I’m sitting with my 17-year-old son, listening to the beeps and noises of his hospital room. He was recently diagnosed with leukemia and is in an intense battle for his life. My pastor-husband is at home with our other four sons as we divvy up parenting between the hospital and home. Grief is near and heavy.
The Scriptures have been a great comfort, especially Paul’s words to the Corinthian believers: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities . . . [we are] sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:3–10).
How does “sorrowful but always rejoicing” play out in ministry? It’s right for pastors to want to be an example of faith, to desire to lead with courage and tenacity amid adversity. They’re eager to model the “always rejoicing” part, but what about the “sorrowful” part? How does a church allow space for its pastor to walk through suffering and grief—to be both rejoicing but also sorrowful?
Here are four ways a church can serve its pastor in his season of affliction.
Your pastor is only a man, called by God, seeking to be faithful. He struggles with the same things you do. He has times of wrestling with God, times when his faith feels weak. Sometimes he doesn’t “feel” the promises of God to be true, so he clings to what he knows to be true despite his feelings. He’s not extraordinary, simply faithful. Your pastor is only a man, called by God, seeking to be faithful. He struggles with the same things you do. Click To Tweet
Expect from your pastor what you would expect of any other believer walking through pain. Give him grace as he suffers publicly. He may express emotions you’re not used to seeing, or he may bottle it up. It may be that he’s trying to put on a brave front for his children sitting in the pews. Be gracious in your expectations.
You may have concerns about yourself or the church. Pray and seek the Lord about whether now is the time to address them. It’s certainly not the time to bring your concerns to your pastor’s attention. If there’s a shepherding issue, ask another elder about it. But realize the other elders are carrying a heavier load as they handle extra responsibilities, the grief of the pastor and his family, and many in the church. Your need can probably wait.
If you’ve not historically been close to your pastor and his family, now is not the time to seek this closeness. Allow them to press in where they feel safe and be okay with realizing that may not be you. And be patient with your pastor and his family as they work through grief in a public setting. They’ll probably grieve differently than you thought they would. They might experience waves of grief at times that seem awkward or misplaced. They’re learning what grief looks like, just as any other church member would. Be patient with them.
Be Slow to Speak
Proverbs 10:19 tells us that “when words are many, sin is not absent.” While words during pain and suffering aren’t necessarily sinful, they’re often (unintentionally) unhelpful, and at times, hurtful. If you don’t know what to say, simply let your pastor know you’re praying for him and his family. Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us there “is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” Pray that the Spirit would help you discern what time it is.How does a church allow space for its pastor to walk through suffering and grief—to be both rejoicing but also sorrowful? Click To Tweet
Questions are often unhelpful when grief is heavy, so allow them to remain unanswered for a time. Your desire to help is out of love for your pastor and his family, but what you think is helpful may not help. Asking how you can help puts more weight on your pastor because he then needs to think about it. His mind is already burdened and overfull. If there’s someone appointed to manage care for your pastor and his family, trust them to manage it well. Take your questions and desire to serve to that person and be content with the role the Lord has given you.
Above all, Pray
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking all I can do is pray—as if that’s insignificant. We’re told throughout God’s Word that the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (James 5:16). The greatest gift you can give is prayer. Pray that the Lord would be very present (Ps. 46:1), that he would carry this burden for your pastor (Matt. 11:28), that he would be close (Ps. 34:18). Pray that your pastor would be steadfast (James 1:12), and pray that God’s glory would be revealed through this trial (John 9:3).It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking all I can do is pray—as if that’s insignificant. . . . The greatest gift you can give is prayer. Click To Tweet Most churches love their pastor and his family and want to pour out care and comfort when suffering strikes. May we all remember that the greatest comfort anyone can find is in the Father of compassion, “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). Your desire to comfort flows from being formed in God’s likeness, but God alone is the ultimate comfort for your suffering pastor and his family.