Pastors and their families experience losses just like anyone else. But, in pastoral ministry those losses are multiplied and sometimes complicated.
In pastoral ministry, funerals are conducted because of family relationships or community involvement. However, many of the funerals conducted by the local church pastor are funerals for his own congregants. These funerals hit the pastor hard. They are losses for the church but also personal losses for the pastor. Imagine attending ten or twenty funerals in a year (not uncommon for pastors) and every one of them is a person with whom you had a spiritual connection.
As pastors, we must be aware of how these losses affect us. We cannot simply stuff them or pretend that they did not impact us. So many pastors just “plow through” because that is expected of them. This is especially harmful when the pastor has experienced a loss in his own family. He wants to act like everything is okay. He wants to be an example of how to handle loss, but he has not allowed himself or his family the space (time and energy) and grace (God’s unmerited, unearned, undeserved favor) to grieve in a healthy way.
“If you want to heal from grief, you must go through it; you cannot go around it.”
There are other ministry losses that hit hard. The loss of a trusted friend who transferred to another state because of work. The loss of a valued leader because “it’s just time to move on to a different church.” The loss of a staff member we invested in heavily, only to find that he/she is “called” to another ministry. Here’s one we can all relate to – the loss of a couple in the church that went through counseling with us. We saw all their dirty laundry and now they don’t want to sit in the congregation listening to the preacher who saw them at their worst. Even though they have been significantly helped or even healed through your counseling, they will often leave the church.
Finally, the loss of vision and passion because we have been beaten down by the daily grind of ministry messiness.
So, how do I cope with all these losses? Let me suggest seven healthy ways we can grieve these losses:
- Take the time to write down the nature of your loss and how it is affecting you. I recommend hand-writing this exercise. It will bring clarity as you write.
- Find a trusted friend with whom you can be real. Talk about how the losses have impacted you.
- Give yourself some time to grieve. You need time to recover from the emotional and spiritual loss you have experienced.
- Realize you cannot bypass the grieving process. Losses must be experienced not ignored. This is one thing we just cannot “plow through”.
- Attend a GriefShare group study. griefshare.org
- Spend some extra time in the Word, alone with God, praying, seeking His help, accessing His grace, and being comforted by His presence and promises.
- Reach out to Care for Pastors for counsel, support, and help in the grieving process. This is what we do.
Pastors, you are not alone. Care for Pastors exists to help you navigate through the unique challenges of pastoral ministry. Reach out to us at careforpastors.org.