By Heidi Goehmann
Pastors spend most of their days attending to what other people need. And they generally love it.
Pastors are called to this vocation of ministry, and they take that calling very seriously. Somehow or another, God chased down each of them and asked them to be a shepherd to his flock.
Either immediately or with some cajoling, they said “Yes.” They began to serve, mostly with joy and gladness.
Sometimes, though, it’s easy for a pastor to forget that he also has needs. In serving, it can be easy for any of us to forget that we are each simply children of God, effected by the brokenness of this world.
We each have very real physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, financial, intellectual, and vocational needs. At any given moment, one of these needs might require more attention than another.
If you are a pastor reading this, know that you are seen and valued by the Church on earth. How can we help you have your needs met so you can continue in joy and steadfast service to His Kingdom?
If you are a member reading this, consider how you might offer care to your pastor and other workers. What needs might your church workers have that go unmet because of limited resources of time, money, energy, or earthly consequences like embarrassment or shame?
The following was originally written by the Rev. Richard Koehneke, who has served for years in the area of care and wellness for workers and their families. These observations are from his service. Thank you, Pastor Koehneke, for sharing your wisdom.
By Rev. Richard Koehneke
In my 38 years in full-time parish pastoral ministry, God saw fit to provide me with various opportunities to be involved in the lifelong process of pastoral formation.
I served on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support for nine years, and I was one of the original facilitators in the PALS (Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support) initiative of the LCMS, working in a collegial support group with six pastors in their first three years of ministry.
I served as a mentor pastor in the Pastoral Leadership Institute. Over the years, I had the opportunity to supervise 10 vicars and two director of Christian education interns. While in Fort Wayne, I supervised about 30 seminarians doing their field education during their first two years at Concordia Theological Seminary.
I currently serve as a part-time ministerial health consultant in the northeast region of the LCMS Indiana District, working with pastors, principals and lay leaders to develop durable strategies for church worker wellness.
In recent years, I have had the opportunity to have in-depth interactions — in person, on the telephone, and by email — with workers and asking, “What are the most pressing needs of LCMS pastors?”
Five needs emerged as the highest priorities.
1. Pastors need safe places and people with whom they can be transparent, express problems and needs, and find help and encouragement to carry on.
Pastors need to know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and illness but one of strength and health.
Pastors frequently feel isolated, inadequate, and insecure. We encourage others to ask for help, and often we are the ones to give it.
But we are reluctant to ask for help ourselves.
There is sometimes a critical and competitive spirit between and among pastors that makes it difficult to ask a brother pastor for help with personal problems and needs.
Circuit counselors may or may not have the confidence of pastors in the circuit.
District presidents acknowledge they cannot provide a completely safe place from the pastor’s perspective, since they are supervisors of the pastor’s life and doctrine — a fact that does not always promote transparency in communication of problems and needs.
Districts have ministerial health committees, therapists may be available through the district president, and Concordia Plan Services offers disability coverage, the Employee Assistance Program, and the Pastoral Support Network — all of which are good and helpful.
Synod has also recently developed an excellent new webpage: lcms.org/wellness.
But there is still a missing component in the synodical system: a true “pastor to the pastor.”
When there are no safe places and people for the pastor to go for help, he may develop a pattern of rationalization, making excuses, blaming, denial, and even deception — thus doing great harm to himself, his marriage, his family, his ministry, and those he serves.
When pastors are able and willing to ask for help before a problem degenerates into a crisis, the lives of many are helped, blessed, and saved.
2. Pastors need a faithful, disciplined personal life of prayer and devotion.
You cannot give what you do not have. You can “run on fumes” for only so long before you come to a dead stop.
Pastors can become so busy searching the Scriptures for their next sermon or Bible class that they do not have time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His teaching, simply for the sake of the relationship with Him, without any other agenda or task to be accomplished.
Prayer life can become rushed and superficial until it becomes nearly nonexistent. In such a situation, there is a clear and present danger of spiritual burnout, when the pastor simply has nothing left.
There is the (perhaps greater) danger of worldly and carnal success, when the pastor is operating in the power of the flesh — not the strength of the Spirit — and things seem to be going well, but God is neither glorified nor pleased.
In between lies the danger of the pastor’s own faith being in a consistently weakened condition, unable to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of ministry.
On the other hand, when the pastor is taking care of his own faith and his personal relationship with the Lord, there is a resilience, a calmness, even a buoyancy to his ministry that cannot have its source in anyone but Christ.
3. Pastors need to lead by team-building, equipping, and mobilizing.
“If you want a job done right, do it yourself!” This motto, while it may possess some truth, also contains the seeds of workaholism, loneliness, and diminishing ministry.
Many pastors equate working hard with working alone. Either because of the need to prove themselves worthy of their call (and salary), or because of a lack of trust of others, they try to do the work of ministry pretty much on their own, asking the people to watch and pray (if that) while they wrestle with the demons and demands that are always present in pastoral ministry.
Such an attitude and approach contradict the clear wisdom and counsel of Scripture and the pattern of ministry of our Lord Himself.
Jesus taught His disciples so they could go and make disciples. When Jesus met the disciples on the mountain in Galilee after His resurrection, He did not say, “Since all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, I will go and make disciples, and you will watch me work!”
When the pastor believes (sincerely and with good motives, to be sure) that the work of ministry rests squarely and exclusively on his shoulders, he unintentionally limits the amount of ministry to whatever is the maximum that he can do by himself.
Team-building, equipping, and mobilizing are necessary not only in a larger, multi-staff congregation, but also in a smaller congregation in which the ministry team may consist of the pastor and various members of the congregation.
When the properly equipped people of God are entrusted with the work of God appropriate to their gifts and spiritual maturity (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4), the Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring the Gospel to His people and to those around them.
4. Pastors need help in reaching our postmodern, post-churched culture with the gospel.
Many of the people around us not only are apathetic to the work of the church, they actually resent the church and are hostile to those who proclaim the Word of God.
They see the church — and pastors in particular — as irrelevant, narrow-minded, greedy, hypocritical, homophobic, and conflicted. And that’s just for starters.
When they see pastors coming, they either put up their guard or run screaming in the opposite direction.
It is difficult for pastors who have been prepared and equipped for ministry in the “churched” and “modern” culture to do ministry and mission in such a time as this.
Pastors are accustomed to teaching, preaching, and, in some cases, defending the faith against attack, but we are not so proficient at the invitational style of communication that is most helpful and effective when we are in contact with the children of this world in the 21st century.
This does not mean pastors should water down preaching and teaching, but it does mean paying attention to interpersonal conversations and relationships in the daily business and commerce of everyday life.
Pastors have much wisdom to share including the great Good News of Christ to proclaim, but if no one is listening, no good is accomplished.
We may speak in the tongues of men and angels, but if we are not motivated by love, we sound to the hearers like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. No one likes to listen to that sort of sound for very long.
When people sense that pastors care, that we really have their best interests at heart, that we are willing to listen and clarify before responding, that we are willing to invest ourselves in them and their situation, that we will not stop loving and caring no matter what — great things can happen, and there is joy in heaven over every lost sinner who repents and is saved.
5. Pastors need a healthy marriage, family, balance, and boundaries.
Pastors’ marriages and families are under attack and assault. That fact is nothing new, but the attacks seem to be coming from a wider array of sources, not the least of which is the revolution in information technology.
Children of pastors are subject to a barrage of images and information unimaginable to previous generations. Marriages are under stress as children act out and rebel.
Internet addictions and obsessions, including (but not limited to) pornography, can infect and corrupt the heart of the pastor, his wife, and his children.
Ministry work is so wide-ranging and diverse that a pastor could be saying “yes” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still be nowhere near getting the job done.
We need “knowledge and depth of insight to discern what is best” (Philippians 1), to decide what really matters, and to focus our best efforts and energy on that.
As someone has said, we need to schedule our priorities, not prioritize our schedule. Ministry is not ordinarily a choice between good and evil (thank God!), but it is making daily choices between good, better, and best.
There are few things more wonderful to behold — and to be — than a pastor who is concentrating his energy and attention on developing and using his best gifts to do his best work in the most important areas of the ministry in which God has placed him.
And there are few things in this world that are more lovely and delightful than a pastor’s marriage and family marked by deep respect, authentic joy, and the love that comes as the fruit of the Spirit into a heart and home filled with faith in Christ.
Whether you are a pastor, commissioned worker, or member, what pressing needs have you noticed for church worker wellness? The aforementioned items may feel like they hit the nail on the head, or perhaps you feel differently in your individual context. Please share your thoughts and wisdom with other workers in the comments.
Thanks to Pastor Koehneke for his wisdom. For more articles and resources, visit the LCMS worker wellness webpage at lcms.org/wellness. Look for articles on the needs of our teachers and commissioned workers to come soon.