Billy Graham once said, “The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying not, ‘What a lovely sermon!’ but, ‘I will do something.’”
What a special responsibility pastors have to lead in this way. Yet, the great task of rallying people behind the Gospel can also bring great pressure.
Studying and praying to deliver God’s Word each week, counseling and consoling people in need, keeping business in order at church and at home—not to mention having a likeable personality and a few hobbies through it all—is a multifaceted vocation only pastors can understand. And one that requires continual attention.
“Burnout is a real thing, and a real risk when we go too long without rest. It’s no different for your pastor,” explained Will Graham, who is executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina.
“In many churches, the pastor is not just the preacher, but also the accountant, janitor, chaplain, librarian and counselor,” he added.
Like his grandfather Billy Graham, Will pastored a church before becoming a full-time evangelist. In a recent blog about the importance of Pastor Appreciation Month, he admitted he didn’t want that call on his life—at first.
“From my perspective, pastors were under-appreciated and underpaid, serving long and thankless hours only to hear complaints because the message was too long or too short, the music was too contemporary or not contemporary enough,” Will said.
But he jumped feet first and soon grew to love being a pastor.
“When the day came that I felt called to leave my church and help my father at the BGEA, I sat down at my desk and wept,” Will recalled. “I could hardly bring myself to leave.”
That same love and commitment is the story of countless pastors and their spouses.
But there are struggles that can come with the weight of leadership. Like not feeling valued, explained Atlanta-area pastor and author Johnny Hunt.
“It is real easy for the church people to think of what the pastor and his wife are to do for them, and oftentimes in their busyness and expectations, do not show value and appreciation toward the pastor and his wife,” he said. “Also, unless the couple that are leading the church is very intentional, serving as a pastor and spouse can be a very lonely position.”
Last month, Hunt taught a Pastors’ Institute at The Cove on the Stewardship of Influence. As pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, he knows all about the weight of ministry and how much prayer and encouragement can mean.
“Every month I send a prayer email,” he said. “In there I tell them to pray that I would find my joy in the Lord, that I would have proper margins and that I would seek constant refreshment from the Lord.
“What a difference it makes to know that others are lifting me to the throne of God.”
A Time for Renewal
Just as pastors have a responsibility to influence those they lead—there’s also a responsibility to be good stewards of the time and relationships God gives. That means getting away when necessary, valuing family time and being careful not to overwork.
“No one sets my schedule but myself. I have to realize that I have limits,” Hunt said. “I may use the daylight God gave me but I need to be home with my family, especially in relation to the age of the children and the demands in order to be a godly husband and father.”
As a former pastor, Will Graham wanted to make pastors a priority. The Cove started the Leadership Renewal Project as one way to pour back into the lives of pastors and their spouses.
Donations to the fund allow pastors to attend three-day Leadership Renewal Retreats for free. That includes the program fee, meals and lodging.
In addition to giving your pastor the opportunity to get away, Will recommends offering words of affirmation and breaking down walls that can exist between pastors and the congregation.
“I can attest the great blessing it is to lead a congregation, but I can also stand here and say clearly that it isn’t easy. There are struggles,” he explained. “This month, show your pastor how much you appreciate him in whatever ways you can.”
Looking for ways to honor your pastor? Thanks to the Leadership Renewal Project, pastors and their spouses can attend special retreats at The Cove for free. The 2016 schedule of Leadership Renewal Retreats includes:
- Jim Henry, Feb. 24-26, 2016
- Sean McDowell & Alex McFarland, April 25-27, 2016 (specifically for youth pastors)
- Albert Mohler, Jr. Nov. 7-9, 2016