I was pastoring in Sierra Vista when I heard he committed suicide. Rev. Larry DeLong started pastoring the Presbyterian church in Green Valley five months before I started pastoring the United Methodist church in neighboring Sahuarita in 2009. Two Sundays ago, I heard Valley Presbyterian Church has a new permanent senior pastor for the first time since Rev. DeLong. It is hard on a church to have their pastor die. I can only imagine how hard it is on a church when their pastor commits suicide. Did you know pastors can get depressed?
As a pastor, I’m very aware of the struggles pastors deal with. It caught me by surprise when some of my relatives told me they use to believe pastors had perfect lives with no problems. The pastors they knew always looked happy and didn’t share about any problems. What could be better than getting to work with a church?
Does it shock anyone to hear pastors are vulnerable to the same problems and issues everyone else faces? I have known multitudes (sounds like a good Biblical term) of pastors since I started pastoring my first church in 1985 (back when I was known as “the young pastor”). I have seen, and heard about, so many pastoral struggles. The role alone positions pastors to face challenges most people don’t have to be concerned about.
Pastors are privileged to be with families during their greatest celebrations and honored to walk with them during their lowest moments. It took me a long time to realize these “low” moments scar more than just the families. Pastors and first responders can be included in this group. For me, my deepest scars came from deaths of both adults and children. I don’t even know how many people I’ve been with when they died, or the families and friends I’ve cared for after a death. Scarring doesn’t happen right away. There have been many Sundays I’ve preached while struggling with open emotional and spiritual wounds. These wounds were added on top of my own personal issues.
People also tend to have a misconception about churches. For decades I’ve used the old adage “Churches are not a society of saints, but a hospital for sinners”. Pastors get to work with a church full of people struggling with their own issues. This is a blessing, though it can be an extremely hard and stressful job. Although some church members are “saints”, there are times other members are extremely rough on (sometimes even mean to) their pastors.
It is shocking to me how many pastors leave the ministry. This is something I have personally witnessed. Part of my counsel to people considering becoming a pastor is to only do it if God is calling you. Otherwise, you won’t make it. Even when called, the call might change over the years. Repeating what I accept as historic wisdom, I encourage people if they can do anything else, do it. If God’s call is firm, then become a pastor.
Do you know October is “Pastor Appreciation Month”? If there is a pastor in your life who you appreciate, this is a good time to say “thank you”. You might be surprised by the difference a simple “thank you” can make. For me, I want to say how grateful I am for the pastors of the South District, and our pastors throughout the Desert Southwest Conference. Thank you for responding to God’s call, and all you do throughout the year!
Your brother on the journey, Mark