Sympathy is a big word in Christian circles. We preach Christ’s sympathy for His people and we encourage pastors to have sympathy to care for their peoples’ hurts. But have you ever stopped to think that pastors are also in need of sympathy? Let me plead for your sympathy toward your pastor, for out of necessity, due to the heart-rending nature of pastoral ministry, his heart must often ache over his congregation, and maybe at times his heart aches over you.
Whether he has walked into the pulpit to lead the service and preach the message which is upon His heart, or whether he stands at the doorway of the church to shake hands with his congregation, he is ever conscious that his work relates to the hurts of his people and the comfort of their souls. The chief instrument of his work is the Word of God. A protestant minister who glories in the gospel knows there is no other message that will deal with guilt, shame, insecurity, pride, and many other sorts of life’s hurts. He knows that hope is found in Christ and in Christ alone, so he will be a man of the Word to preach the glories and sufficiency of Christ.
A pastor’s heart will ache when he notices that his sheep are not feeding on the gospel. Absenteeism is a glaring concern, but deafness in the pew is also a sure symptom of some disease affecting the heart. Sheep eagerly feed from the hand of the shepherd in the frosty winter mornings, but in the growing season there is no need for sheep to be hand fed. They just graze where they wander. The pastor soon notices when his people lose their appetite for God’s Word, and discerns that they are feeding elsewhere. There is a mystery of rapport between preacher and the listener in the pew. The dial of the listener’s face is an open book that tells all. A distant look signals a distant soul with little interest. The pastor feels that distance each moment of his sermon delivery and longs for power to break through to awaken hearts to take a deeper interest in the gospel he is called to preach.
A pastor’s heart also aches over defiant sheep. Shepherds may be leaders of the sheep, but some sheep really know how to butt with their heads. They sometimes instinctively charge against the shepherd’s commands. It is a conflict born out of a sheep’s stubborn nature as if to say, “You may lead me, but you can’t drive me.” Then patience is required, and the gentleness of the shepherd will hopefully win over the hearts of the sheep. But the path of danger must be blocked up and the sheep must always be led to safety. It is heart-wrenching work to see sheep go hungry and weary, while there are green pastures abundant and a place of rest for their souls. Happy are the people in the Lord’s church that follow a faithful shepherd to enjoy the riches of God’s grace.
The greatest cause for heart-ache to the godly pastor is the spiritually-dead soul. As any shepherd will tell you, the mortality rate among sheep is shockingly high and death is often very sudden. The shepherd can hap upon his prized sheep lying cold and stiff, for death often strikes quickly and finally as a thief in the night. If a sheep were sick, care could revive it to life, but sudden death robs the most loving shepherd of all hope. There is nothing to do but lament. In our pews we fear we have dead souls. The grip of sin is obvious and steals away any response to spiritual calls. The condition of spiritual inability in men and women, boys and girls, is much like a sheep rolled over on its back with its four feet in the air totally unable to turn itself, for then death is imminent. A pastor, who is a lover of souls, would love to shake a sinner to life. He would long to bring a soul out of the power of spiritual death, but only the Holy Spirit can do that. As Christ called Lazarus out of the grave, so by the Spirit, He must call dead sinners to life. This drives the pastor, and all caring Christians, to pray for preaching that is life giving. We must have a ministry of life, which by the Spirit’s power and blessing, calls sinners from the dead.
To conduct a faithful heart-stirring ministry week after week, year in and year out is the challenge of the local pastor. His greatest hope and consolation lie in the spiritual transformation of his people. Their conversion to Christ, their growth in grace, their contentment in the fellowship of the church, and their witness for Christ before the world are the yearning of his soul. The apostle Paul called on the believers at Philippi to stand fast in the Lord. His pastor’s heart ached for them when he wrote, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
So, don’t be afraid to show some sympathy for your pastor who carries the cares of the congregation in his heart. Let him know you care, and do it in the best possible manner, through your earnest prayers in the church prayer meeting. I’d rather have five praying sympathizers than fifty comforters who offer nothing but hollow words. Go to the church prayer meeting and pray it out. Nothing will send your pastor home rejoicing more than your prayers added to the cries and sighs of true sympathizers with his own heartaches.
Rev. Ian Goligher is Editor of Current and minister of Cloverdale FPC, British Columbia.