The longer I pastor (almost 20 years now), the more I appreciate pastors. The long and often unscheduled hours, the heart-labor of counseling and visitation, the prayerful sermon prep that you hope will change lives forever each Sunday.
No experienced pastor is too surprised by Paul’s listing his concern for the churches as a greater soul-burden then being beaten with rods or shipwrecked. Or by Paul’s comparing his gospel labors to the pains of giving birth. In fact, all that screaming, agony, and out-of-control chaos is a pretty accurate parallel to pastoral labor at times!
Pastors, I appreciate you. And your congregation appreciates you, probably more than you realize. More importantly, Jesus commends your faithful and ongoing efforts. You are regularly speaking the words of life. But, pastor, you need to listen to life-giving words too. Every pastor needs real and regular accountability. Pastor, you need to be pastored yourself.
Accountability often has a negative connotation, but in practice, healthy accountability should not just constrain or correct, but give encouragement and nourishment along the way as well. As I consider the specific challenges of pastoral ministry, I would say it is particularly important that every pastor be accountable in three ways especially: morally, personally, and pastorally.
We’ve probably all heard the stories of high-profile pastors who have had to step down in recent times because of some kind of moral failure. But the fact is, there are numerous less-known pastors following that same catastrophic path each year as well. You probably know some. But long before any pastor fails in such a public way, he has already failed privately beforehand.
No pastor is an island. Don’t believe the very same lie that your congregation often believes about you: that you are somehow gifted with special spiritual strength, or wisdom, or insight. Nope, you’re just a regular old guy who Jesus cleaned up and called into pastoral ministry. Just like your church members, you need Jesus every day. And you need the body of Christ every day.
Pastor, to whom do you confess your sins? Your temptations? Your emotional, or physical, or spiritual struggles? Just like every member of your church, you need that kind of intimate, transparent, frequent fellowship. And if your answer is, “My wife is my confidant,” then great! But God has not only given us family: he has also given us the church.
Who pastors you, pastor? Every Christian experiences seasons of discouragement, or weariness, or frustration. If you are always pouring into others, but never being poured into yourself, this is an obvious recipe for emptiness and burnout.
You need what every Christian needs—you need brothers and sisters in Christ who will speak God’s truth into your life when you struggle to feel it, or believe it, or even remember it. You need the words of life to be spoken to you just as much as your congregation needs to hear them from you.
It is no exaggeration to say that everyday, normal church members have saved my ministry countless times. Singing songs next to me in corporate worship that I could not sing myself, reminding me of scriptural truth when I could not see how it applied to my situation, encouraging me with eternal realities when my eyes were fearfully focused on the present.
Pastor, who tells you “No” when you need to hear it? I’m not asking (only) about your church polity (although that is an essential part of any answer). Even if you have an elder board, or congregational meeting, or presbytery that can technically exercise authority over you—do you welcome that accountability? Do you routinely ask for honest feedback, for contrary opinions to be expressed? When was the lost time you lost a vote?
If you are not regularly being told “No” in one form or another, then you are functioning as if you—not God’s Word—has ultimate authority. Regardless of what your doctrinal statement says about the inerrancy of Scripture, you are acting as if you are the one who is infallible.
The longer I pastor, the more I appreciate pastors. And the more I am convicted that we all, as pastors, need accountability. We need the church just as much as the church needs pastors. We are just as spiritually dependent, and feeble, and fallible as the weakest one in our congregation.
This is why Jesus’ gift of the church is just as much a blessing to us, as pastors, as it is to anyone else. In fact, if the church sees us receiving help from the body, they will be much more likely to believe us when we tell them how important the body is.