I have a friend, a long-time pastor here in Illinois, who occasionally calls me just to check in. We catch up on each other’s lives, and he often asks a thought-provoking question such as “What are you excited about these days?” or “What do you see out there that’s really working?”
The call always lifts my spirits and boosts my confidence, in part because he usually concludes our conversations by saying, “All right, hang in there, you know I’m for you.”
I’m for you. What a brief but powerful statement. I’m FOR you. I wish every pastor of every church could feel the encouragement I feel after a phone call like that.
Yet a recent Barna study might indicate otherwise. It revealed that 65% of pastors report feelings of loneliness or isolation, up from 42% just a few years ago. A separate Lifeway study found that 50% of pastors often feel the demands of ministry are greater than they can handle. Dealing with post-Covid church dynamics often magnifies these stresses. What a critical time this is to reach out to our pastors, to voice appreciation and love for them, and to tell them in no uncertain terms that we are for them.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and many pastors are already receiving expressions of gratitude. But I wonder if many pastors might find a monthly “I’m for you” call even more life-giving and sustaining.
In our Illinois network of churches, more continuous pastoral care and building a stronger pastoral brotherhood are emerging as needed priorities. IBSA very much wants pastors to know that we are for them. And we want them to feel encouragement and support in tangible, practical ways throughout the year.
So, starting this fall and continuing into next year, IBSA will be partnering with local associations and other Baptist partners to offer pastor retreats, pastor and wife getaways, confidential counseling services, pastoral health self-assessments, resources for pastors’ families, and more.
We will also be surveying pastors and gathering them in listening groups to help our network better know and understand their current challenges and needs. We will be seeking to add pastoral care elements to our training and gathering times. And we will seek to develop a closer comradery among pastors who share similar challenges and concerns.
Ministering more directly and personally to hundreds of pastors across our large state will stretch our IBSA staff and will require the investment or reallocation of additional resources. But we can’t think of a better investment in healthy, growing, and missionary churches than to invest in the care and encouragement of the pastors that serve and lead them.
Still, we will need to work on this together. Though many local Baptist Associations now have only part-time or volunteer leadership, they are well positioned to discern the ongoing needs of their pastors, to gather them for times of mutual encouragement, and to partner with IBSA and others to deliver care that may be beyond the association’s capacity or resources. And, of course, each local congregation is in the best possible position to alert the network when their pastor needs care beyond what they can provide.
A church’s overall health and effectiveness are directly tied to the health and effectiveness of its pastor. When a pastor is struggling, impatient or immature church members may find themselves thinking that he should just move on. But mature church leaders will understand that the church’s first instinct should be to understand and encourage their pastor, and to help him. They will make sure the pastor knows that they are for him, even when times are tough. And they may well find that kind of investment in their pastor will pay dividends for years to come.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.