The Wounded Shepherd

Serving your church while facing personal crises

Bob has kidney failure and must endure debilitating dialysis treatments three times a week.

Peter's 18-year-old son left home and has been arrested for drug possession.

Dan had an emotional breakdown, and his wife doesn't know where he is.

Joe has been accused of having affairs with at least three women.

Tragic situations to be sure, but perhaps even more so because each man is the pastor of a large, growing church.

Ideally, our lives as ministers would become lifelong illustrations of God's grace and power. The apostle Paul writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who comforts us in all our troubles. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

But how much of their struggles or crises should pastors share with their flocks? The key question: Will my sharing of my struggle build up the work of the church, or am I using my congregation as a group therapy class?

True, some of my most effective ministry has occurred when I have confessed my shortcomings. After admitting to my congregation that I had become a citizen of "Prozac Nation" and that my wife and I had been in marriage counseling, several parishioners came to me visibly relieved that they were not alone in their struggles.

But when do wounded shepherds need to turn the care of their flocks over to others? Obviously, there are no easy answers, but here are some questions to carefully consider with your spouse and governing boards.

Should I continue pastoring with no changes?

Find out if denominational or church government policy addresses your crisis.

In Joe's case, our denomination has a mandatory five-year suspension from the ordained ministry for pastors with moral failures. During this time the district board is to assist the pastor in repentance and restoration of relationships. In other cases, it is often at the discretion of the governing body, whether a local board, a group of elders or the entire congregation.

Seek counsel to determine if you are emotionally and spiritually fit to continue your responsibilities. In the case of Peter's prodigal son, Peter was able to continue his responsibilities. And, through God's grace and redeeming power, he was able to become a much more compassionate and effective minister to the other families in his church with wayward children.

Should I continue at the church in a limited capacity?

As pastor, you are the key person who assures that the ministries of the church are fulfilled.

Bob fought a losing battle with kidney failure at the time he was senior pastor with a large staff. He scheduled staff meetings at the hospital while he was undergoing dialysis and scheduled treatments so he could preach on Sunday. But most of his week was spent confined to bed. Were it not for a supportive staff, he could not have continued.

While I was speaking in India for three weeks, my wife contracted laryngitis — not a good thing for a senior pastor when her associate minister is out of the country. She, however, found creative ways to continue ministry. She wrote out her sermons and had laypeople deliver them. Our son relayed phone messages to key leaders in the church. Laypeople took up the challenge and assisted in various other ways.

Should I take some time off to heal?

During a time of crisis, the focus needs to be on what is best for you, your family and the church.

Dan had finished a four-year degree in three years while working full time and tending to his family. Within months of taking his first pastoral assignment, he had an emotional breakdown. The church board graciously gave him six months off — with pay — and offered to help pay for professional counseling. Church members took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the church while engaging another minister to speak on Sundays.

Unfortunately, many churches don't have the finances to cover such a cost.

Should I resign from the church?

Obviously, resignation should be your last resort. Wounded shepherds should resign only if the flock will be harmed or not adequately cared for during the time of crisis.

As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:4, a crisis time in your personal life may be a providential time to "comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." Hurting sheep often respond well to wounded shepherds who are gaining their strength from the Great Shepherd. Keep in mind that during a time like this, your choices need to be based on what is best for you, your family and the church.

Article copyright © 2003, James Watkins.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

James Watkins is an ordained minister as well as author and conference speaker. For encouragement and advice on how to handle crisis while serving, request the Pastor to Pastor audio set
“Pastors in Crisis.�?