Pastor, you can’t help everyone
I know the title of this piece seems a bit jarring, but I titled it this way not because of a pastors inability to care for his flock; but because of the dangers that come with the literally trying to help everyone. Those dangers being increases in relational stress and idolatry that inevitably lead to increased rates of isolation, temptation, anxiety and depression.
My hope is to point out that you can’t help everyone as a pastor. The demands of your congregation do not take precedent over the worship of Christ.
Jesus is first
Many pastors who are called into vocational ministry, go in with the hope and desire that they will be able to love and care for the church through the teaching and preaching of God’s word. They envision proclaiming God’s word to people of a local church body where they receive hope, grace and a new joy. They want to put Jesus first. What they don’t anticipate are the relationships and the people in their church that will require their time and how some of these congregant demands move Jesus into second or even third place. In this type of church culture ministry gradually becomes more about making sure certain people are happy within the church body. This transformation is often covert and subtle. Pastors rarely get an individual or group of individuals in a church that will directly demand him to meet all of their needs right up front. This transformation happens over years of ministerial work through meetings to discuss how leaders and or congregants are unhappy with the pastor for something he did or didn’t do. Pastors are worn down by the demand to meet the needs of vocal toxic congregants, who’s purpose in church is more about them than worshipping Jesus as King.
It is through this type of church culture Jesus is moved into a tertiary position and the demands of the church become the primary variable that is appeased or even worshipped.
People Pleasing is Idolatry and leads to Anxiety and Depression.
We know and understand that anytime someone or something is put in the place of Christ as a functional savior, we are engaging in idolatry. Back in the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites had a prayer called “The Shema”. This was a prayer they would say corporately that would rightly orient themselves to God and correctly position Him as supreme in their lives. But we know the Israelites struggled mightily with trusting God and His character. We see many instances of God’s people taking matters into their own hands and creating emotional, relational and physical damage. The Israelites didn’t have a problem with a Good and gracious God, they had a problem with an idolatrous heart that desired to be god.
Fast forward to today, while we may be more technologically advanced than the Israelites we really aren’t that different than them. We would prefer to be god, then to let God be God. When a pastor is stuck in a cycle of focusing on putting the needs of vocal toxic congregants first and base the church health on if they are happy, this is people pleasing and idolatry. This is putting Christ second, like the behavior of the Israelites. This behavior, unfortunately leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The anxiety shows up in the form of worry that you as pastor will not be liked or well thought of if you don’t respond to the demands of the few. The depression shows up in the form of low self-esteem in that you are not worth anything unless you are focusing on making sure your congregants are happy. This type of anxiety and depression will rob a pastor of their primary identity and their joy in Jesus.
You cannot help everyone
This leads me to wrap up this piece by saying again, “pastor you cannot help everyone”. I say this to cause you to evaluate how you are engaging in relationships within your church. I say this to cause you to evaluate why are you doing what you are doing. I say this to cause you to evaluate where Jesus ranks within your church.
I say and ask all these things not so you will take a strong stance and say you won’t help anyone or that you will continue to help everyone. Pride exists in both of those responses. I am focusing on these things because as a pastor you are called to be under shepherds of God’s flock and you cannot do that if you have significant anxiety and depression stemming from people pleasing. As a pastor you will always be called to walk a balance filled with tension, but to know and remember that Christ is where all your needs are met. This isn’t to say you won’t have moments or worry or low self-esteem in your ministry, but your ministry won’t be marked by chronic anxiety and depression.
Jesus gives you tremendous hope in the sermon on the mount Matt 6:26-34. Jesus acknowledges and addresses your anxiety. He reminds you of who is in charge. He illustrates your worth to God. He treats your anxiety and promises to be God in your life. Toxic church members certainly need the love of Jesus, but they are not where your identity is found..
“You cannot help everyone” should be a phrase that gives you freedom to focus on those that God has genuinely placed in your path to help (through wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit) as well as being able to function in your primary identity, which is worshipper and child of God.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The lock downs amid a global pandemic have been hard for virtually everyone There is zero sense of normal. Most everyone is holding on to the figurative steering wheel and white knuckling it. Amidst all this turmoil, people are attempting to thrive. They are trying to connect with one another and taking their mental health more seriously than they ever have. In some ways, this moment in time is giving people an opportunity to pause and reflect.
That being said, there is a group of individuals that are not fairing well and that is pastors. With pastors having to make the tough decisions to move to online church, the demand for soul care of their congregants has increased significantly. In some states, pastors were not given a choice about closing their church indefinitely and faced the backlash from it. Pastors work an incredibly hard job. There is no sermon they will preach that will be good enough. No counseling session they give that will be restoring enough. No amount of time they dedicate to the church and the body that will be enough. This is the landscape that many church planters face and current pastors know. This reality for most pastors has intensified during these lock downs.
Many pastors go into ministry because they sincerely love Jesus Christ and the church. But as time goes on and they go longer in ministry, the wear of the job becomes more than one pastor can handle. Between leadership meetings and demands of congregations, when and where does a pastor have time to get his emotional and mental health needs met? The answer unfortunately is they don’t. The role of pastor has a reputation of almost being an individual without sin who has endless energy. The pastor is seen as someone who has their life together and in biblical terms is above reproach. Tragically, this reputation plagues many pastors; to the point that they feel they have to fulfill these expectations 24/7 and there is no room for rest or any grace if they make a mistake.
This leads to suffering in silence and to a lack of trust. This leads to a belief that their internal suffering must be from a lack of faith. In short, they become anxious and depressed.
Pastor suicide is on the rise and while not every pastor who suffers from depression, contemplates suicide they are indeed in emotional turmoil. Many pastors who deal with anxiety and depression in silence do so because they may lose their jobs if they are found out; others remain silent because their church does not acknowledge, minimizes or dismisses all together the existence of mental health issues.
If you are reading this and you have a church you call home, know this…your pastor is human and sinful and absolutely needs your support, prayer, and grace.
Pastor if you are reading this and it resonates, know this…you are seen, Christ loves you, your people love you and the sacrifices you have made and the work you have done during these lock downs are greatly appreciated. Do not isolate but go to Christ and accept grace.
-Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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