The Weight Of This Calling
Being a pastor is a difficult life because it’s a demanding life. But the rewards are enormous — the rewards of being on the front line of seeing the gospel worked out in people’s lives. I remain convinced that if you are called to it, being a pastor is the best life there is. But make no mistake, it is extremely hard – especially over the long haul. (Eugene Peterson)
One of my favorite country artists is Miranda Lambert and her magnum opus is her 2016 release “The Weight Of These Wings” – 24 songs that define her life and relationships – and the accompanying “weight” she carries in her heart.
Those of us in the ministry – most especially those in the “lead” pastor position – carry a weight in our hearts as well – the weight of this calling we have from God. Unless you are in this position, you cannot really know how heavy this weight can feel at times.
But Paul the Apostle knew firsthand the weight of this calling and he wrote about it.
And there are many other problems I face. One of these is the care I have for all the churches. I worry about each group of believers every day. I feel weak every time another person is weak, I feel deeply upset every time another person is led into sin. (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)
There are three ways pastors feel the weight of this calling in their hearts and lives, which I call the “3 C’s”.
- The Weight Of Concern
Any pastor worth his salt is continually moved by compassion for his flock. There are times when my heart breaks for the people I serve. I literally “ache” for them when I know the pain and struggles they are going through. Seeing the pain of my people is a weight that I live with continually. Part of it is the weight of knowing that they are often hurting themselves and part of it is knowing there is oftentimes nothing more than I can do but pray. This is at the heart of what Paul wrote in the passage cited above. He said, “I worry about each group of believers every day”. This is the essence of a pastor’s heart and a big part of the weight of this calling we have from God. Yes, this is God’s church, but pastor carry the weight and the burden of the welfare of the church and it’s people on their shoulders. We take it VERY personally when we see people struggle and especially when we see people leave. Pastors take the success or failure of the church and it’s ministries VERY personally and feel a huge responsibility in this regard. This is a weight we live with every day.
- The Weight Of Confidentiality
Someone once said that pastors may be the most misunderstood people on the planet – and there is a lot of truth to that statement. Many of the misunderstandings arise not because of what pastors say but because of what they cannot say. Part of the weight we bear comes from knowing things that we can never share with other people. There are so many “back stories” that only we as pastors are aware of. When it comes to many “church issues” there is a lot that congregations don’t know. As the head of the church staff, pastors deal with personnel issues and problems on an ongoing basis. They are aware of issues and problems with staff members that no one else is ever aware of (behavioral issues, relationship issues, marital issues, leadership issues, accountability issues, character issues) – and we must keep those issues confidential, as we should. Also, people come to the pastor with their pain, their problems and yes, their complaints – and we as pastors must keep those things to ourselves – working through them and praying through them in silence. One of the signs of immaturity (especially for those in ministry) is telling people things that should never be shared publicly. I will never forget the three word axiom my pastoral ministry professor, Dr. Charles Ashby of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary once said regarding staff members who talk too much and go around to people inside and outside of the church telling things they shouldn’t: “BEWARE OF BLABBERS” This immaturity often causes huge problems within the church. Example: Oftentimes people in the congregation only see what’s on the surface of a situation or only hear one side of an issue and make a judgement that isn’t based on the true facts – facts that only a pastor is privy too – and this misunderstanding often leads to unfair criticism. Paul Himself knew this very well. In fact, earlier in 2 Corinthians 11, Paul had to defend himself against the unfair criticism that was brought against him. People in our churches have no idea of what a pastor deals with on a daily basis and it is unfortunate that people often make decisions or level criticisms based on misinformation or partial information. This is part of the weight of our calling.
- The Weight Of Conflict
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he addressed an issue what was weighing heavily on his mind and heart – the issue of conflict in the church.
My brothers and sisters, I urge you by the name of our Lord Jesus, to come together in agreement. Do not allow anything or anyone to create conflict among you or be divided into little groups. Instead, be restored completely. Think and act as if you all had the same mind. I have heard troubling reports from Chloe’s people that you, my siblings, are consumed by fighting and petty disagreements. (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)
One of the heaviest weights that a pastor carries is the weight of conflict because this issue has the potential not only to hurt people, but to ultimately hurt the church and the cause of Christ in the world. One of the enemy’s greatest tactics is to sow seeds of anger, hurt, and suspicion within the church. And this results in the church becoming divided and ineffective.
Serve each other with love. The whole law is made complete in this one command: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you go on hurting each other, if you criticize and attack each other tearing each other apart, be careful, or you will completely destroy each other. (Galatians 5:14-15)
In a physical sense, when one part of the body attacks another part of the body, we call that DISEASE. It is unhealthy for the body to attack itself. That’s why Paul in Galatians tells the church basically to “stop it”. Stop “hurting each other”. Stop “criticizing each other”. Stop “attaching each other”. Stop “tearing each other apart”. Why? Because if conflict is allowed to run rampant, the entire church will be irreparably harmed – as is the cause of Christ. That’s why he says, “you will completely destroy each other”. And that weight, more than anything else, causes a pastor to weep. Every pastor I know (myself included) loves the church where they serve. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. And it literally breaks our heart when we see our church hurting, wounded or torn apart. Everyone in the church can feel the weight of conflict, but pastors feel it most intensely and take it most personally.
Let me end with a story from a wise, old pastor J. W. Sims. In discussing the “weight” and the “burden” of ministry, he writes:
“I presently have a Shetland Sheep Dog that my wife and I dearly love. He is only ten years old but has a disease that caused him to lose his muscle strength in his legs. This means that he can no longer go outside without being carried. It is frustrating and painful to us at times, but we must carry him. If we do not carry him his life will have to end and we love him too much to allow that to happen. This is much like those of us who have been given a calling to ministry. We must carry that weight for in carrying the weight of that calling, we continue to bring life and give life and allow the ministry to continue. How desperate we are for burden bearers today. How we long for those who will, in spite of all the weight, in spite of all the pain, all the burden and all the difficulty, will continue to carry the weight of the ministry so that there will be life.”
So how does a pastor live with “the weight of this calling”? We live with it only because of the help given to us by Jesus. One of the most encouraging passages in all of the Bible is found in Matthew 11:28-30. Here Jesus tells us that is He is ready and He is able to help us carry the weight of our calling. I am so glad He gives me the strength I need every day – and He will give it to you as well.
Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Put My yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves. Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)