Churches are filled with people who are, and will be, experiencing hurts and disappointments in life. Jesus promised we would experience troubles in this world, but to take heart, He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Pain and suffering are marks of living in a fallen and broken world. We all know the reality of trials in our heads, but we tend to deny that reality in our hearts. People must be disciplined and shepherded towards a healthy theology of pain and suffering, or we create vulnerable Christians.
One of the most underutilized, yet most effective ways to prepare our churches to suffer, is to share our own. Sharing your pain with your church instructs in many ways. Unfortunately, many pastors fail to do it. Fear of looking weak or being too personal, lead many to neglect a powerful means of shepherding the flock of God. It requires us to be humble, open, and vulnerable. The rewards of this far outweigh the imagined risks we dread could happen.
I have been forced to do this the last 10 years of pastoring my church. My son, who is 11 years old, has had serious medical issues since birth. He has had a kidney transplant, over forty surgeries, and countless hospitalizations. Hiding our hurts and pains is impossible. Rather than attempting to hide our pain, my wife and I have embraced sharing our pain, and in doing so, have watched the church learn to deal with the reality of suffering in a healthy way. Here are four powerful outcomes sharing your pain with your church can produce.
- You are liberated from fiction of invincibility.
Many Christians act like pastors have an inside track to God. They think he has a special connection to God unavailable to others. This thinking also suggests pastors are off-limits from facing serious trials. When we as pastors never mention our struggles and hurts, we perpetuate all these false ideas. Sharing our pain in sermons, meetings, or personal relationships liberates us from the temptation to perpetuate a demeanor that everything is great, and shows our congregation we are not invincible. It takes time, thought, and intentionality, but it is worth it.
- You get to model how Christians trust Christ through trials.
When people know you are going through difficulties and are able to witness your faithfulness, it teaches them how to navigate their own struggles. When facing health issues or difficult decisions, your example of trusting Christ and leaning on Christ for strength and wisdom teaches your church. When struggling with a sin or an area of weakness, your humility in confessing it and surrounding yourself with accountability teaches your church how to fight sin and address weaknesses. When you get real with people about your pain and struggles, you become a model for how disciples of Jesus live.
- You create a culture of honesty and safety.
When the pastor, who is viewed as the leader, is regularly honest about hurt, struggles, and trials, it breeds a culture of openness within the church. People feel safe to share their own stories. Sin is confessed. Facades of bliss come down and people become vulnerable about their issues. Our churches badly need honesty and safety. We have an air of bliss and my-act-is-together reeking in our churches. It needs to go. It starts with us, pastors. We strengthen that culture when we see and hear of others modeling this and we highlight and celebrate it.
- You allow your congregation the blessing of ministering to you.
Good pastors are faithful pastors. Faithful pastors are usually loved by their church. Your church would love the blessing of being there for you. We are usually the one ministering to them. We give verses. We pray. We visit. But when we fail to share our struggles and pain, this ministry will be missing from our lives. Lest pride deceives us, we must acknowledge our need to be ministered to. Share with your church. Let them pray with you. Let them visit you to give encouragement. Read the verses they give you. Let them provide meals. A pastor who lets his church minister to him shows a beautiful humility, while simultaneously blessing those who minister to him.
Finally, brothers, determine in your heart, and look for ways, to share your pain. Be it personal insecurities, sin, relationship struggles, health issues, or something else, share those with your church. Exercise pastoral wisdom in what and how you share. Don’t use a sermon to complain about a deacon making your life miserable. Share privately with trusted leaders before sharing publicly and use their feedback for sound judgment. A great question to ask is, “How can this pain, struggle, or trial help my church mature?” If you do this faithfully and consistently, you will find God is able to use your struggles to powerfully form the character and heart of Christ in your church.