We all know the phrase, “Kids say the darnedest things.” It usually refers to an embarrassing remark a child utters in a public setting. Sometimes, however, a kid’s words can sneak up on us for their profundity and deeper level meaning.
In moving into my new office at St. Martin’s (or “study” as I prefer to call a pastor’s work space) I rediscovered this Father’s Day gift Isaak gave me when he was 3 years old. I confess I didn’t really think too hard about his cute words the first time round. This time they hit my pastor soul like a ton of bricks. I’ve been thinking about them for a couple weeks now.
“MY DADDY IS SUPER BECAUSE HE HOLDS EVERYBODY.”
Kids say the profoundest things.
After nearly 10 years as pastor of MainStreet, and 15 years total counting my youth pastor days, I am still trying to make sense of (and make peace with) this pastoral vocation. It is hard to explain the nature and burden of the role to those who have never walked in our shoes.
Consider the following statistics from Soul Shepherding:
- 75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed”
- 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week
- 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
- 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
- 78% were forced to resign from their church (63% at least twice), most commonly because of church conflict
- 80% will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make it a lifelong career.
- On average, seminary trained pastors last only five years in church ministry
- 100% of 1,050 Reformed and Evangelical pastors had a colleague who had left the ministry because of burnout, church conflict, or moral failure
- 91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now”
- 70% of pastors say they have a lower self-esteem now than when they entered ministry
- 70% constantly fight depression
- 50% feel so discouraged that they would leave their ministry if they could, but can’t find another job
- 80% believe their pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families and 33% said it was an outright hazard
- 80% of ministry spouses feel left out and unappreciated in their church
- 77% feel they do not have a good marriage
- 65% feel their family is in a glass house
What is the source of such stress?
My 3-year old captured it perfectly: pastors don’t burnout from long hours and strategic leadership challenges; they burnout because in some profound, secret, impossible to explain way a pastor is always “holding everybody.”
The Apostle Paul mentions his many circumstantial challenges of ministry such as being shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned and left for dead, and so on. But even these extreme external troubles aren’t what weigh most heavily on him it would seem. He tells us, “Besides everything else, each day I am burdened down, worrying about all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).
Burdened or weighed down.
Worrying and concerned about the well-being of all the churches.
Echoing Isaak, “Paul is a super because he holds every church in his heart.”
Every church member should know that any pastor worth her or his salt is holding them in prayer all week long, holding their struggling marriage in his heart while he prepares his sermon, holding the knowledge of their’ addiction in confidence, holding their job loss and financial hardship in his mind as he receives his paycheck and comes home to a beautiful house each night. A pastor might hold others’ kids in his heart as he tucks his own into bed at night. Many pastors can’t let go of holding everybody in their thoughts when they are lying on a beach on vacation.
Chances are most church members are not carrying their pastor’s pain and emotional state home with them each night as they try to hold up their own family’s weighty responsibilities. I don’t say any of this to invite pity or wish it were a two way street. This is the nature of the pastor’s calling. This is the cost of her obedience to taking on the yoke of Christ at her ordination. Pastors hold everybody.
Now, someone might think the plain meaning of Isaak’s words don’t really fit Pastor Jeremy, because I am not the most gregarious, outgoing, warm and fuzzy pastor type who gives big hugs and would literally hold other people. But when we broaden Isaak’s words to include other forms of “holding,” I am guilty as charged.
I hold everybody under my spiritual charge in my own private and hard to define ways. I wept when I read Isaak’s words in the midst of this current moment when I find myself “holding” the MainStreet community as we move through an exciting but uncertain transition to a new location.
I came home from our first service in our new chapel at St. Martin’s feeling elated and overjoyed. Then when my head it the pillow later a few hours later, I was suddenly flooded with feelings of doubt and worry. Why? Because I shifted from holding my own thoughts and feelings (which were positive) to trying to imagine what others were going through and holding their experience in my thoughts:
How did everybody else experience the new space?
How is all this change impacting everybody?
Will our new time enable or prohibit people from worshiping with us each week?
I don’t aspire to be a popular pastor, or a successful pastor of a large, growing congregation. I don’t aspire to be the most winsome and inspiring pastors with brilliance and wit. I don’t aspire to preach the best sermons, or spearhead ingenious visions, or to ever “be all things to all people” like Paul.
My one single-minded goal and aspiration is to be found faithful, keeping my hand to the plow, and doing my best to be like the Shepherd of shepherds, Jesus, who holds people to the point of sacrificing himself for their well-being. The greatest weight I hold is feeling responsible to offer the spiritual resources and care that will help people grow up into maturity and break free from strongholds.
I would like to say to all who love me as their pastor (as well as those who put up with me) that I consider it the highest of callings and most sacred of privileges to get to “hold everybody” in this pastoral capacity. I do this ever so imperfectly, but I haven’t let go yet — no matter how many times the burden of leadership has felt too heavy to keep holding up. May God give me the strength and wisdom and patience and peace to continue holding this precious flock for many more years to come.
Finally, I hope Isaak’s profound words will ripple out beyond the sphere of the pastor’s calling. You see, God has given a similar charge and responsibility to each member of the Body of Christ. Yes, all believers have been summoned to take up their own cross and to “hold one another” up through the ups and downs of life. Paul nails it on the head in Galatians 6:2:
“Carry [or ‘hold’] each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Will you all commit to holding your pastor and spiritual leaders up in prayer in this new year? This training others up in righteousness and storming the gates of Hell is no walk in the park! Will you continue to do life together in community and hold each other in good times and bad?
Thank you, Isaak, for this profound word.