“Lord, thank you for this food we’re about to receive and the hands that prepared this meal.”
Have you ever said or heard this prayer just before devouring a very delicious and satisfying meal? Not only do we pray over the food, but we also recognize the work that went into preparing the meal and pray over those who are responsible for ensuring we’re fed.
I’m going somewhere with this. Stay with me.
Oftentimes, we come to church (or stream it) and we get fed by the Word of God, and we go home full and satisfied until we return the following week to fill up again. And just as a lot of work goes into the preparation of a meal, there is a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual work that goes into preparing a sermon and leading a church. For that reason, we, the congregation, must remember that we play a larger role than simply consuming the message. We must remember and be intentional about praying for the vessel God is using to feed us.
In the wake of pastoral burnout; overnight megachurch status; increased pressure to “perform” due to an “always on” world of television and social media, it is apparent that many pastors are pouring out more than they’re being replenished. This lack of replenishment is having detrimental effects.
According to a study by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, 54% of pastors feel overworked, 43% feel overstressed and 35% admitted they were battling with depression. This study involved 8,150 Evangelical and Reformed ministers. It goes on to say that pastors are overworking themselves to appease congregational expectations while facing volunteer apathy, criticism and a fear of change.
Why do these numbers matter? Because sometimes pastoral burnout leads to a pastor simply leaving ministry but sometimes it has a far worse effect. Over the last several years, headlines of well-known pastors committing suicide have been appearing across every type of device in which we consume media. Darrin Patrick, Jarrid Wilson, Andrew Stoecklein, these are just a few of the pastors whose deaths have been ruled a suicide. They were all husbands. They were all fathers. They all preached about mental health. They all impacted the lives of thousands.
Andrew Stoecklein’s wife, Kayla, penned an article shortly after her husband’s death. She noted that Andrew would sometimes make the statement, “It’s lonely at the top” and would also express feeling like a “linchpin” holding everything together. It’s clear many other pastors share his sentiment.
The argument is not whether or not we can “pray away” mental health issues. However, we can pray that our pastors are seeking the help they need, that they have people close to them that they can confide in, that they have people pouring into them on a regular basis. Beyond prayer, we can do our best to allow them the grace of being human and strip them of expectations of perfection…which is something we need to destroy within church culture, as a whole.
Simply put, let’s be cognizant of the “requests” that aren’t being verbalized, yet if we pay attention we could hear the silent cries for help. If you see your pastor looks drained and/or overworked, volunteer your help, pray for their strength, and encourage them in the faith. Even Paul requested that the churches he visited encourage him just as he encouraged them. Just as Aretha sang about RESPECT, we’re singing RECIPROCITY. For all that you receive, I pray you give it back.
In her article, Kayla Stoecklein wrote, “Your story has the power to save lives, change lives, and transform the way the Church supports pastors.” Let’s not ignore the call to be the Church and not just the congregation.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:16
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. – 1 Peter 3:8
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging 741741.