How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Your Pastor is a Desperate Man
How to Pray for Your Pastor (Series): Why Should You Pray for Your Pastor?
Praying for Your Pastor in Light of His Qualifications, Part 1: The Necessity of a Qualified Ministry
Praying For Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 2: A Holy Ambition and a Holy Life
Praying for Your Pastor According to His Qualifications, Part 3: Self-Control, Family, and Money
Praying for Your Pastor According to his Qualifications, Part 4: Humility and Teaching
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 1: The Pastor as Shepherd Leader
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 2: Feeding the Sheep
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 3: Protecting the Sheep
Pray for Your Pastor in Light of His Responsibilities, Part 4: Leading the Sheep
Since my conversion approximately seventeen years ago, I have had the opportunity to serve in many different ministry contexts. As a church member, I have led worship for children’s church, taught Sunday School to adults of all ages, served on the leadership team for men’s ministry, young adult ministry, and singles ministries. I have cared for little kiddos in the nursery, played drums for the music team, and helped the youth pastor disciple young students (while also receiving some valuable discipleship myself). While each of these areas of service elicited a certain amount of pressure and, at times, anxiety, none of them have compared to my experience in vocational, pastoral ministry.
Every vocational calling has its own set of pressures and temptations, and pastoral ministry is no exception. Indeed, because pastors are public Christian leaders who are tasked with guiding God’s people through an accurate and faithful handling of God’s Word, Satan has a special interest in attacking and undoing them. If your goal is to scatter and confuse the sheep, strike the shepherd (Zech 13:7).
So, while I do not want to take away from the trouble that often befalls faithful Christians in all lines of work, my goal in this chapter is to highlight the unique trials that attend pastoral ministry in light of a pastor’s special vulnerability to Satan and his evil strategies. A congregation faithful to fight for their pastor through prayer will do much to protect him from temptation and comfort his soul in the midst of trial.
Anxiety Over the Flock
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul had to engage in a little self-defense. He didn’t want to do it, but some members of the church Corinth had started to believe what the false teachers were saying about Paul—that he was unqualified as a pastor, unskilled in teaching, and motivated by greed and lust for power. In order to maintain the integrity of his ministry and the gospel, Paul had to establish his apostolic credentials.
These credentials, however, were not what we might think of today. In order to convince those few fickle Corinthian Christians that he was a trustworthy minister of the gospel, Paul pointed them to his suffering (2 Cor 11:23-27). Because of his unwavering devotion to Christ and his countless labors on behalf of the gospel, Paul had endured massive amounts of physical injury, deprivation, persecution, and danger. He had been stoned, whipped, and beaten with rods. He had been shipped-wrecked multiple times and experienced hunger and thirst on more than one occasion.
Yet, these physical trials did not overshadow another area of suffering Paul endured. Because he loved Christ’s people with the very affection of Christ (Phil 1:8), Paul’s heart was knit to the Christians throughout the various churches in such a profound way that their pain became his pain, and their spiritual welfare was utmost in his daily thoughts. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” the apostle confesses. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant” (2 Cor 11:28-29)?
Similarly, a pastor who genuinely loves his people will attest to the reality of this kind of anxiety and pressure. When his sheep are caught in the jaws of a wolf or in the snare of their own sin or found wandering off into a dangerous wilderness, the good under-shepherd cannot act fast enough. And after he rescues the injured and wandering sheep, he fears for their future safety. When he is tending to the healthy and happy sheep, he is wondering about the others while keeping a keen eye on the nearby countryside for potential enemies. He is always on guard; always concerned; always watching; always praying.
As we pray for our pastors, we should not pray that God remove this pressure and anxiety. That may sound unkind, but it isn’t. To ask that God remove these emotional trials would be to ask God to stop a pastor from loving his people. With true love comes great cost, and pastors bear the burden of watching over sheep for whom they feel deeply.
But we can pray that our pastor would be anxious over the right things. We should pray that the Lord would enable our pastors to trust wholly in the Holy Spirit for the spiritual growth of the congregation and for the salvation of once-professing Christians who have defected (1 Cor 3:6-7; 2 Tim 2:25-26). The burden to produce spiritual fruit and repentance in the hearts of people was never the pastor’s to bear. One of the paradoxes of the ministry is that a pastor can be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2 Cor 6:10); he can be anxious, yet remain at peace (2 Cor 11: 28-29; cf. Phil 4:6-9). We do our pastors much good when we pray that their affections for Christ’s sheep would be strong and their trust in God would be steady and deep.
Attacks from Professing Christians
Pastors, perhaps more than anyone, must endure attacks from professing Christians—even those with whom they may have walked and served over several years. Although personal and physical attacks from those outside the faith are painful, the grief caused by those who profess Christ and then turn their back on the church and aim their discontent at the pastor can be, at times, nearly unbearable. One can almost hear the anguish in David’s voice when he laments, “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Ps 41:9). Sadly, pastors, if they have been in the ministry for any time at all, can attest to David’s agony, for it is not uncommon for those who have been the pastor’s biggest fans to become his most vigorous opponents.
What I am referring to here is not the well-timed and thoughtful rebukes of godly church members. A pastor who desires to grow in wisdom will welcome such correction and instruction from his people (see Prov 12:15; 13:10; 19:20). What I am talking about here are those unwarranted, unprovoked, and unkind confrontations from those who profess to know Jesus Christ yet appear to find delight in verbal sparring and conflict.
While it is true that an overbearing pastor may reap the fruit of his own tendency to quarrel (see Prov 15:1), it is equally true that pastors who desire to guide the members of Christ’s church into lives of deepening repentance and faith will occasionally encounter opposition from immature Christians, and such a ministry will eventually expose the spurious faith of false Christians. When false religion is exposed, it can react in hostile, even violent ways (as was the case with the Pharisees; see Luke 6:11) and the courageous pastor who holds professing Christians to the standard of God’s Word will bear the brunt of such opposition.
Our regular supplication for our pastors, then, should consist of prayers for endurance. Nothing tends to take the wind out of pastor’s sails more than harsh opposition from professing Christians, so a pastor needs supernatural strength and stability.
In the next post we will consider the pastor’s family life and his battle with sin.