Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling. Your prayers will strengthen him before the throne room of grace, and they will soften your heart toward him. This is important, especially if the hot water stops running for a season.
Last week our water heater broke down. I thought the pilot light went out because we have had some heavy rains and flooding lately. As it turns out, it was not the pilot light going out, but rather the tank breathing its last. Due to busy schedules, our plumber could not replace it for a couple of days. Over those days we often thought about our lack of a hot water heater. I showered at the church building where I serve as pastor. We boiled water so that dishes could be properly washed. Unkempt children were allowed to ferment a bit longer than usual.
It was not suffering, by any means, but it was annoying and it disrupted our first-world lifestyle. We went from never thinking about our hot water heater to thinking about it quite a bit.
Consequently, I meditated on a conversation that I’d had during my seminary internship. At that time, one of my mentors said to me, “Nathan, pastors are often treated like hot water heaters. Nobody really thinks about them when they are working, but when they stop working, they are not repaired; instead they are quickly replaced.”
In my time of pastoral ministry, I have talked with several hurting pastors who would resonate with the water heater statement. Many pastors work extra-long hours, are unable to “turn off” care for the church when not working, preach while on vacation (to afford the vacation), and have very few outlets for reducing the stresses of ministry. A year or so ago, my doctor told me that she could often tell which patients were pastors based solely on their high cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress-related hormone that is produced in the adrenal glands). Pastors suffer from high rates of depression as well. Pastoral ministry, although extremely rewarding, often fun, and spiritually refreshing is a demanding calling that, for many, results in being—well—broken.
I need to acknowledge that many in the church, not just pastors, have high-stress vocations and are frequently left without refreshment. Burnout is a symptom of our 24-7 culture, not merely of the stress of pastoral ministry. As the Bishop of Winchester said, “When we talk about pastoral burnout, we need to be careful not to invalidate the exhaustion many feel in all of life (citation withheld).”
With that said, this article will specifically address pastoral ministry. Without proper spiritual, physical, and emotional maintenance, the high stress and high demand calling of pastoral ministry will result in burn out, which will too often lead congregations to replace their minister rather than invest in their broken one.
No one repairs a hot water heater.
As I thought about the similarities between the calling to bring God’s Word to his people and the calling to bring hot water to the home, these five ways of investing in “hot water heater maintenance” were among my meditations amid boiling water and fermenting children.
How can you help to provide maintenance for your pastor rather than replace him?
Pray for him
Consider having a stated time each week in which you pray for your pastor. Include this in family worship times as well. Frequently, the conversations in homes of church members revolve around what their pastor could be doing better, how he falls short, and what he missed in his sermon. Make your prayers for your minister more fervent than your complaints about his shortcomings. Let your children hear you praying for him and his calling.