“When doesn’t the pastor hurt?” may be your response to this title, but honest reflection will remind you that there are joys in the ministry that more than compensate for occasional times of pain. Seeing sinners come to Christ, helping people mature in the Lord, studying and teaching the Word faithfully, watching God answer prayer, and sending out workers from the church family to serve others — each of these ministries should be a source of joyful praise in the heart of every faithful servant of God. Paul saw problems in the church at Philippi, but he was able to write to the congregation, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for you all, I always pray with Joy” (Phil. 1:3, 4). That even included praying for Euodia and Syntyche, two women who weren’t in agreement about something and were perhaps on the verge of dividing the church (Phil. 4:2, 3).
Let’s consider some of the reasons for pastoral pain so that we can better understand how to deal with these trials and turn them into profitable blessings.
Pastors hurt because they are human.
Paul said it best: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 4:7). Superman may be “the man of steel,” but the pastor is made of clay just like the people he ministers to. Angels serve the Lord better than we do, but because they are spirits, there are some things they can’t do; and that’s why God has enlisted people. Jesus had to take on Himself a body before He could accomplish the Father’s will on earth, and He is our example when it comes to handling suffering and service (Phil. 2:1-11; 1 Peter 2:20, 21).
Because we live in clay jars, we experience the normal pains and problems of human life. Like any other believer, in times of trial the pastor must depend on the grace of God for his own good and for the good of his people. What life does to us depends on what life finds in us, and what life finds in us depends on what we find daily in Christ and His Word. The Father “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4). No matter how gifted pastors may be, they cannot lead others where they haven’t been themselves. Christian workers cannot afford to act less than human because then they become less than what Christ wants them to be.
Some years ago, a drunken driver going eighty miles an hour hit my car and almost killed me. Until then, I had been a hospital patient only twice, once to have my tonsils removed and once for tests, and both visits were only for overnight. Because of that accident, I spent several days in ICU, a week in a private room and nearly two months recuperating at home. As a pastor, I had visited many accident victims in hospitals and sought to encourage the, but now I was the patient! You can be sure that my ministry to hurting people improved because I had gone through a graduate course in suffering in my near-death experience. It’s remarkable what you can learn lying in a hospital bed, plugged into life-sustaining equipment. I never had that experience in seminary!
From His birth to His death, Jesus ran the full gamut of human experience, and this helped equip Him to minister as our heavenly high priest (Heb. 4:14-16). If Jesus “learned obedience from what He suffered” (Heb. 5:8), why should we ask for an easier way? There are no short-cuts in true ministry. If we want to have an effective pastoral ministry to God’s hurting people, we must expect to pay a price, whether or not others know how much we’re hurting.
The important thing is that we don’t waste our suffering. We preach to others that God has divine purposes to fulfill in their trials, but we need to make that “our trials.” If we are suffering in the will of God, then we must follow Christ’s example and use the experience to glorify God. If we want to minister effectively to hurting people, we must expect to hurt ourselves. We will never graduated from the school of suffering until we see our Lord.
© Warren Wiersbe
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).