(and I mean, the struggle is real.)
Today I heard the most heartbreaking story. A pastor friend whom we hadn’t seen and heard of in more than a decade finally agreed to meet up with my husband and I. We had only heard rumors here and there, and tried on many occasions to reach out to him then, only to face a dead end.
Today, he met us.
It was true, he had left the pastorate.
It was true, he had cut off all his connections with the church community and his Christian friends.
It was true, he had walked away from ministry.
It was true that at one point, he almost took his life.
He had just finished his post-graduate dissertation and was looking forward to receiving his Ph.D. in Theology when his world suddenly crumbled from under his feet. His wife left him, taking with her their children. He thought everything was okay with his life, but as he soon found out, it was not. At his lowest point, he stopped short of an inappropriate physical relationship.
In extreme shame over what he almost did, and not having the strength to face his congregation, he threw in the towel. Then he disappeared from the radar, even from his closest friends.
This is just one of the many stories of fallen or broken pastors. Sadly, the number of cases seems to grow, instead of the opposite. We’d like to think that they are getting the help and counseling they need and are restored back without incident. More often than not, the answer to both is, “No, they are not.”
What do stories like this tell us – those who are in the pastoral ministry as well as the congregation?
A pastor’s job is not all frills, not all triumphs, and not all stories of victories. Many, perhaps too many, are stories of heartache, pain, shame and defeat. There are already many articles that have been written about the main causes why pastors fall, and mostly of the better-known pastors, and how they fell from grace (sex scandals, abuse of power, fraud, heresy, infidelity, misuse of church funds, addiction or substance abuse, etc.). So I will not talk about that here. But instead, I want to address some things that, while it may be implied in these articles or even in our hushed conversations, it is not clearly stated and therefore at risk of not being recognized at all.
Ministers and pastors do walk the thin line of self-sufficiency. It is often called for in our work, an occupational hazard of sorts. We need to be able to be confident in what we do and in our leadership, otherwise our congregation would not follow our lead! But we also do have to remember that we are only able to lead the way we do by God’s enabling and grace. So, perhaps it would benefit us more to take a regular time off and bring to mind these things.
Pastors, the more we are aware of who we are (our humanness), our capabilities and our limitations, the faster it will be for us to realize when we are dabbling with an area of temptation.
Pastors, don’t wait until your problem is a gorilla. The saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” easily applies to pastoral life as well. Take precaution before crisis becomes unbearable.
Pastors, get help. Don’t bear the weight of the problems alone, even if they may seem small. If you haven’t yet, perhaps it is about time to form friendships with other pastors or a group of men whom you can trust. Better yet, find a person who you trust enough to speak truth to you, rebuke you when needed, remind you regularly and love you always.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donna Tan, from the Philippines, is a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a pastor’s kid, a counselor, resource speaker, blogger, professional editor (academic and popular writing), and a published author. Her passion is to minister to women, particularly to women in ministry such as pastor’s wives and women pastors. She has a flourishing mentoring ministry among these women in the Philippines.
Donna’s ministry experiences span ages and cultures; having led youth and women ministries in the Philippines, as well as women ministries in the US.
Donna is married to Dr. Jason Richard Tan (Ph.D.), and they have two children – Joshua (17) and Elisha (13). They have been married for 20 years.
Jason and Donna are missionaries with GlobalGrace Fellowship (Monrovia, CA) serving globally from their home-base in the Philippines. She is the Admin Director of Great Commission Missionary Training Center.
You can connect with Donna through her blog TonesOfHope.blogspot.com. or through her FaceBook Page: Donna Castillo-Tan.