Over the past two months, it has been my privilege to attend numerous state convention annual meetings—preaching, teaching, hosting Gateway events, and interfacing with pastors and other leaders. A common theme in both the meetings and the conversations has been the wearisome ministry season pastors and other leaders have endured since the pandemic began. To put it in a phrase, ministry leaders—particularly pastors—are weary and worn down.
While there are many reasons for this, one of the primary sources of emotional depletion among pastors is dealing with petty conflicts between church members over issues like masks, vaccines, and other pandemic-related issues. Pastors are shepherds who prefer to keep watch over peaceful flocks. They are also peacemakers—people who promote peace—rather than look for ways to stir up dissension. When trouble comes among their followers, it takes an emotional toll on pastors and other leaders.
One biblical leader recorded his experience about the impact of conflict among his followers on him. Paul appealed to the Philippians (2:2) to “make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” A leader’s joy is affected by the way his followers treat each other, not just the way they treat the leader. When a pastor has members arguing, debating, or disputing with each other, he pays an emotional price. Church division is a joy-sucking distraction for a pastor.
Seminary presidents are not pastors, but we still lead religious communities. The spiritual maturity of the Gateway community during the pandemic has been energizing for me as their leader. While our employees and students have many opinions on pandemic-related issues, they have consistently kept our mission at the forefront and worked hard to minimize divisive debates about extraneous issues. They have given me the gift of deference and support.
Give your pastor and other church leaders the same holiday gift this year. Stop needless arguments over divisive issues. Recognize pastors and other leaders are making hard decisions about nebulous issues with almost no frames of reference or best practices to guide their choices. Determine to support your pastor and other leaders, with humility and deference, rather than add to their burden by sharing your joy-robbing opinions on “what they ought to do.”
Pastors are dutiful shepherds. Most have stayed faithful during the pandemic, fulfilling their calling and providing pastoral care to hurting people. They have demonstrated supernatural patience and remarkable endurance. Stand with your pastor by choosing to be a cooperative part of their flock. By doing so you add to their joy and contribute to their resiliency. That’s a Christmas gift every one of us can give this year.
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