Try to imagine, he said, a pastor speaking these words to the faithful: "Dear friends, I am undone. My marriage is in shambles and things aren't going great with my kids, either. My emotions are wracked. I'm stressed out. ... You see, I'm prepared to minister to you, but who is going to minister to me?"
Or here is another one Bales tried to deliver a time or two: "Dear friends, I need more nerve. I need help, because there are hard truths I need to tell you. That frightens me because I yearn to be loved by everyone. I also crave success. So you see, I'm afraid of you. I'm afraid to tell you the truth."
All of this stress adds up. Bales said he has seen research indicating that every year another 18,000 pastors surrender and quit the ministry.
Yes, it's important for the faithful to pray for their ministers, he stressed. It's also important for them to know that clergy can feel isolated from the people around them and, thus, struggle to develop real, honest friendships. Like many lay people, pastors also get suckered into believing that "humor and delight, joy and pleasure are somehow unspiritual," he explained. When in doubt, it never hurts to tell your pastor a joke or to suggest that it's time to "clock out" and go get some barbecue.
It's also important to "respect how emotionally vulnerable a pastor can be. ... Those who give the appearance of great strength are very human and unless they are deluded about themselves, are subject to inner struggles and self-doubt," noted Bales. It helps to grasp the truth that "unless your minister is experiencing an occasional failure, he or she is probably not risking enough for God's sake."
Every now and then, he said, a pastor simply must have the freedom to say things like, "I don't know" or even, "Ouch! I was wrong."
(Terry Mattingly is the director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and leads the GetReligion.org project to study religion and the news.)
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