This week I had the opportunity to attend a conference presented by friends at 3D Ministries here in Denver. It was a great week of learning but also a great opportunity to connect with other men and women from Denver, the front range, and around the country who contribute to God’s work in the world through the local church. I have attended many conferences like this over the years an met more than my share of pastors and church leaders. This week I realized they all had a common thread.It occurred to me that at some point during nearly every church leadership conference I have ever attended, in an environment of perceived safety and trust (perhaps from the sense of anonymity derived from being with other church leaders you may never see again) pastors reveal the deep sadness, loneliness, and brokenness of their journey. The hurts come from men and women of all ages, experience levels, denominations, and backgrounds. My heart goes out first to the church planters (being on that journey myself currently) who are generally under-payed, under-resourced, under-supported, and under-appreciated even (or especially) by their own fledgling congregations. But this sadness is not restricted by the size of the church. Pastors from large congregation suffer from unrelenting expectations, pressure to perform week in and week out, and never feeling like they are out of the spotlight. Sometimes the hurts are felt by the young and inexperienced, suffering the arrows of ministry for the first time. But often they are people who have seen years of ministry and bear the scars to prove it.
As I considered the consistency of this sadness and brokenness that I experience nearly every time I attend a church leadership conference, it made me conscious of a few things. First it reminded me of the unseen drama that rages behind the work of building God’s kingdom. In Ephesians 6:12 Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” I am probably guilty of dismissing challenges as simply the difficulties of life without recognizing what’s happening behind the scenes and seeking God’s help and protection. Second, it reminded me that none of us can lead others where we are not going ourselves. It is a sad and terrifying reality to look in the mirror and realize that you are not living a life worthy of calling people to imitate. Yet that is the reality for far too many leaders in the church. The best thing any of us who endeavor to lead God’s church can do for ourselves and those we lead is to attend to the nurture and care of our own souls. Yet too often this gets dismissed as unproductive and unworthy of our time. Often we realize the value and necessity of this difficult work too late.
Finally it reminded me how important community is. It is important for all of God’s family to live in community together, but there is something unique that is shared within the brotherhood and sisterhood of those who endeavor to lead the church. I am so grateful for my many friends who devote most of their waking hours to building God’s church and for the blessing it is to celebrate, vent, and commiserate with them.
**Images from Flickr user Jason Pier, used under Creative Commons license