Among the least pastored people are pastors themselves, as they work long hours catering to the emotional and spiritual needs of their congregations but without being relieved of their own personal needs, says Marshall Segal of the DesiringGod ministry.
No one, not even our pastors, have graduated beyond the need for spiritual encouragement and counsel, writes Segal, executive assistant to theologian John Piper, on the blog of DesiringGod. The ministry is hosting a conference in February for pastors with the theme "The Pastor, the Vine, and the Branches: The Remarkable Reality of Union with Christ."
The spiritual health of a pastor really ought to be a priority for his people, stresses Segal, a recent graduate of Bethlehem Seminary in Minneapolis and author of Single, Satisfied, and Sent: Mission for the Not-Yet Married.
Quoting 1 Timothy 4:16, which says, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers," Segal explains, "It's a command for leaders, but it's a warning to all of us who hear it. If the pastor is led away from the truth or from living a life in line with the gospel, everyone's in danger."
There are many ways to "multiply the joy of the men making us happy in Jesus," he shares. "We could give them a night out with a gift card and without the kids. We could cover the bases for a weekend to free them to travel or worship elsewhere without the pressure to pastor. We could write an encouraging note about God's work through them or reminders of God's promises."
To pastors, Segal advises they must carve out time for regular personal reading, spend time with other local pastors, attend conferences and events devoted to needs and development in the ministry, and access websites and online courses being offered for continuing education in spiritual leadership.
Segal encourages readers to consider how they along with others might partner together to care well for their pastor, as the New Year is about to begin.
"Dream big. Pray for fresh ideas that would strengthen your particular shepherd. Perhaps 2014 could be the year your pastor felt cared for like never before."
Writing as a guest columnist for The Christian Post, Bishop T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House church recently highlighted the struggles and challenges of being a minister of God.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled "Don't Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses," authors Robert B. Kaiser and Robert E. Kaplan found that leaders were five times more likely to overdo behaviors related to their areas of natural talent, Jakes wrote. The more pronounced the natural talent and the stronger the strengths, the graver the risk of going to counterproductive extremes.
"All too often, he (the pastor) has no peers with whom to share his human condition without risking the specter of shame, judgment, criticism or the loss of fidelity among his closest constituents," he added, and mentioned a recent online poll by the Clergy Recovery Network, a support group for religious professionals, in which 64 percent of pastors indicated that they had no one with whom they share their secrets.
Not only are pastors suffering in solitude, but LifeWay Research discovered that more than half of pastors reported being lonely, while only 22 percent of all pastors said they had meaningful same-sex friendships, Jakes pointed out.
"To break the cycle of isolation, our leaders must be shown how to create safe, nurturing relationships with spiritual leaders outside the four walls of their church," suggested Jakes, among other advices he offered.
Jakes wrote the two-part column for CP after the recent suicide death of Pastor Teddy Parker in Georgia.