. And no one should expect their spouse to carry all this for them, either!

We all need trusted friends. I thank God that I've found a few. (And I include you in that number, David!)

david said...

Some of the hardest, yet best days of my ministry were when we served in similar roles, and were a part of the same "team." Rich, so much of what you say here is important. I remember our monthly gatherings--driving for a few hours to be with a few guys who had ministry in common. Nothing profound about our agenda. Just sharing, listening and praying together. I miss that.

Sounds like a real key to avoiding burnout. Sounds like something I should get plugged back into.

Zee said...

even Jesus wanted His disciples, His friends, close to Him in the time of fear (and who knows, maybe even depression?) while in the Garden. if He needed human support (besides the Divine one), i guess it is pride and fear most of the times that stops us from sharing our needs.

pride: for we want others to think that we are doing great and that everything is perfect. we might even be helping others deal with their own depressions (i wonder how many psychoanalysts / psychologists have problems with emotions and stuff?)... by helping others, we mute our own pain for some time, and yet we don't heal it. kinda like taking an ibuprofen pill when you know you've got cancer.

fear: we are afraid of sharing our problems and bothering others. "they've got a lot of problems of their own"... or another point of view might be that we're afraid we will lead other people astray if we share with them that we have problems. (i struggle with this one a LOT...)...

david said...

Zee, your last line was a huge one...about us failing to share weaknesses for fear of leading others astray... Whoa, I think so...

52 Days In The Garden said...

I am so glad you are opening up this topic. My husband served as a layman youth pastor in the 1980's and we simply we not prepared for the "joy and loneliness" we would feel. He held this demanding position in addition to his day job.
His first day as pastor revealed one attendee in a small church of 300. After two years there were over 150 - and their parents began coming as well. When the program became successful that is when the days grew cold.
This brings me to a scripture that explains the circumstances well, "What causes quarrels and fights among you?" James 4:1-3
In our church now, we have a team of pastors who hold each other accountable. There is a sacred, trusted, friendship between them and they have become a cord of many strands.