Back when I was testing my call to pastoral ministry a phrase I kept encountering was ‘pastor’s heart’.
I don’t hear it so much these days amid discussions about various skill sets which are considered desirable for pastors.
Thabiti Anyabwile expresses the central necessity of a pastor’s heart in this post from his blog, in which he expands on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 11:28: “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
The most difficult part of pastoral ministry is keeping a caring heart. The caring heart makes the pastor, and the caring heart nearly kills the pastor. He wouldn’t have it any other way, like Paul. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a thousand deaths, weeping nights, deprivations, and afflictions.
It breaks his heart to see people leave the church. It doesn’t really matter why they leave, and it only helps some if they leave well. The leaving is a breaking and he feels the pressure of it if he is concerned for the church.
It breaks his heart to see saints taken in sin. “Big” sin. “Small” sin. He feels as if he’s watching a grotesque monster devour his babies. And when repentance is not forthcoming he aches all the more.
It breaks his heart to watch spouses tear their covenant in two. Few things can feel so dis-empowering. Few things can make a pastor feel his inadequacy like watching a dear couple do violence to matrimonial promises and affection.
It breaks his heart to hear the people embrace error. He wants them to feed on the pure milk of the word until they can eat the good meat. He knows health comes with truth. So he feels a certain horror at the thought that any of the people in his charge might be given over to soul-piercing and destructive lies.
It breaks his heart to discover dissensions and strife. He’s the leader of a family. He knows the blessing of peace, unity and love. His heart rips even as the people tear apart.
It breaks his heart to receive unfair criticism. Part of him doesn’t mind it at all. He’ll gladly bear the reproach. But the other part, the part that wants to be liked, the part that rightly wants the people’s affection, the part that’s trying to please the Lord, can hardly endure disparagement. His heart is wide open to the people and he wants their hearts to be open in love to him.
It breaks his heart to have his family judged or attacked. He’d rather be drawn and quartered himself than to watch the woman he loves endure harsh judgment, misrepresentation or unrighteous standards. He rather lose his own life than to lose his children from the church because they couldn’t face the daily pressure of living in a congregational fish bowl, unable to be themselves, unable to find grace all the other children receive.
It breaks his heart to miss an appointment or to fail to “be there.” He entered the ministry to care for people. He knows he’s not Jesus. He knows he can’t be everywhere. But that doesn’t stop him from mourning when he experiences that limitation. He should have been in the hospital room. He should have been at the deathbed. He should have responded to the call in the middle of the night. He couldn’t. Might’ve been for a good reason, but he still feels the heaviness of heart.
It breaks his heart to discover himself choosing to care less in order to not hurt.
Pastoral heartbreak is in direct proportion to pastoral heart. The more the pastor cares for the people the more heartbreaking is the daily pressure of concern for the church.
But he doesn’t quit…