Wishing for A Pastoral Parachute
Every pastor needs a parachute. His wife needs a parachute, too. But the need arises for an unexpected reason. We typically think of a parachute as a tool of escape. When ministry and life become difficult, escape appeals to us for obvious reasons. We feel the troubles and pressures, and escape promises relief and freedom. Our hearts scream, “Get me outta here!” and we grope for a rip cord.
As a pastor for over two decades, I know well the desire to escape the challenges of ministry when the temperature rises. I have looked to God and the Gospel with pleas for a parachute. I received through the Gospel something far better—a parachute, yes—but not to escape. Instead, God answered my prayers for relief in a surprising way—by helping me slow down and survey the bright horizon of God’s presence and care for me.
Let’s consider four common ministry challenges that can tempt pastors and their wives to seek escape and how God helps them through the good news of His Gospel.
Conflicts can arise in an almost endless list of disagreements within a church community over a decision the pastor or church leadership has made.
For instance, some congregation members may disagree with the pastor’s decision to change the church service format, or they may have differing opinions on social or political issues. Such disagreements can lead to tension and conflict within the community, which can be challenging for both the pastor and the congregation. And people often overlook the pastor’s wife amid these conflicts, but they, too, feel a unique sting of criticism and strife.
The Gospel does not whisk us away when ministry turbulence grows. Instead, the Gospel gives us the power to slow down and consider God’s redemptive purposes hidden inside ministry challenges. Ken Sande, the author of The Peacemaker, reminds us, “Conflict is not necessarily bad or destructive. Even when sin causes conflict and a great deal of stress, God can use it for good (see Rom. 8:28-29).”  The Gospel announces the good news of God’s care for His people, not in the absence of conflict, but even in the midst of it.
The classic picture of a pastor shows him sitting at a desk in his study or office, surrounded by piles of work, including sermon notes, church newsletters, and other administrative tasks. The pastor looks tired and stressed, with dark circles under his eyes and a furrowed brow.
Meanwhile, the pastor’s family gathers around him in the foreground, including his spouse, children, and pets. They vie for his attention, but he appears too overwhelmed with his work to engage them fully.
Pastors often work long and irregular hours, which makes balancing work and personal life challenging. Consider the many things people expect of pastors—it’s astounding. Lead worship services. Provide guidance through counseling. Plan funerals. Officiate weddings. Educate members. Evangelize the lost. Administrate and lead. Cast vision. Manage finances. Hire quality staff members. Build and maintain friendships. Resolve conflicts in the church. Promote the proper social justice and community service initiatives. Raise their kids, love their wives, and manage their homes. It can become so much.
I recommend the book, What’s Best Next by Matt Perman, which combines insights from business management and Christian theology to help readers become more effective, organized, and God-centered. If you struggle with work-life balance, you are not alone. Resources like this book are available to help, and there is hope.
Emotional and spiritual exhaustion
The topic of pastoral burden weighs heavily on me, not only as a pastor but also as a person who trains pastors and counselors. I hear a routine question: “How can I bear the serious weight of personal ministry without drowning in the hardships of others?” I implore myself and others to remember we don’t struggle and serve alone but together.
We face two realities: the seen and the unseen, the immediate and the ultimate. God’s sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and happiness draw us to focus on the ultimate unseen reality.
Jesus demonstrated this in John 16:32 when He spoke of the hour His disciples would abandon Him. Despite this, He fixed His gaze on the ultimate reality of His Father’s comforting presence. Similarly, in Psalm 27:10, David turned his eyes to the same unseen hope when he felt forsaken by his parents.
The Bible emphasizes looking beyond the seen because it is temporary. The unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). However, sin can hijack our spiritual eyes, causing us to lose sight of God’s power in the unseen and dampen our hope. Even Jesus’ disciples struggled to keep their spiritual vision clear when faced with the prospect of His suffering.
We, too, must focus on the ultimate reality in times of exhaustion as the place God works the most. It’s like a parachute that slows our descent so we can survey the transcending beauty of creation. The Gospel empowers us to focus on God’s beautiful work in the unseen dimension of life.
Pastors are not always well-paid, and financial struggles can be a common issue for pastors and their families. Congregations are responsible for addressing these financial burdens where possible (1 Cor. 9:9-10). What’s a pastor to do?
The Gospel also reminds them that they have hope transcending this life. As shepherds following the Good Shepherd, our ultimate riches are in Christ. Again, this doesn’t mean pastors shouldn’t lead their churches to improve the burdensome finances. But we must not allow these pressures to distract us from our calling to serve the Bride of Christ and find our highest happiness in Him. The Gospel, when preached faithfully, gives immeasurable help and encouragement.
Our Good News conclusion
Despite the desire to escape from ministry challenges and the difficulties of balancing work and personal life, the good news of Jesus can be a spiritual parachute that helps us slow down and consider what redemptive purposes God has hidden inside ministry challenges. By reminding ourselves of Jesus’ good news and seeking appropriate resources, pastors and their spouses can navigate ministry challenges with hope and find the help they need to carry on with joy and strength.