For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.Exodus 20:11
Two recent events awakened my spirit.
One was the suicide of an associate pastor of a mega-church in California.
The other was a brother pastor who has questions about being a pastor after a number of years in the ministry.
The first was a tragedy that I can’t help but think could have been avoided.
The second is true of all pastors and, I suspect, all people.
The pastor asking the questions is 39 years old. I believe just about every 39-year-old faces questions of purpse.
That’s how old Mitch Robbins is in the movie City Slickers.
He finds himself with his two best friends on a cattle drive. In a conversation with one of the real cowboys, he is confronted with this truth:
“You city folk! You spend 50 weeks a year getting knots in your rope, then you think two weeks up here will straighten it out.”City Slickers, 1991 movie
My brother pastor – at age 39 – is asking the hard questions about “what’s next.” He’s been a pastor for over ten years. I could relate to him! I was also about 39 when I began to ask pretty much the same question.
I’ve found that the answer is in listening to God. Take the question to God and listen for the answer. God loves answering the question, “What’s next?”
While it isn’t always obvious what God’s exact answer is, He does have an answer.
And the answer can change as time goes on. While a pastor is called to the ministry, that calling changes as the years go on.
I’m tempted to say that it “evolves” but that isn’t quite the right word. So, a quick look at my thesaurus gives me a couple of words that I think work better.
The calling of God is the answer to “what’s next?”
Because I’m talking about a brother pastor, I’ll use the example of the pastoral calling.
The pastoral calling progresses through the years. It can lead from one congregation to another.
The pastoral calling advances through the years. It advances the man from one level of being a pastor to another.
As I listened to this brother ask the question, I could see the exhaustion in his eyes and hear it in his voice.
Most pastors post-age-39 pretty much have all been there. So those of us who are can encourage him. I pledged to myself that I will continue to encourage him to keep asking the questions and to keep listening for the answers from God.
The key – for me – is that I continue to be there for him and walk with him in this quest for answers.
Too often pastors feel alone. I can tell you from experience that it is very easy to feel like you have no friends, have no one to talk to, while at the same time feel indispensable. That if you don’t do what it takes to pastor a congregation and lead the local body of Christ, no one else can. This only deepens and intensifies the loneliness.
And if this loneliness is combined with the mental illness of depression, anxiety, or PTSD, it can lead to tragic situations.
Which is what apparently happened in Riverside, California last week.
Associate Pastor Jarrid Wilson – serving at Harvest Christian Fellowship took his own life. He was an author and co-founder of the mental heath nonprofit Anthem of Hope.
He was open about his own long battle with depression. But still his death was a shock to his church, the community, and to those pastors who knew him.
The best news I can share with anyone dealing with this is that death – be it by suicide or other means – doesn’t get the last word for the Christian.
And let me deal with the awful misconception that many have – that suicide is an automatic ticket to hell.
It is not, when it is caused by illness. Just as we would never say that someone who dies because of cancer is condemned, so I believe it is wrong to say that someone who dies battling mental illness is condemned.
Jesus loves us with an everlasting love. He loves the well in addition to the sick. He died for all and His blood forgives all sins.
What Can Be Done?
In both circumstances, here’s what I am going to do. Never, ever, give up on someone. My brother pastor who is asking the tough – but not unique – questions at age 39 – I will reach out, pray with and for him and walk along side him on his quest for answers.
Its too late to do anything for Jerrid Wilson. But here’s my plea to you.
If you know a pastor (and I’m sure nearly all of you know at least one) don’t assume he’s got it all-together. Pray for him. Talk with him. Pray with him some more.
And if you see that his smile is a little dim. Or its slow coming to his face, take him aside and tell him you want to talk with him. Kind of along the lines of “if you see something say something.”
He may try to shrug you off. He may get upset. But don’t let that stop you. It could very well be that his life depends upon it!
Get Some Rest
At the very least, tell him to get some rest. He should have a day where he’s “off the clock” during the week. Make sure he takes it.
He should have vacation time coming. Make sure he gets out of the office, out of the church, and takes that vacation. Don’t let him make excuses. Take what excuses away that you can (time, responsibilities, finances).
If you are a pastor reading this – do it! Get that rest. Don’t buy into the lie that the ministry will collapse without you.
You are important. But so is your health – mental as well as physical.
God gave His people “sabbath rest” and modeled it after six days of creating everything.
If God took a sabbath, so should – and can – you!
Heavenly Father, bring peace and healing to all those hurting and battling mental illness. Raise up friends and family around them to help them, pray for them, and be with them. I pray that rest will be taken by those who need it – namely everyone alive. Thank you for Jesus who gives us peace, health, forgiveness, and rest. In His name. Amen.
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