By Gabriel Montez

Gabriel has been a pastor for six years in Southern California before moving to Central Texas. He now pastors a small church as well as a chaplain in a retirement community. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, and a Master’s degree in Mental Health & Wellness from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Gabe also has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation from Liberty University in Virginia.

    Besides the People, Pastoral Ministry is Great

    Wednesday, March 27, 2024

    I don’t mean for the title to sound harsh or misleading. My passion for helping and serving people in Christ is why I continue to do what I do. The souls that I am empathetic for drive me toward looking for their growth and it gives me great joy to see signs of the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives. What I mean is that because of my passion, empathy, and hopes for those in the church congregation, those in the community, and for my own family, deeply loving others can often mean risking rejection.

    Being Empathetic Means Taking a Risk

    If ever I was asked, “What has been the hardest part about being a pastor”, I would have to say when people leave. I DON’T mean when families are moving to a new state, kids go to college, or even to the next town. I have always said to folks who have come through the church doors or have casually chatted with me about their spiritual walk, “I just want you to go to church.” God has impressed upon my heart to teach people how to find a church family that doesn’t leave them stagnant in their spiritual walk, while also making sure the leaders aren’t going too fast. A church family should be encouraging while holding each other accountable. Discipleship should be with a discerning heart and a call toward the mission, with their spiritual strengths and gifts around their belt. I am not hooking the people that I talk to with an obligation to come to the church I LEAD, but primarily to find one that God leads them toward.

    However, what I DO mean is when people who have shared their deep dark secrets, have come to me with heavy prayer needs, or have shared their joys in life decide to leave without a word that can break my heart. Just as in wartime, we hear stories of people who have gone to the threshold of death and have made it back, but only they know what it was like. “You rely on each other, to have the other’s back, especially when things are at their worst.”1 Yet, even if it isn’t in a traditional battlefield scenario but instead one that involves trauma, illness, past sin, forgiveness, and seeing the worst with them, it doesn’t seem to be the same bond that binds us. No goodbye, no “this is why I am leaving”, they are just gone. Here is where my flesh and temptation come toe to toe as my emotions go through what feels like grief (denial, guilt, bargaining, depression, loneliness, recovery, and acceptance.)2

    One such occasion that has stayed with me for a while is an instance where a family left out of the blue. When I checked in with them, they said it was a matter of not being fed at our church. When asking what that meant, they gave me information that I felt would have been huge to discuss before their leaving. If this sounds similar to a breakup, it is. Because even though this is a heavenly family, it still has the same characteristics such as establishing trust, connection, and faith in each other.

    When people leave, I as the pastor have gone through the process of grieving while encouraging others through theirs while they ask about the absence. “Where’s Jimmy or Sandy”, or “How’s the Hart family, I haven’t seen them for a while” is when you pick up your head with sensitivity for those left behind. At times, some in pastoral ministry have seen this as simply part of the job and become thick-skinned. I agree partly with being prepared and bracing for future letdowns such as this. However, I hold to the ability to maintain empathy and do it anyway while knowing the risks. Pouring my heart out toward others may be just as thankless as those who had done it for me. It makes me wonder if I have ever broken someone’s heart this way. How can I make amends? Here lies the humility and the power of Jesus Christ!

    Doing It Anyway

    I know that I have only given one example of the pain of ministry in the context of other people. There can be so much to list that I feel would take away from the joy. I did, however, feel it necessary to bring up what hurts the most to bring depth to the hardship of what we do. With that being said, do it anyway! As hard as it is to have people break your heart, stress you out, fill you with anxiety, and wonder if people believe in you, it’s all worth it.

    It is when we see people begin to use Scripture when talking about a hard day to reinforce a positive light. Or, when those who have struggled with their faith begin to come to church, Bible studies, support groups, or other planned events regularly is proof that the heart is mending. Also, when I see the kids in church who have parents who have struggled with their faith begin to reassure the kids sitting next to them in class that God will take care of them gives me pure joy. I am reminded that this work is more than a hobby or a weekend social that we can say was fun when we see others on Monday. Ephesians reminds us that building up the body in Christ is key:

    “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-13 (ESV)

    Being a pastor is a humbling job that brings you to a place that forces you to ask hard questions, and while asking those questions being reminded of Who is in charge. I like to say that Jesus is in the center of my life, but I sometimes leave out His control. That statement leaves me with an image of a person sitting in the passenger seat being served. I am serving Jesus, but serving Him through commitment, conviction, humility, and knowing that He is my Savior. It isn’t only that we do what we do with Him as our focus, but that He has His hand in ALL that we do. After all, it really isn’t I that convicts the soul; it is God. It isn’t I that keeps them in the church, it is God. It isn’t I who will maintain the church and keep the doors open; it is God.

    At the end of the day, I have to remember that Jesus Christ has me included in His work. I am a part of HIS STORY just as you are. My greatest blessings are when I am willing to take risks and see the fruits.

    1. Streed, Joel. "A Bond Beyond the Brotherhood." MayoClinic.Org. August 10, 2022. 2. Dutil, Aaron. "The 7 Stages of Grief and How They Affect Your Mental Health." Better Help.Com. Better Help, October 19, 2023. https://doi.org/https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/grief/the-7-stages-of-grief-and-how-they-affect-you/.

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