I was trying not to cry as I spoke into the receiver, but I couldn’t hold it in. The tears came, and as a 30-year-old man, I cried into the phone like a 10-year-old boy. It wasn’t pretty. I was speaking with my 60-year-old mentor, and I experienced a great sense of relief as I opened my heart to him.
Also, I’m a pastor. Does that strike you as odd in light of my above experience? Does it change your perception of me? Pastors aren’t superheroes. To be sure, God-called men are meant to be models of Christian maturity, but mature sheep are still sheep. They need a shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4).
As I’ve gained experience as a pastor, I feel little pressure to be a perfectly polished man. Sure, I wrestle with fear of man and other ungodly emotions, but I’ve learned to not hide my brokenness. It serves no point. God sees it, and it will come to light eventually (Luke 8:17). Why not get ahead of it and watch God use the church to help me grow in sanctification?
With all this mind, below are some brief thoughts for both church members and pastors.
For Church Members
Church member, your pastor lives in the same fallen world you do. He must meet the moral qualifications of a shepherd (1 Pet. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), but there will be times when he cries out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). When your pastor experiences such emotions, pray for him and love him well.
Your pastor is a shepherd, but he’s still a sheep.
Your pastor is a shepherd, but he’s still a sheep. You can serve him by making sure he’s able to attend conferences, workshops, and pastoral groups that will build him up. Shepherd him even as he seeks to do the same for you. I have two brothers in my congregation who are not elders, but whom I nonetheless call or email when I’m struggling. I may not share much other than, “Hey brother, tough day today. Pray for me,” but it’s comforting to know godly brothers are praying for my labors (James 5:16).
Pastor, be open and vulnerable with your congregation. Be quick to repent, lead the way in transparency, and seek prayer for issues in your life. Let your congregation see that you are human. It will be good for you own soul, and it will set a healthy example for them. If you aren’t willing to be honest about your pain, your church members will never learn to do so either.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or dramatic. Here are a few practical examples you can implement in your ministry:
- Don’t be afraid to share hard news with the church—anything from relatives dying, to a cancer diagnosis, to learning disabilities in your children.
- As members share their struggles with particular sins, use stories from your own battles to encourage them. Many sheep feel like their shepherds have never struggled with their particular brand of sin. Admitting you’ve had similar issues can go a long way.
- Find church members to whom you can reach out in discouraging times.
One brief warning is in order: Transparency isn’t the ultimate virtue, and it shouldn’t be pursued at all costs. It’s true, many of my fellow pastors would do well to fear man less and be more vulnerable, but others have fallen into the trap of using vulnerability as an excuse for self-promotion. Too often, “being real” trumps being prudent.
If you aren’t willing to be honest about your pain, your church members will never learn to do so either.
While it’s good to be honest with our struggles, even our sins, there is a wise way to do it. The path of wisdom often involves concentric circles of congregational involvement (Matt. 18:15–20) and discretion. Sometimes “exposing” sin means not mentioning the particulars (Eph. 5:11–12), for doing so would be shameful. So pursue transparency wisely, lest you treat sin and the effects of the fall flippantly.
Finally, consider the gospel. Our Lord Jesus Christ displayed transparency to his followers in his greatest moments of weakness. From anguish-laden blood drops in prayer (Luke 22:44) to crying out to his Father under the burden of sin on the cross (Matt. 27:46), Christ shows us the way to shepherd in humble transparency. May his undershepherds follow his pattern well.