A Private Letter to Hurting Pastors
by Pastor Doug Bursch
NOTE TO READER: Recently, I wrote a letter to a good friend of mine who is also a full time pastor. At the time, he was facing some really difficult relational challenges in the church he faithfully serves. I’ve decided to share a modified version of the letter (names changed for privacy sake) to encourage others in ministry and to help those of you not in ministry to understand some of the unique complexities of the pastorate. Hurt can run deep in the pastorate, but so can love, beauty, hope and calling.
I’ve been thinking about you this morning, bringing you before God. Thought I’d just share some of the thoughts….no need to respond, answer, defend or even really understand. They just seemed like good thoughts, so I’m going to write some of it down and send it to you.
I love you. Tears well up as I write those three words: I love you. In my remembrances of you, I find love. It has been so good for me, to trust my life to your care as a brother. I’ve been able to trust myself with you. Thank you for that gift.
I want to fix something, I want to make it right, I want to find that answer that says you can just walk away from all the ugliness and abide in a land of beauty. I want you to be able to abide in a place where you can pursue every divine spark and creative inclination. I want you to be able to spend time in the workshop of God, creating stuff that gives you and others joy.
I’ve frequently said that I can totally understand why people believe in reincarnation. There is so much life to live, yet it seems the life we actually live, keeps us from living all those other lives we hold in our heart. I think it’s why we all want lots of money. We see money as a transition card. We think it will allow us to pursue foolish, exciting notions. If we are wrong in our change of course, we believe money will allow us to go back to the thing we should have been doing or to another thing we can do, without the burden of harming ourselves or our families. Oh if I could just have another $100,000, 200,000….million…..there is really no end to it.
But we don’t have that kind of money. We have more than many others, but we often feel as if we don’t have enough to make that great big leap into pursuing a more fulfilling path…even so, we’ll never have enough money to pursue all the different paths that catch our minds attention (this might be more an issue for me, but I still think we are all affected by it in some measure).
When I look at your life, I see such a multi-talented person. You seem like someone totally suited for reincarnation: one life as a pastor, one life as a musician, one life as a comedian, one life as a craftsman, one life as a CEO, one life as a vagabond…and one life as a guy who just does a simple daily task for which he is appropriately rewarded. You are so gifted. However, you have one life to live….or at least one life that is presently seen.
In the life that is seen, you are many desires and many things, expressed through the limitations of one day and one man. You’ve chosen to follow a “calling” that has been confirmed by elders and the body of Christ. You’ve chosen to prioritize your life to give some of your best energy to very specific people, communities and situations. The cost of giving this energy to a very specific purpose, has been an inability to give energy to other things. This is not unique to your life, but in my personal biased opinion, it is a little bit more pronounced as a pastor.
Which reminds me of a scripture that frequently comes to my mind, when I’m giving my best energy to something I don’t really enjoy: “No one takes it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18).
I think this scripture for you today and a couple more things come to mind:
First, thank you for laying down your life. The choice is not always seen by others, but it is always seen by God. In the past months…and years you’ve made countless individual choices to lay your life down. You’ve chosen not to speak, not to react, not to curse, not to wound, not to run away. Well done!
Second, I know that in your head, you can truly see some situations or even the current situation, as something outside your control. There are aspects in what you’ve been going through, that are simply not your fault. Although you can try to understand the perspective of others, you still can see how some issues are really an issue of other people’s brokenness. The same kind of brokenness that has led some of the choicest vessels of God to suffer: Paul, Peter, Mother Teresa, that guy we all really admire, and even Jesus all faced persecution for doing good work. As you and I both know, the fruit of obedience is both praise and persecution. I know that you can rationalize these things in your heart and believe them as faith statements. Even so…I know that our emotional core is less convinced by our minds logical and rational conclusions. Even when it sounds right and preaches well, there is a part of our visceral emotional core that refuses to believe the seemingly clear reality of the situation.
Because of our emotions unwillingness to be tamed, when we go through conflict, we also experience extreme emotional pain. So….
Third, I want to speak to your emotional core for a second….Here it goes…. “Tim is a really good person. He has done a really good job. I know you still need to feel things. But I want to remind you of something really important. Tim doesn’t have to do anything to make himself a better person. Tim doesn’t have to prove himself, he doesn’t have to prove that he is a good boy. He doesn’t have to defend himself. He has already been defended by the cross. He doesn’t have to make anything better to be accepted and loved. Tim is experiencing the fruit of loving broken people well….so feelings….keep on feeling….but remember that you are not reality. In fact, you are sort of a pool of memories and future concerns combined with present realities. There is a part of you that is always rooted in our distant little child past and a part of you that is always trying to comprehend our incomprehensible future. I want to remind you, that today has enough worries of its own. Tim doesn’t need to fix his past or secure his future…instead he gets to chose to carry his cross as the Spirit leads. It’s his choice, not yours.”
Fourth and final, I’ll follow you anywhere. I may not be your biggest fan, but I’ve got all the C.D’s, I’ve been to the concerts and I really like the stuff you do that the masses aren’t as in to. (Wow, you made it to the end)
Love you much,