You may not know it, but your pastor is a desperate man.
And until now, you may not have given much thought to your pastor’s desperation. In my experience I have found that few Christians really know what pastoral ministry entails. For some, the quip, “A pastor only works one day a week” may seem pretty close to the truth. Others view pastoral ministry as a helping profession (akin to professional counseling, but easier) where the pastor’s 35-40 hour workweek consists mainly of coffee-shop chats, a few staff meetings, and a little light reading and Bible study. Good stuff, but none of it too difficult. Because many people have such a truncated view of the pastoral ministry (a view that is, sadly, perpetuated by some lazy and incompetent pastors), they may find it difficult to pray for their pastor, if they feel compelled to pray for him at all.
But it is my belief that if we rightly understand our pastor’s qualifications, his role and responsibilities, and the unique temptations that surround a shepherding ministry, we will not only pray more, we will pray in a way that strengthens, upholds, encourages, and richly blesses your pastor, his family, and his ministry. In this article I want to focus on the third category: your pastor’s unique pressures and temptations.
Pray for Your Pastor According to his Unique Pressures and Temptations
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.
Anxiety Over the Flock
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 (2 Cor 11:23-27). Yet, these physical trials did not overshadow another area of suffering Paul endured. Since 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 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. 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 (see Ps 41:9). Sadly, 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 take the wind out of pastor’s sails more than harsh opposition from professing Christians, so a pastor needs supernatural strength and stability.
Pressure on Family and Home Life
One pressure that pastors sense that tends to be unique among Christians is the pressure he feels upon his home and family life. I’m not talking merely about the time factor. Most Christian families are busy, and there are plenty of dads who find it difficult, due to travel or work responsibilities, to spend adequate time with their families. Rather, I am referring to the pressure that comes from the cumulative weight of time deprivation and the struggle to maintain within their family a steady and growing love for Christ and his church.
First, there can be an unspoken expectation from the church that a pastor’s children will behave and act in an unusually mature way, even as young kids. While it is true that a pastor must maintain an orderly home life and demonstrate an ability to manage his children well (1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:6), it is not the case that the pastor’s children will be sinless or exempt from the immaturity of youth. Yet, when children begin to sense within the congregation a kind of double standard—one for the pastor’s kids and one for all the other kids—they will be tempted toward hypocrisy, rebellion, and bitterness.
Second, there are also unique troubles that come along with being a pastor’s wife. A similar double standard may exist for pastor’s wives, as well as unrealistic expectations for the wife of an overseer to fulfill (often unpaid) ministerial roles and responsibilities in the church. A pastor’s wife may discover that it is difficult, upon first moving into a new church, to find and maintain intimate friendships with other women in light of her connection with the one who oversees the church. Because of this lack of relationship, a pastor’s wife may feel isolated and alone during the initial stages of her husband’s ministry.
But as these early trials pass and she settles into church life and routine, a pastor’s wife will not find that she has now come to place where she is beyond suffering. One of the greatest burdens a pastor’s wife will bear will be for her husband when he is maligned and attacked by other members or regular attenders of the church. While a wise pastor will shield his wife from most of these troubles, there will be some trials about which his wife will become aware. Sometimes, even those who were good friends with the pastor’s wife will participate in or align themselves with those who are attacking her husband.
Temptations to Sin and Compromise
Finally, we must remember that our pastors are open to powerful temptations to sin and compromise. Satan has a special interest in derailing pastors, and he will attempt to draw pastors into sin by intensifying their trials, using false and immature believers to wound and discourage them, and by inducing disillusionment about gospel ministry. But Satan will also work on a pastor’s weakness and sinful proclivities. Our great accuser has tailor-made temptations for every pastor, and he knows exactly how to create offers they can’t refuse. For some pastors, it will be inclinations toward pastoral fame, for others it will be an unhealthy desire for authority. Many pastors will find their heart enticed by sexual sin, while others will be intrigued by money and possessions.
Satan has millennia of experience overturning the lives and ministries of pastors, and he will stop at nothing to further his ongoing agenda of striking shepherds. Our knowledge of the reality of the pastor’s temptations and pressures and the fact that our enemy is constantly seeking those whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), should compel us to serious diligence in praying for our pastors. We should ask that God would cultivate in our pastors unwavering integrity and a passion for holiness. We should pray that the Spirit would constantly satisfy our pastor’s heart in the love of God (Ps 90:14) so that he might never be led away by other women, money, or fame. In all of this, we should pray that God would give our pastor wisdom in order to discern all of Satan’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11).
We should also pray that our pastor would know his own heart and be aware of his particular temptations. While all of us wrestle with indwelling sin, we also recognize that we are more susceptible to certain temptations than others. We each need wisdom to discern where we are the weakest so that we might take special precaution in those areas, while not neglecting the others. Your pastor is no different, so pray for him.
You can read more on praying for your pastor in Derek’s book How to Pray for Your Pastor (Cupertino, CA: With All Wisdom Publications, 2016).