By Dale Sellers
I recently had a leader reach out to me at 95Network through our website who was in real need. His correspondence went something like this:
“I’m in a season where I’m dealing with feelings of being isolated and alone when it comes to being a pastor. I’m the only paid staff member. I get very little support or encouragement from the church elders. Everything church related falls on my shoulders. Not sure how much longer I can bear the weight of it. I’m just not in a very healthy place mentally right now.”
I’ve got to tell you his words broke my heart and stirred up some old memories. You see, I remember a time when I was pastoring our small church that I took a chance and reached out to one of our board members with the hopes of being able to share my heart with him. I was in a very discouraging place and thought it prudent to share about my struggles.
However, I was completely caught off guard by his response. He literally stopped me mid-conversation as I started down the path of what I was going through. He put his hand up in my face and said,
“Pastor, I don’t want to hear this. I don’t want to know what you are currently going through because my life is a disaster. I need your life to be perfect, so I can hope that things can get better for me.”
Wow! I remember thinking it was just one of the responsibilities of pastoring, never to acknowledge that you have any problems. Or at least not let anyone know you had issues. I didn’t think it was ok not to be ok.
However, I’ve discovered over the years that many teachers, professors, and spiritual leaders have taught us that it’s our responsibility as pastors to put on a happy face at all times. You’re never supposed to let people know you’re having problems or struggling in any arena. You’re not supposed to show a “chink in your armor!” Instead, the “calling” requires you to “suffer in silence” while you are everyone else’s problem solver.
How sad! It breaks my heart to think that there are thousands of spiritual leaders throughout America and around the world who believe in this nonsense. I guess the “gurus” of our day never really spent much time studying the life of Jesus. Or Paul. Or Peter. Or Stephen. Or any of the Church founders.
After I responded to this pastor, I received this reply to my offer to connect with him:
“I want to connect with a call, but I’m hesitant because that means I have to admit to myself that I could use some help. I’m supposed to have the answers. I’m supposed to be able to get through anything. I’ve always been able to do that. Just feeling mentally exhausted right now.”
I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this pastor’s honesty. However, his hesitancy to seek help affirmed what I’ve known to be true for many years now: Pastors are not ok!
It’s with this in mind that I want to share a few thoughts with you, hoping you can embrace that “it’s ok not to be ok . . . but it’s not ok to stay that way!” In other words, I think it’s time to address the internal barriers in the hearts of spiritual leaders that keep them from reaching out for help. I hope you can overcome them if I help you identify them in your heart.
Here are a few that I’ve experienced firsthand:
1 – Thinking that my life has to be perfect to set an example for those I lead.
Perfection is a heavy weight to bear. In my book “Stalled: Hope & Help For Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now,” I address how I felt like a failure for most of my life because I could never seem to get there. The biggest problem for me was I couldn’t find where there was! I had created a false image of what success looks like as a pastor. You may have also allowed yourself to put unrealistic expectations on yourself over the years. I find it helpful to remind myself that there was only One person who attained perfection. And He gave Himself up so that we could live in His grace.
2 – Spiritual pride misleading me into thinking I’m doing better than I am.
The term “spiritual pride” sounds so carnal, doesn’t it? Yet, I’ve observed it to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for those in ministry. Pride doesn’t always reveal itself as arrogant and conceited. I think the opposite is often true for those of us in ministry. We struggle with shame a lot of times, if we’re honest. Shame can easily slip into spiritual pride when it keeps us from being transparent or reaching out for help. This shame will eventually lead us to self-deception, the worst form of deception. Proverbs 16:18 is still valid, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
3 – Insecurity motivating me to spend excessive energy trying to cover up my failures.
I personally know the impact of insecurity. It will wear you down if you deal with it while trying to lead others. The energy drain comes out of the conflict within your soul. Leadership requires you to have your act together. When you don’t, your default is trying to cover up the insecurity to keep others from knowing the real you. I’ve heard that insecure leaders spend up to 75% of their time trying to hide their insecurities. While I’m not sure if this is scientific data, I can undoubtedly attest it to be true in my former ministry.
4 – Not having anyone in my life with whom I could be completely honest.
I must point out that I’m not referring to my spouse with this. You never want to keep secrets from them. Doing so will destroy true intimacy. However, I have also learned the importance of having a friend, mentor, or counselor with whom I can be transparent. I’ve observed many spiritual leaders who seemed paralyzed regarding this topic. The paralysis develops from the tension of wanting to be a great example versus needing a safe place to decompress. Once again, many of us learned to “never let them see you struggle” as a part of good leadership. If this is you, I can assure you that you’ll eventually search for ways to relieve the pressure that can be destructive to your life and ministry. We simply aren’t made to live every day in stress and tension.
5 – Experiencing a lack of training to do the job I was hired to do.
I don’t know of any other vocational field that produces more leaders who are unprepared for their role than ministry. So many pastors and staffers continue to express that their formal training did not prepare them for day-to-day ministry. As a general rule, most arenas of higher education successfully educate us on spiritual things and understanding the scriptures (which is a great asset, by the way!). However, the average pastor/leader often testifies of feeling unprepared for leading their ministry regarding practical things.
6 – Living in a perpetual state of exhaustion.
Without exception, every major mistake that I’ve ever made happened when I was exhausted. That’s a fact! I discovered how much easier it was to compromise or make excuses when facing an important decision if I was exhausted. A fellow pastor friend said, “I often found that my ‘give a darn’ was broken when I was tired.” You can probably attest to experiences in your own life where you made a different decision than you would have made if you were sharper. Lack of refreshment is when I see so much devastation resulting from leaders who refuse to practice a sabbath or take vacations. No one can experience a long life of success in ministry if they refuse to rest, replenish and refuel.
7 – Living every day with the feeling that I was a disappointment to Jesus.
This last point is very personal to me. I also recognize that you may not have felt this way before. However, I can’t talk about the subject of not being ok and fail to mention how I felt like such a disappointment to Jesus. I realize that we live in the residue of the seeker and attractional church movements where success was all about large gatherings. Therefore, when the small church I pastored never grew into a church of thousands, I felt I had somehow let Jesus down. I lived most of my days thinking He was constantly shaking His head in disappointment every time He thought of me. This feeling came from the fact that I hadn’t built a large church, so something must be wrong with me. The “large church” glitz, glamor, and hype of that era made me feel like I was “less than” what He created me to be. I often thought that He was wondering why I couldn’t get it together like so many others. It was a heavy burden to carry for sure.
There are obviously other things that I could add to this list. These are just some of the things that I was experiencing personally.
As I close today, let me ask you this question: “Are you ok???” I mean, really ok?” If your answer is “no,” let me offer you two simple solutions.
Secondly, please feel free to reach out to me or any member of the 95Network team. You can find a complete list of our team members here: Who We Are.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any needs at all. Remember that it’s ok not to be ok. But Jesus doesn’t want you to stay that way!
You can contact Dale at: Dale@95Network.org
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