I recently wrote an article that posed one simple question: Why do so many pastors leave the ministry? In just a short time, it gathered quite a bit of feedback – both positive and negative – but, more importantly, it has opened up a fantastic dialogue.
One commenter shared his story: “I served as the pastor of only one church but my ministry there spanned over twenty-one years. My tenure was definitely successful based, of course, on the current ministry definition of success. The church grew in attendance over 600%, purchased over 20 acres of property, and built a new building completely – all completely debt free. When I came to the church, I envisioned that I would retire there. Today, I am out of the ministry and, at least at this point, out of church as well. What happened? I can only say that the tremendous growth placed tremendous demands on me, stretching me thinner and thinner until, at last, I broke. It’s been over a year since I left and I still struggle with the entire religious machine that has become the church.”
Another wrote, “We need to do a better job as churches in caring for pastors and their spouses.”
The article spurred on an array of follow-up questions like:
How can we change these statistics?
What are denominations currently doing to support pastors and the ones on their way out?
Why aren’t these things talked about in seminaries and bible colleges?
What can I do? How can we can pray for our pastors?
It seems we have more questions than answers. And rightfully so. We are losing too many pastors. They are overworked, underpaid, and unprepared. They’re lonely. They struggle with depression and discouragement and their families are falling apart. And it appears that nothing is being done, at least from a broad stroke perspective, about the mass exodus.
While we’re waiting to find the answers to these questions, I think it’s equally important to shift our focus and seek God through prayer. Another commenter said, “I believe the key to a successful ministry is to have a strong support system already in place [and] to allow the power of prayer to work its miracles.”
Andrew Bonar, author and minister, once wrote: “O brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friends than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper–and sleep too–than not pray. And we must not talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest. The Lord is near. He comes softly while the virgin slumbers.”
Using my previous article as a springboard, here is how I urge you to pray:
Many pastors are overworked.
Pray that the stress of being overwhelmed, overcommitted, overbusy, and under-appreciated doesn’t get in the way of their calling and cause destruction in their families. Pray that God would provide workers, volunteers and elders, to come alongside your pastor and assist in continuing the work of God. John 14:1, Acts 6:2-4
Many pastors feel unprepared.
Pray that your pastor would be given the knowledge to counsel and mentor, the wisdom to confront when necessary, and discernment when seeking God’s leading and direction for the church. In particular, pray (Isaiah 11:2 NLT) that “the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, and the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.
Pray that the pressures of your pastor and their families would be relieved, that encouragement would reign in their lives, and that your church would be a community that offers unconditional grace and unrestricted forgiveness. Rom. 15:4-6, 2 Thess. 2:16-17
Many pastor’s families are negatively impacted.
Pray for solid, joyful, Christ-exalting marriages. Pray that church leadership would recognize and provide for your pastor’s family – for their personal, spiritual, and physical needs, so that they won’t be distracted from the ministry God has called them to. Acts 12:5, 1 Timothy 5:17,18
Many pastors are lonely.
Pray that your pastor would establish a handful of close friendships with godly men. Pray for one close friendship in which he could be fully transparent and spiritually accountable in all areas of life and ministry.
There are many (so many more than are listed here) ways we should be praying for our pastoral staff – for joy, discipline, accountability and integrity, among others. John Piper, Will Bruce, and Nicholas Batzig have written some great articles on praying for pastors and pastoral staff. My friend, Tim Challies, has gathered a list of articles on how to pray for pastors and staff. I encourage you to check those out as well.
Pastors are not exempt from the dangers and temptations that each of us face and they need our prayers just as much as we need theirs. As we move toward answering some of these unanswered questions, I encourage you to start with prayer. Because if all else seems impossible, prayer is the one thing we can turn to.
In what other areas can we can pray for our pastor?
Photo courtesy: Greg Shield