You’re a pastor. You have been faithful in the Christian disciplines you preach and teach. You have seen God’s hand move in miraculous ways in your life and the lives of others. You may have attained some level of “success” or become a sought-after speaker in your circle of influence. You’ve encouraged others to be faithful to “watch and pray.” However, you’ve also had some folks come to you and tell you that it is not working as they thought it would. And, the truth is that some of you have been hiding the fact that it is not working for you that way either and it has taken its toll on you, your ministry, your marriage and even your outlook on life and Christianity. This, my dear pastoral friends, is the result of emotional trauma, or what I call vocational pain, and emotional trauma left “ignored” WILL take you out. Let me repeat this for emphasis: Emotional trauma ignored WILL take you out! You’ve seen it in others, don’t become a victim.
Two Types of Pain
There are two basic types of emotional trauma a pastor has to deal with and they are interdependent. Firstly, there is the inevitable trauma that comes FROM a ministerial career. You know what that is. It comes from relationships with the sheep. If you care about the sheep, you develop close relationships with them. It is those close relationships that cause the biggest problems. Not because people are the problem, but the problem is that the closer I get, the more intertwined they become in my Shepherd’s heart. So what affects them deeply also has the potential to affect me deeply. Things like sorrow, loss, pain, addiction etc. have an effect on the Shepherd because he cares for the sheep. We could always keep our distance and remain aloof. However, if we remove our Shepherd’s heart, we become nothing more than a hireling and a hireling flees when the wolf shows up growling.
Secondly, there is the emotional trauma we bring INTO our ministerial career. I have found that many people entering a career of service do so out of a heart felt desire to help others from a place of empathy. In other words, they may have been abused, abandoned, hurt or affected in some deep way in their life and they have a soft spot for those who are hurting. That’s great because they understand. So, many of them enter their ministerial career bringing their own brand of pain. The problem is that unless you have overcome that pain, it will lie to you in relationship and leadership issues in your church. It can cause you to label people in the church as your enemies or cause you to become dependent on their praise and appreciation for your self-worth. That’s really bad for a leader because it keeps you from getting your vision or compass heading from God and staying the course. Instead, it can cause a pastor to change directions multiple times, following the affirmations of the congregation instead of the Chief Shepherd.
The spiral staircase down
That emotional pain will, firstly, bring you to tears. It will then eventually take those tears away leaving you with a feeling of emptiness. After that, it will fill that void with bitterness. Ignored, this insidious wound will lead you into the dark, lonely, cold world of victimhood. Arriving at victimhood, you will make a stop at entitlement, which is also the doorway to devastating choices that you thought you would never make. Being justified in the mind, you believe that these choices are a way of coping with the pain and feeling of loss that is hammering you. As you can see, the negative effects of emotional trauma is a one-way spiral staircase leading the pastor down a pathway of compromising those things for which he once stood strong.
This is exactly the same downward path I have witnessed those in law enforcement travel who have not learned emotional survival. Reading their stories in the newspaper headlines and hearing them on the evening news, we shake our heads wondering how they trample underfoot the oath taken to protect and serve. Shaking our heads in the same way, we hear of pastoral affairs, embezzlement, sexual abuse, secret lives and for the life of us we can’t figure out how they got there. The answer? I believe the lion share of it began with vocational pain.
I have yet to have a single pastor tell me that they were taught this in seminary or Bible school. Doesn’t seem fair does it? You’d think something as extremely dangerous as vocational pain would be on the “A” list of lessons to keep the pastor in the saddle enabling him or her to make a difference in their church and leave a legacy. That, my dear pastor, is why I am writing.
It doesn’t fit the way they told me it would!
How do I know these things? Because in the 36+ years I have served as a Sr. Pastor in only two churches, I have gone through plenty of vocational pain as well, learning that life, others and mine, doesn’t “neatly” fit into the “box” that many seminaries and Bible schools portray.
Yes, you may very well survive earning your Master’s degree or a Doctorate thriving on the educational achievement and may even write a book or two. However, it’s probably not these things that will “take you out” of the pastoring environment or cause you to want to find another vocation. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. I raise my Starbucks coffee mug to you, Pastor…don’t quit. Stay the course. It is well worth it. Don’t allow the enemy to convince you that you can’t make it. The Great Shepherd knows exactly what we go through and is willing and able to keep us in the game.