Dear pastor . . .

To all pastors—male and female, whether you are studying theology, currently in the field, have retired or have left ministry because of the burnout—this open letter is for you.

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(Photo: Unsplash)

You may have seen the news. On August 27, Andrew Stoecklein took his own life. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression in April, four months later, it was all too much. He was a loving husband, father of three boys—and senior pastor of a church in California. When his church, Inland Hills, broke the news on their Instagram page, they were flooded with thousands of comments from people around the world, offering their condolences, prayers and love to Pastor Andrew’s family.

When I heard about Andrew Stoecklein, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. As the daughter of a pastor, and the wife of another, it hit far too close to home. One comment in particular hurt the most: “I’m so sorry, Pastor Drew, that I never [gave you this praise] in person . . . I’m sorry we didn’t hear your pain and struggles as you were hard at work covering our burdens and brokenness with light.”

Since the moment I was born, I’ve seen firsthand the work you do. I know Sabbaths are not so much a “day of rest” but rather the busiest day of the week. I know the work that goes on behind the scenes—ministry doesn’t clock on at nine and off at five, and the responsibility of a congregation at times can be unbearable. Pastors have been told they don’t work hard enough, disciple enough, preach well enough, visit members enough. Everyone has his or her own job description of what a pastor should do. Almost no-one realises the impossibility of meeting these expectations.1 Almost no-one realises pastors are people first, before they are pastors.

As pastors, you go through the same life challenges many of your members go through: marriage, children, ageing or sick parents, financial struggles and health issues—all while trying to lead a congregation. Those burdens, piled on your shoulders, often cannot be shared with anyone else for confidential reasons.

But I’m going to go out on a limb here today and say that I’m representing a group of people—bigger than you think—that love you wholeheartedly. Your spouses who hold you when you come home from a day that has been particularly taxing. Your family who pray for you. Your church members who look forward to hearing you share the Word and visiting them. To paraphrase one of my favourite book characters, “If we can’t carry [your burden], then we’ll carry you.”2

October was Pastor Appreciation Month. But today, tomorrow and for the years that follow, we pledge to be an army of prayer warriors, lifting you up to heaven with our words.3 We see your passion for the church and know you want to make it a better place. We see the love and the care for God’s people, and how you want nothing but the best for each and every one of them. And though it’s often a thankless and tiring work, you press on, because you know God has called you to this ministry.

We see that, and we acknowledge you.

In the case of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, it took a tragedy for one church to wake up to the fact that pastors are humans, and need prayers and affirmation more than ever. So to all pastors, male and female, whether you are studying theology, currently in the field, have retired or have left ministry because of the burnout, we thank you for the work you will do, are doing and have done. People are challenging. We’re all flawed human beings, and a lot of the time, we don’t forgive gracefully, extend mercy, speak kindly, or, to be frank, act at all like Jesus would. For that, we are sorry. But if no-one else has affirmed you, we are stepping forward to do just that. If no-one has let you know today, this week or this month that you are appreciated, loved and valued, then let us be the first. We may never meet until heaven, but we know that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus.4

If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or other local support service.

  1. Shari Thomas, Who Is The Woman Married To Your Pastor?
  2. Original quote from Samwise Gamgee in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.
  3. Hebrews 13:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-3.
  4. Philippians 1:6.
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