When A Pastor Has Temporary Physical Limitations

May 20, 2016 | Perspectives

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A few years ago, my husband decided to buy a small motorcycle. This was during the time when gas was more than $4.00 a gallon locally, and some gas pumps had to shut down temporarily because of a supposed shortage. He went through proper motorcycle training, and everything was fine until one particular Saturday.

Because we were scheduled to have a baptism service on Sunday, my husband decided to take a ride to the church to make sure the baptistery was being filled with water. As he neared the church, a car pulled out from a side street in front of him, causing him to crash. He called me on his cell phone from the back of an ambulance.

He sustained injuries that would require surgery and rehab. Needless to say, he was not physically able to preach or baptize the next day, and when he became able to preach again, adjustments had to be made. He could not walk unassisted, and would not be able to stand because of his injured ankle, so there was no way he could preach from the stage area. A church member had brought him a walker, and this particular walker had a seat. Our church had a short podium, so my husband preached sitting on that seat and with his notes on the podium. After he was able to graduate from the walker, he preached from a barstool for a while until his ankle was well enough for him to manage the short steps of the platform.

Sometimes, a pastor is expected to stand in the hall and listen to someone’s “organ recital” and show sympathy, but he doesn’t get the same sympathy when he is the one with the health issue. Nevertheless, here are some points to ponder:

  • You are not invincible. God gave you a physical body just as he did everyone else, so don’t be a hero. Take off your armor, and communicate your situation to the leadership. They don’t need to know every detail about your health but tell them enough that they grasp the situation.
  • In extreme situations, such as a hospital stay, the church will need to decide how to fill the pulpit while you are laid up. Let the church do that—you have enough to worry about.
  • The church needs to accommodate and lower their expectations during this time. They should not expect full-strength messages, meeting attendance, and visitation to the hospitals and shut-ins while you are healing.
  • The members of the congregation should minister to and take care of the pastor in the same way they take care of each other. When my husband had the accident, I was busy dispensing medication, helping him to the bathroom, and dressing wounds. Meals and visits to our home were very much appreciated.

Your health issue may not involve an accident—sometimes we have illnesses, body parts wear out, or we need a surgery for some reason—maybe with no notice. My husband told me, “I have learned that my health is important enough that I have to find healing in my own body before I can help the church find healing.”

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Maleah Bell is a freelance editor and pastor’s wife. She and her husband make their home in Middle Tennessee.

 

 

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