Thursday 16 June 2011

Surviving the Tough Bits of Pastoral Ministry

It’s a pretty hectic time for me at the moment with all sorts of pastoral situations arising: some good, some sad, though none particularly bad. This Saturday, I am taking a wedding. Next Wednesday, I am taking the funeral of a church member just a few weeks after taking that of her husband. I was to be taking the funeral on Monday, of a woman who was married at our church about 62 years ago. That’s been postponed because, would you believe it, her husband has just died. So now we have a double funeral, the following week.

Those of us who are clergy never quite know what’s going to come our way. In a sense, funerals are quite routine but we can be affected by the sadness of the situation, especially for the families concerned. Weddings are less frequent for Baptist ministers like myself, who are not blessed with ‘pretty’ buildings! Other situations, though, can be immensely draining. I did not believe (although I was told – my college was good like that) that in 15 years as a Baptist minister I would have dealt with pastoral situations involving adultery, murder, psychiatric illness, suicide, exorcism, inter-family strife, child abuse, witchcraft and personal criticism galore. Some of it, yes, but all of it? And although these are the headline grabbers, they are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, there are many good things in pastoral ministry, too! Yet how do we deal with all the baggage that comes our way, those of us in pastoral ministry, or a similar profession?

For me, it starts with remembering my identity. I am not defined by what I do in pastoral ministry. I am defined by who I am in Christ. If it were the former, every difficult pastoral issue has the potential to derail the pastor from his/her task. When it is the latter, we know that even if everything we try to sort out goes wrong, we still belong to God.

Secondly, it revolves around ‘calling’. I believe that God has called me to be a pastor. Despite what we sometimes think, God does not call pastors to be the problem-solvers. We are called to accompany people on the journey, and perhaps to give them choices, but it is up to them with God to sort things out. We, of course, can share the joy when they are, but need not wallow in sorrow when they are not.

Thirdly, I have tried to learn from the truth of Scripture. The words of 1 Peter 5:7 have been very helpful to me: ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ I try to be a non-anxious presence (or at least, a less anxious one) when I am with those in need. When I leave them, and am wondering how on earth I can help, I will often say to God, ‘I can’t do the worrying about this! Will you take over?’

It works – mostly! And, I think, my ministry is better for it.

How do you cope?


  1. How do I cope? The honest answer is that I didn't cope too well, which is in part why I'm currently out of pastorate.

    It is too easy to forget that who we are in Christ is far more important than anything that we might or might not do, whether we are called to be pastors, doctors or van-drivers.

    And I don't believe for one moment that pastors are the only ones who face these types of situations on a regular basis. You only have to think of doctors and nurses, teachers and social workers to know that the pressure and drain of deailing with difficult, if not impossible, situations is not unique to the clergy.

  2. You're absolutely right that these things are not unique to clergy. It is, perhaps, those of us who work in 'vocational' occupations that struggle not to take our work home with us and, of course, some of us work from home! However, we need to switch off even from what many regard as a 24/7 role. Part of it for me is about taking adequate leisure time - once a week usually, the golf course is a great place for me to unwind!