Henri Nouwen writes, “Pain suffered alone feels very different from pain suffered alongside another. Even when the pain stays, we know how great the difference if another draws close, if another shares with us in it. This kind of comfort comes most fully and powerfully visible in the Incarnation, wherein God comes into our midst—into our lives—to remind us, ‘I am with you at all times and in all places.’”
We ask the Christian leaders we work with, “When was the last time that you experienced feeling loved?”
Often, their response will be an occasion when they exhibited something positive and were rewarded for it. The natural follow up question is, “When have you experienced being loved in your brokenness?” Crickets. Whose fault is this, the pastors’ or those around them? Often both. Many of those in Christian leadership dread dependency because their experience in life has been that no one shows up when they have a need. They make sure they show up for others yet deep down they still fear being vulnerable and risking no one showing up for them.
We have limits, we have needs, we have brokenness, and so we all need help. This includes pastors. Not only is it important to recognize the need, but to fill in that hole in the pastor’s life with the support and help which comes from outside the pulpit.
In the opening of her book Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors, Susan M. Johnson begins painting a picture about the need and power of relationships:
If another stands beside you when you face overwhelming terror and helplessness—whether you name this terror and helplessness a “dragon” or call it by some other name, such as traumatic stress—then everything is different. Shadows are not so terrifying. The struggle can be shared, and sometimes the fight can even be a thing of joy as, together, you defy the dragon. We all know it is better not to be alone in the dark and that connection with others makes us stronger.
Pastors face many dragons, and unfortunately battles are being lost to these dragons. Have pastors tapped into the resource of relationships to face the battles? Has anyone stepped up to stand beside the pastor as they face the dragons by providing care, counsel, and encouragement? Do those within the church who have realized they need someone to help them face the challenges of life realize the pastor needs the same? Pastors need to receive what they give to others—they need to be ministered to during difficult times but also before difficult times.
They need someone to pray with and for them, someone to hold up their arms when they cannot, someone to be their friend. Pastors often do not receive being poured into. Sometimes it is the pastor’s resistance. Sometimes it is the negligence of those in relationship with the pastor, and sometimes it is the nature of the beast of ministry. But whatever the cause the truth remains— pastors are people in need of someone to minister to them. A pastor is human like everyone else, limited in gifting, in energy, in self-knowledge. Part of respecting ourselves as a creature or a person is respecting that we are limited and have needs. We need someone who can help us see the issues beneath the issues. Someone who can help us defuse before we blow.
Michael MacKenzie is a licensed professional counselor, ordained pastor, hospital chaplain, and author the new book Don’t Blow Up Your Ministry. He has served for ten years as the clinical director of Marble Retreat, a Colorado retreat center that specializes in ministering to pastors and ministry leaders in crisis. He studied marriage and family counseling at Denver Seminary and has a DMin in pastor care from Lincoln Christian University.