Pastor Bob was doing fine. In many ways, he had never felt closer to Christ in over 20 years as a believer. This was his third successful pastorate since seminary. In each one, he had led his congregation to a deeper understanding of God's love and a new level of faith in action. But he was faintly aware that his view of ministry was changing. He used to view his vocation, his call, as praying with people, visiting them and preaching God's Word in an uncompromised fashion. Now it seemed to involve so much more — more than he ever could have imagined.
He was nearing his 35th birthday. His wife was happily busy with soccer games and women's groups. His two young boys were growing like weeds, standing out in sports and learning more memory verses than anyone else in their Sunday school classes.
The church was doing relatively well, too. For three years in a row, it had received recognition from the denomination as one of the top ten in giving to missions. But it wasn't everything he had hoped for when he took this assignment five years ago. In fact he had been quite disappointed a few times that God wasn't doing more within this congregation. All too often recently, he would return home exhausted late at night, wondering if it was worth all the time and energy he poured into this ministry. He felt he needed a break, but the church really couldn't afford it.
Sometimes he'd get discouraged because, unlike some of the other pastors in town, he didn't have a weekly column in the newspaper, a talk program on the radio or an attractive deal with a book publisher. He didn't even have his picture next to the church's ad in the yellow pages. At other times, none of that seemed to matter. But he felt that, no matter what he did or how hard he worked, he was no longer as satisfied with himself or as appreciated by those he served as before.
His wife didn't understand how he felt or why he was so bothered by such things. She didn't understand why he felt such a pressing need to leave his mark and make a difference in the Christian world, or even in this small community. There were a lot of things she didn't understand anymore. Sometimes, she just seemed so distant. And sometimes, that was good.
Sometimes, he thought that the only person who understood him and appreciated him was Sandra. She came into the church office every other week for counseling. She had often commented on how tired he looked, how hard he must be working and what a wonderful man of God he was.
That was good to hear, because he had been struggling over the past six months with his sermon preparation. It was taking longer than it used to and he sometimes didn't know if his messages were still getting through to the gradually increasing crowds on Sundays. He had also lost his previous enthusiasm for hospital visits, and even found leading Bible studies more taxing and bothersome than in past years.
It was good to know someone appreciated him. A few of the church board members certainly didn't. They were becoming increasingly critical of little things. He was really starting to lose his patience with them. How was he supposed to do all the things God wanted him to do if they were always getting in the way? He could feel the tension ever mounting in his shoulders and neck. He hated it.
It was kind of funny the way Pastor Bob left the church. One Sunday, he just didn't show up. He had left home early that morning, as usual, but never made it to the service. He had been a little nervous and cranky for a few weeks before. His secretary had been worried about him. His attitude lately had been more critical and negative than usual, and his normal acute sense of humor had dulled. He had also appeared somewhat absent-minded or preoccupied, having difficulty focusing on his work. The only time she had seen him relax that last week was just after his normal counseling session with one of the young women in the congregation. It was as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders for a few minutes. It was odd that no one had been able to find that young woman since the disappearance to see if she knew anything about what happened.
His wife was angry and embarrassed, but didn't seem as surprised as the rest of the congregation. Maybe she saw it coming, but, if so, why hadn't she done something? She was also worried and cried a lot. No one quite knew what would happen now to her and the kids.
Of course, everyone immediately began speculation about what had happened. Perhaps Pastor Bob just wasn't as strong as they had thought — or even as strong as he himself had thought. Maybe he simply broke under pressure. Too bad. He was a great pastor. Maybe he'd always had an inclination toward moral failure that he'd kept from them all these years. Or could it be that he'd simply worn himself out, weakening his normal defenses, and succumbed to temptations he normally would have fended off?
They sometimes wondered if there were signs that should have alerted them to his condition. He seemed weary quite often near the end, didn't he? One elder even suggested that some of Pastor Bob's comments during the past few months might have been subliminal cries for help, but no one else really understood what that meant.
A few people in the congregation were really upset about his disappearance, but folks knew they'd get over it with time. The real problem was that there was no one to take Pastor Bob's place, not so much with the Sunday preaching as with the hundreds of other things he did around church and community. It was going to take lots of people lots of time to replace him. It certainly wasn't very considerate of him to leave them in such a lurch.
The marriages and families of too many pastors are falling by the wayside. Pastor Gary Kinnaman has developed a strategy that can hold them together.
The issue is not so much whether we will become lonely. That is a given. It happens to us all. The real question is what do we do when we are lonely?
With pastors working long hours and having little confidence that they are doing well, it is difficult for them to believe that their ministries are very significant. As much as we may desire to be affirmed by people, sometimes it simply may not happen.