Tag Archives: ministry

Episode 9 – Abandonment and the pastor


“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalms 22:1–2 ESV)

Why do pastors suffer such feelings of abandonment over their parishioners? There are many reasons. One of them I think is a matter of wrong headed or unrealistic expectations. If I am looking for people in my congregation to give me the eternal presence of Christ, I have set myself up for serious disaster. Christ promises to give Himself to me in Word and Sacrament, not in my flock. No obviously, God is at work in them, taking care of me in so many ways. But it is unfair and simply not helpful to load all kinds of unreal expectations on them. So what is the pastor to do when He takes such things so personally? Listen in…

On the Ministry: Tasks Verses Relationships

One doesn’t have to serve as a pastor for very long to come to the realization that the Holy Ministry in America is in more than a little bit of crisis. Some of the competing models for the Pastoral Office include: shepherd, maintenance man, leader, enabler, facilitator, therapist, evangelist, social worker, community worker/activist, and the like. I’m sure there are another dozen or more titles or job descriptions which could be used. It is no wonder that pastors don’t know who they are or what they are given to do!

As I have tried to think through what it means to be a pastor, I always come down to the tension between tasks and relationships. Pastors are given certain tasks that they are to do day in, day out. Preach, teach, administer the sacraments, judge doctrine, perform acts of mercy on behalf of the body of Christ, etc. I can sit down in any given week and map out all of my time in terms of the tasks that I am to do as a pastor. Of course, I just listed the nice and easy and obvious list of tasks. There is also the other, unspoken list. Things like editing the bulletin, going through the mail, preparing for and going to meetings, newsletters, correspondence, etc., etc., etc.

At the same time, nearly every one of those primary tasks of the Office only have their purpose when they are given out to the flock. My work as a pastor is about people. It is about delivering Christ to them, in season and out of season. While this again may seem obvious, it is incredibly easy as a pastor to forget it. I can get so wrapped up in getting things done that I forget who I am doing them for in the first place! Yet if I spend all my energies simply and only working on relationships, I can just as quickly lose sight that I am here to deliver Christ and not myself.

Most pastors that I know fall off this wagon on one side or another. Me, I’m much more inclined to get wrapped up in the tasks that I lose sight of the relationships. I think this is the tendency of more academic type pastors. Obviously there are many others who focus more on the relationships. I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other, but it certainly makes it so we don’t understand each other very well.

So how does one maintain the healthy balance between what we are given to do and to whom we are given to do it? Here are some of my ideas, but I’d like to hear yours as well:

1. Be aware of the tension. Lots of good things happen as a result of tension. Being mindful of it can make it a blessing and not a source of stress.

2. Pray about it. Pray that God would make you productive in the sense of getting things off of your plate AND of bringing Christ into the lives of your people. They go together. Be deliberate in your prayers.

3. Think in very concrete terms about both tasks and people interaction. Schedule it. Put it on your “next action” list. However you need to do it to make it work. But don’t just allow the water to find its own level. If that is the case, you will simply gravitate toward your own interests.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?


On Rats and the Holy Ministry


Here’s something a little off the beaten path for you:

Reciprocal Affiliation Among Adolescent Rats During a Mild Group Stressor Predicts Mammary Tumors and Lifespan

I’ll allow the more medically inclined in our midst to verify this for me, but as I read this, what it is saying is that when leaders have a support group, they tend to live longer. But if the leaders are isolated, that has a negative impact on their health/lifespan, even if they continue to play their leadership role.

Now what does this have to do with the Holy Ministry? Let me count the ways:

1. Don’t get bent out of shape over the “leader” language. Just run with me on this.

2. Leaders may be effective in their role to some detriment to their own health and well being.

3. A leader is ineffective if they are dead, on disability, incapacitated due to stress or other external factors.

4. Pastors serve as care givers but rarely are care-receivers. This is the pastoral corollary to “doctors make the worst patients.”

5. We pastors would do well to tend to our own house (including the temple which is our body/soul/mind) if we wish to be of service to the household of faith.

6. Sometimes being a pastor feels like being a rat…no that’s not right!

Thanks to Rebellious Pastor’s Wife for pointing this article out to me!


Thoughts on the book from Know Thyself

Know Thyself is one of my favorite reads. The pastor is insightful, honest, and grapples with many of the tough subjects of ministry that we have tried to wrestle with here. Here’s one of his quotes about the book:

New Resource and Other Thoughts About Pastors As Human Beings « Know Thyself: “Pastors are people too. I can’t say it enough. We hurt when church members die. We ache when people reject the faith to our face. We feel helpless when we teach and teach and teach but no one seems to heed the teaching. We rejoice when great things happen to our people. We rejoice when people yearn for the Gifts of the Gospel. We bask in the joy of baptisms, confirmations, and weddings. It’s not just a job. It’s being a grafted in member of a family.”

I urge you to go and check out his whole post.


Thoughts on the book from Know Thyself

Know Thyself is one of my favorite reads. The pastor is insightful, honest, and grapples with many of the tough subjects of ministry that we have tried to wrestle with here. Here’s one of his quotes about the book:

New Resource and Other Thoughts About Pastors As Human Beings « Know Thyself: “Pastors are people too. I can’t say it enough. We hurt when church members die. We ache when people reject the faith to our face. We feel helpless when we teach and teach and teach but no one seems to heed the teaching. We rejoice when great things happen to our people. We rejoice when people yearn for the Gifts of the Gospel. We bask in the joy of baptisms, confirmations, and weddings. It’s not just a job. It’s being a grafted in member of a family.”

I urge you to go and check out his whole post.


Why Pastors Hide Their Depression


I’ve had a lot of conversations this week with the release of the book. They have been online, telephone, email, wherever. The contacts have been from pastors, teachers, spouses, friends from college, and pretty much across the board. I’ll comment on some of those at another time.

One theme that resonates through so many of the conversations is that pastors don’t want to reveal that they are depressed. This is also true generally, and especially in other service fields. But it seems particularly true with pastors. They mask their illness.

I know I did. I worked my tail off to put on a happy face, a “game face” with my congregation and family. It took incredible amounts of energy, and really made things worse.

But if possible what is even sadder than our self-inflicted super-pastor mindset, is that we are afraid of reprisals. I am afraid that I might lose my job, be kicked out of my congregation, that my district president won’t support me. So the very people who can and should and generally would try to help, are the ones who are kept in the dark.

Why? Why do we hide? And what will happen if we reveal to our families (Who probably already know), our congregation, and our brother pastors what is going on?

aka Todd Peperkorn

Why Pastors are Less Than Human



I am increasingly amazed at how pastors are depicted or considered less than human. It seems to me like every week I hear of some story about how pastors don’t have this problem or that problem because they have such a better understanding of the Gospel.

I’m sorry. I don’t buy it. If that offends your piety, too bad. IF you think that is a sign of weak faith, I’ll leave that judgment to Christ and not to you. The fact is that pastors get tired, stressed, burned out, depressed, and everything else that flows from nearly every other vocation. It is a part of our fallenness as human beings. We are not robots. I don’t have some secret gnosis or special insight into the Gospel that insulates me from the world. Far from me. In many respects as a pastor, I believe we are more susceptible to the trials and problems of the world. There is an expectation that everyone gets tired, stressed, burned out, bored, or whatever with work. We all go through it from time to time. But not pastors. Pastors don’t go through these things, because they have Jesus (and the rest of the baptized don’t?).

Fortunately, Christ uses our weakness even more than he uses our strengths. I can get tired, stressed, depressed. It’s okay. Christ is with me, forgives me, and draws me into himself.



The Commemoration of +John Gerlach

Below you will find a link to the funeral sermon for Rev. John Gerlach, our brother in Christ who died this past week. Pastor Flo does a wonderful job proclaiming the Gospel, putting our hope where it belongs (on Jesus), and on recognizing the grief that is ours at John’s death. Thank you, Pastor Flo, for speaking His Word to us.


The Commemoration of +John Gerlach

(Via Cyberstones)

The Clergy and Mental Illness via Cyberstones

Rev. David Petersen on his blog, Cyberstones, has a nice post about clergy and mental illness. Check it out here:

The Clergy and Mental Illness

He makes some good points that are well worth considering. However, I do disagree with him on a couple things. Please read the following:

2. The Office of the Holy Ministry is so stressful it causes clinical depression, etc.

The other fallacy [the one I’ve listed above] is usually picked up by those who are suffering, whether the actual sick person or by his family and parishoners. They are looking for someone or something to blame. It is mostly false. The Office of the Holy Ministry is no more stressful than any other vocation or job in this fallen world. It does not cause mental illness. But being mentally ill and trying to deal with suffering people is difficult and the feelings of being a hypocrite are immense. So it certainly feels at times to those who are ill as if the Office is the root of their problem.

Obviously Rev. Petersen has a good point. It is easy for those who are sick or for the family of those who are sick to blame the Holy Ministry for depression or some other mental illness. We like to have something or someone to blame. In this sense Rev. Petersen is right.

In this sense he is wrong. The Office of the Holy Ministry is more stressful than other vocations. Not always, and not universally, but there is no question that the pressures put on a man who serves as a pastor is far greater than what one will find in many, even most other vocations (other than father and mother). We deal with the eternal. Heaven and hell. Life and death. We are forced to try and answer some of the toughest questions human beings ever face: why did my mother die? Why did my wife abandon me? How do I know my son will go to heaven? The questions which we seek to answer are deep and abiding, and cannot simply be shed with your winter coat in the closet when you come home.

There is a great deal of evidence that generally speaking, individual serving in service fields (doctors, nurses, social workers, etc) have a much higher incident of clinical depression. The same is true for clergy. I don’t have the exact statistics in front of my right now, but I know that roughly 10% of the general population in America struggle with clinical depression, and that the number is closer to 30% for clergy. That’s a pretty big difference.

Now I don’t say this to provide a scape goat. I say it because one of the key elements in healing is understanding why you are sick. What are the causes. Heredity, situation, family life, lifestyle in general, and good old chemical makeup all play a factor.

I’m not saying this to hold up pastors as the great saints who sacrifice more than anyone else. That is nonsense and I don’t believe it. There has to be an honest understanding on the part of the pastor of how the Office affects him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. That mindfulness of who we are and how things shape us is a part of what can make a great pastor. It’s also what can contribute to the utter downfall of a pastor who things he has everything under control.

Thanks for your thoughts, Rev. Petersen. I appreciate what you have to say.


Penacide or Suicide: Make the Pain Go Away

I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide lately. No, not in connection with myself (be not afraid). I’ve been thinking a lot about this pastor who took his life recently, and what this means theologically, emotionally, and for our common life together.

A doctor recently brought to my attention a word and definition that I believe is extremely helpful for the Christian in understanding suicide. The word is penacide. Penacide is the killing of pain. Here’s one definition of it:

Suicide and Suicide Grief: “‘Pena’ is from the Latin ‘poena’ (punishment or torment), the root of the word ‘pain.’ ‘Cide’ is from ‘cedere’ (to strike down). Penacide is ‘the killing of pain.’ It incorporates the reason, wanting to terminate one’s pain. It eliminates the notion that ‘wanting to die’ has anything to do with killing oneself. Penacide is not a kind of suicide. It’s what causes the deaths recorded as suicides. It is the true name of the beast.”

I would contend, and there is an increasing amount of evidence that bears this out, that most of the cases of suicide are really penacide. This is especially true when it comes to cases of clinical depression. Penacide means that you become so desperate to get rid of the pain inside you that you come to the point where you feel you must take your own life. You can’t take the pain any longer.

In most cases involving suicide, this is what is going on if it is connected to clinical depression.

How does this help us? First of all, it helps us to understand that dealing with clinical depression is not the same as sadness or assuaging guilt. Certainly guilt may and probably does come into play, but that is only one piece of the puzzle. But as Christians, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking of absolutely everything in terms of forensic justification. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think that mindset is helpful when it comes to depression or suicide.

Let me explain.

Because the neurotransmitters are not working properly in the brain of someone suffering from clinical depression, they become curved in upon themselves. It is increasingly difficult to deal with other people. The noise, the din, the problems, everything is magnified and exaggerated. It becomes physically oppressive. I’ve commented here before on the physical effects of clinical depression. It is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there. The closest I can come to explaining it is a combination of claustrophobia and suffocation. It is physical. It hurts. It is terribly painful, because you don’t know what is really going on or why.

Tragically for some, the pain becomes too much. They take their own life because they can’t take that pain anymore. I understand that, and I thank God that my pain never got to that point. But I’ve looked over that edge and seen the other side. It isn’t a good place.

So where is hope? Hope lies in the One who endured all for us. Hope lies in the One who came into our fleshed, suffered for us, and went the way of death so that we need not go there ourselves.

Sometimes the pain becomes too much. When we look at brothers and sisters who are suffering, don’t lay them with guilt. Give them Jesus. Get them a doctor. Be a friend. Love them. Suffer with them. Pray for them and with them. Don’t leave them, especially if the pain looks like it is becoming unbearable. God will see them through, and you through.

So what happens when someone does take their own life because the pain becomes too much? Rev. McCain said it very well in his post on the subject, and it bears repeating here:

I remembered Martin Luther’s wise words when asked about the state of those who commit suicide. It is a shame these wise words were not kept in mind during the history of our church. At my first parish, there was a corner of the parish cemetery where suicides were buried, in unmarked graves, the view being quite a legalistic view of the situation, that a person who kills himself has no chance to confess sin and receive absolution and therefore is lost. Luther rather wisely points to the power and influence of Satan and how we must be on our guard and realize that there are those times when Satan will take one of us captive and overcome us on the road of life.

Here is what Luther said:
“I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. . . . They are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.” [Vol. 54:29].

Finally, if you know a pastor who is struggling, be sure to reach out to encourage him and support him. Don’t sit around thinking, “Oh, somebody else is going to say something.” No, you say something. Do something. Reach out in Christian love. If a congregation is aware that the pastor is suffering, don’t wait, help.

I don’t this is a little stream of consciousness. I’ll try to put my thoughts in a little more cohesive fashion later.

Rest well, friends. Be at peace.