They have been called by many names and titles. Minister, preacher, and, for an older generation, parson. For those in the High Church traditions, sometimes they go by a more ornate term, like Reverend. Pastor is the most widely used term for those in full-time vocational ministry. The problem with the word pastor in English is that it means almost everything, so it sometimes doesn’t mean anything—anything specific. Think of all the images that come to mind when you hear the word pastor. He’s the older, wise man everyone loves and is there for weddings, funerals, birthdays, and child dedications. He is always available with practical advice. He’s an expert in deciphering the Bible and maybe even reads it in the original Greek and Hebrew. He shows up for workdays and is always there to lend a helping hand, a listening ear, and a word of encouragement.
Obviously, he’s also the guy who preaches on Sunday mornings. Then, some famous pastors do nothing but preach on radio and television programs. If you call a Christian radio station, you can talk to a pastor about whatever is causing you grief or confusion. Another pastor does nothing but travel and preach in third-world areas on the map. They visit you in the hospital, help organize events, and of course are expected to have the perfect family.
The problem is that very few, if any, carry out all the assumed roles of a pastor at the same time, or at least not very well if they tried. The problem is that with all the expectations put on them by others and the expectations pastors also put on themselves, it is truly an impossibility. Yet, many of them try and almost kill themselves in the process. For me, I titled a whole chapter in my book Confessions on this subject. One reality is apparent, though: pastors tend to be a group who always take care of others while ignoring their souls in the process. In our present culture and time, many pastors are rapidly dropping out of their calling due to burnout like never before. They need deep encouragement to stay in the fight as the work never ends.
This past week, I had the opportunity to spend time with four other pastors as we built into each other. Pastors need that. People need to see this. In the first church, the apostle Paul encouraged the early saints to even give double honor to those who sacrificially give their full-time efforts to the work. Some people recognize this. In the early 1990s, October was designated Clergy, or Pastor, appreciation month. While we are to encourage one another daily, maybe the idea of a focused season to be deliberate about building up the hearts of pastors is not a bad idea. Perhaps that will help set the stage for the rest of the year.
What about you? Can you think of those in your history or present life who have invested in your soul growth and every other aspect of your life? As October winds down, who can you encourage those who wears one of the many hats we seem to all roll up into the one we call pastor?
Maybe you can be one answer to the problem that pastors face. Maybe you could be that encouragement.