What I Find Hardest About Pastoring

I am not currently pastoring a church but I did pastor for fourteen years, nine in the same two-point charge. I really enjoyed pastoring and I left because of some life circumstances more than any disgruntlement about pastoral ministry.

But there is something that I found very hard and it continues to affect me.

When I first arrived at the church, there were a number of funerals to lead. I met the people a few times beforehand and so I knew them somewhat. Still, it felt more like performing my pastoral duties than anything. I was not heartless, but it was a job.

But as I stayed in the church longer and longer, things changed. I really got to know the people well. I performed their weddings, did funerals for their loved ones, visited them in their homes, hospitals and nursing homes.

And then they would die.

I still remember the first time that I got choked up during a funeral service that I was leading. It became harder and harder.

Some would say that the answer is to keep a professional distance between the pastor and the congregation to minimize emotional trauma. I am not someone who thinks that friends within a congregation are bad. But even if I do not seek a friendship level relationship, doing life together in a congregational setting is still a relationship. I cannot not be affected.

I have not pastored for a number of years but I get regular communication, including today, of people that I cared for dying. It still saddens me.

Of course I believe in the afterlife and that they are in the presence of God. But I don’t think that is meant to stop us from grieving.

I share all this to say that it is okay for pastors to feel grief when people in their congregation die. Don’t super-spiritualize things to pretend to be strong. It is in our weakness that we are best able to minister to our people.

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