All of us pastors are aware of the awesome responsibilities of leading, feeding and caring for God’s people. When you read Scripture passages like Ezekiel 34, John 10 and the Pastoral Epistles, you come face to face with this weighty stewardship. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. It’s fulfilling and frustrating. It’s spiritual at its core and often stressful in its practice. This brings me to this key question. While the pastor/shepherd is caring for God’s sheep, who’s taking care of the pastor?
The most obvious answer to this question is that God is our Shepherd and He takes care of us. While this is certainly true, we often need somebody “with skin on.” We need others who understand what it is to be a shepherd to come alongside us in an encouraging way. Two stand out shepherds in Scripture, Jesus and David, teach us some simple lessons about taking care of ourselves. Remember, you’re a sheep before you’re a shepherd. It is easy to get caught up in being the primary leader, decision maker, gatekeeper, preacher, caregiver, business manager and resident theological expert in the church (I’m sure I left a ton of stuff out!). But you must never forget you are not independent, you are dependent. Before you were called to be a shepherd, you were called to be one of God’s sheep. The greatest source of strength a pastor has in the face of the great demands of ministry, is a life-giving devotional life. When you read the gospel of John, you are repeatedly confronted with the intimate relationship Jesus had with the Father. If the One called the Good, Great and Chief Shepherd needed this, how much more do you and I.
Keep your bag full. All of us have preached from 1 Samuel 17 about David and Goliath. He went out into the battlefield to face the giant with a sling and a bag with five stones rubbed smooth by a brook. You know the rest of the story. He wanted to be prepared in case it took more than one stone to fell the giant or perhaps, in case he had to deal with some of his brothers. As a pastor you must make sure that you find constructive ways to refill your “bag.” You must tend to your spiritual, mental, emotional, financial and physical health. The most stressful thing a pastor can do is to face the giants that come along in the course of ministry and reach into the bag and find it empty.
Share your songs. Have you ever wondered what the Bible would be like without the book of Psalms. It lies in the heart of Scripture. About one-half of its songs were penned by the shepherd, King David. His songs speak to the issues of pain, problems and prosperity. They whisper to us in our difficult moments and shout with us in our times of greatest joy. I’m so glad David didn’t keep them to himself. His songs have been blessing God’s shepherds for almost 3,000 years. You need to share your songs and stories with other shepherds too. Your experiences just might be a key to encouraging and equipping a fellow pastor in a challenging time.
Twice this year, I have gathered our District Overseers together for training in developing Pastoral Covenant Groups in their areas. These groups will be designed to give you mentoring and supportive relationships, help you be equipped to face the challenges of contemporary ministry and give you a secure place to open your heart and share your stories. Some districts may choose to combine with nearby districts. I have left the implementation of this concept to the individual District Overseers. When your District Overseer talks to you about this opportunity, I hope you will take advantage of it.