Jump Start # 2175
Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”
A few weeks ago, a young California preacher took his life. Depression was something that plagued him most of his life. That sent shock waves through the many blogs that are associated with preachers. Posts about preachers and discouragement and the signs of depression among church leaders are flying through the internet news. Even among our brethren, there have been some helpful and needful thoughts drawn to this concern. There are many factors that are connected to this, some personal within the makeup of the individual preacher, and some professional, that comes with the job we do. It can be lonely. Few understand outside of those who preach. The demands are high. There is no real sense of job security. For most, a fumble on a Sunday and one is likely to lose his job. There is a lot of internal pressure.
The fearful question then is asked, “Have you ever thought about taking your life?” For me, no. But I have thought about quitting, often. And, all of this directly leads to our first article that I want to address in this area.
Our verse today, showing the elders or shepherds of a congregation to be on guard for all the flock and to shepherd the church of God, includes watching over the preacher. How rare this is done today. We assume the preacher doesn’t need shepherding. We assume that he can work through whatever bothers him and he is so strong that he’s ok. Wrong assumptions.
The preacher is a member and is very much like everyone else in the congregation. He has good days and he has days that are not so good. You see the preacher on Sunday, smiling in his suit and all wired up to preach and ready to go. But what’s running through his mind? What’s on his heart? What’s he going to be like later that day? How will he handle the things that are said to him? This is where shepherding must come in and must excel.
There was a scene in Mel Gibson’s movie, the Patriot, in which the British high command were complaining that the colonial militia were targeting the officers in battle. Take out the leaders and chaos follows. This wasn’t just a tactical move in the Revolution, it has been a strategic plan of Satan for a long time. Get King Saul to disobey. Get King David to lust. Get the leaders and chaos will follow. Today, Satan’s sights are set upon shepherds and preachers, the leaders. Take them out and chaos follows.
- The preacher has strengths and weaknesses like every member does
- The preacher has a family and that can be peaceful or turmoil, like everyone else
- The preacher has temptations just like everyone else
- The preacher has moments when he is not so confident, just like everyone else
- The preacher deals with his own family budgets, raising kids, trying to keep everyone happy, including in the church
- The preacher often has a hard time getting away from the demands of the work. Even on vacation, he is thinking about what to preach when he gets back. He worries about complicated matters that have been placed on his heart. He wonders if he is doing enough. The larger the church the greater these pressures and these demands.
- The preacher must continue to feed his faith and fight his battles, just like everyone else
- The preacher needs Christ, just like everyone else
- The preacher needs to be led by shepherds and watched over just like everyone else
A discouraged preacher doesn’t do his job as well as he ought to. This only adds more burdens when he recognizes this. His sermons slip. His classes are blan. His passion and his energy level falters. As these dark thoughts multiply, so do the thoughts of moving, getting out, or, in the sad story of the young California preacher, taking your life.
It is imperative that shepherds get out of the elders room and get among the flock. If they cannot recognize a discouraged preacher, who else in the congregation is discouraged and is not getting any help? Too much time is spent in discussing copiers, parking lots and paint colors and not on the people of God. All across this country, people are dying in the pews, and those who are to be watching, are not seeing it. They are oblivious to what is taking place. As long as there are no current mutinies, or poisonous teaching going on, it is assumed that all is well. Like too many homes today, all is not well, and no one sees that.
So, how do shepherds shepherd the preacher? That’s a great question that ought to lead to many conversations. In one way, just like they ought to shepherd all the members. Yet, in another way, because of the role the preacher plays, there may be some other signs and other details that they must consider. Walking out the door on Sunday morning and asking, “How ya’ doin’ preach?” probably won’t get much of an answer other than, “Ok.” Is that shepherding? Is your role finished because you asked him how he’s doing? Would he admit it if he even needed help? If he admitted that he needed you, would he take that as a sign of spiritual weakness and would he fear his job could be at stake? Does he have the relationship with the shepherds that he could be transparent, honest and open?
I’m not a shepherd, but I’m a preacher. I’ve been doing this preaching stuff for just about four decades. I’ve seen mountain top moments and I’ve been seen the valleys. So, here are a few thoughts:
First, like with any member, asking someone how they are doing won’t get to the heart of the matter. The right questions, the right moment and the right atmosphere is all very important. Walking out the front door on a Sunday morning is not the right time. Sitting around with all the elders won’t bring the right connections. Too many. Too fearful. But one on one, during a lunch, in a conversation, is the beginning steps.
Second, putting the job pressure at ease helps one to be open and honest. For the preacher, to find another preaching job means moving. It means pulling the kids out of school, selling the house, and moving, often across the country. Many times the preacher’s wife has a job. So, the pressure and the fears that come with job security are enormous. It’s unlike what most members face. Most, if they quit their jobs, they don’t have to move. So, put the preacher at ease about his job. Let him know that you are a friend and that you want to help.
Third, shepherd. Realize before you is a heart that the Lord loves. It needs to be protected. It needs to be prayed for. It needs to be encouraged. Do that. There are things said to the preacher that he never tells you. People who have never preached once in their life, seem to know just what a preacher ought to do. Their words can come out backwards and they can cut and hurt. Most preachers just take it in silence. Consider seeing him as a person that needs you and not an employee that you have hired. Share books with each other. Talk about things on your heart. Connect. Build a relationship of love and trust. All of this takes time.
Fourth, as Jesus showed in the story of the good Samaritan, prove yourself to be a neighbor, a friend, a caring shepherd to the preacher. Especially for the young preacher, he may view the shepherds as his bosses. He wants to please you but there is a barrier that keeps him distant from you. Do what you can to remove that barrier. Prove yourself to him.
Next time, we will take a look at the inner thoughts of a preacher and discouragement.
How is your preacher doing? Do you know? Do you really know? Don’t you think you should know.