Pastors must deal with many types of prisons ranging from ones that hinder to ones that are positive. In Ephesians 3, Paul was incarcerated for the sake of the gentiles at Ephesus. He had been arrested and thrown in prison for preaching the gospel to the Ephesians and other believers. He told the Ephesians, “For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles” and again, “wherefore I desire that you faint not at my tribulation for you which is your glory” (Ephesians 3:1 and 13).
Notice that Paul says he is the “prisoner of Jesus Christ” for their sake. He belongs to Jesus. All born again believers are the possession of Jesus Christ, purchased by His blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), but even more so are those He has called into His full-time service, which is the fivefold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16).
We are Jesus’ prisoner for their sake, and not the other way around. We are not to be held prisoner to people’s will, but only to Jesus’. Often well meaning people attempt to make us prisoners to their whims. We often go through things for their sake, but we are not to be their prisoners. We are not to be held captive by our people or the leaders of the church (board, elders, deacons, etc.).
We must be directed by Jesus, and not by power-hungry people. Otherwise, we can’t adequately be there for the congregation, and we become nothing more than a hireling. We must be able to speak for God to the people corporately, as well as individually (2 Timothy 4:2-3 and Ephesians 4:15), while also receiving direction or vision from the Holy Spirit (Habakkuk 2:2-3 and Proverbs 29:18). Church leaders, back your pastors and let them do their job by allowing them to follow the vision God has given them.
Burdens, Pressure and Stress
Pastors feel a burden for their people. Paul said to the Romans, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Romans 9:1-2). Pastors often feel the weight of their people’s problems, struggles and set backs, in the natural, spiritual, social, family and fellowship realms. They often experience a burden or weight on themselves concerning their spiritual condition as to their relationship with Jesus, longing for their full surrender to Christ.
This is not to mention the condition of the ministry or church overall. Is the ministry where it should be? Is it far enough along? Is it growing as it should be? Am I hearing from God correctly? Am I making the right decisions for the church? Is my vision on target with the Holy Spirit and God’s will? Then there’s the financial condition of the church. Are the people giving faithfully? How is he going to meet the financial demands needed to see the church’s vision unfold as it should? The list goes on.
Pastors are burdened by criticism and complaints. You don’t have to be in ministry very long before you experience this. The entire book of Numbers deals with the complaining of the children of Israel. There were times the complaining was so severe that Moses cried out to God, “I can’t bear the burden of this people” (Numbers 11:14 and Deuteronomy 1:9). In Acts 6, there arose a complaint that the Hellenistic Jews were left out of the distribution of food. This can be a continual source of pressure in the life of a minister.
God condemns such actions throughout the book of Numbers, and in the New Testament as well. Paul commanded, “Do all things without murmurings/complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Although, in most cases there seems to be no reason for complaints and criticism, God does use them at times. In the case of Acts 6, God used turmoil to cause the church to restructure things, to develop other leaders (the first deacons), and to enable the apostles to focus on the Word of God and prayer, as they should have been doing all along. This restructuring process allowed the church to continue to grow and eased the apostle’s burden.
Every believer faces spiritual battles on a daily basis (Ephesians 6:12), but much more so men or women of God. If the devil can knock out God’s servant, the people (congregation) will experience defeat as well. The pastor is like a general giving direction to the army in the mist of the battle. If the general is taken out, the enemy has the upper hand.
In 2 Kings 6, the Syrian army came after Elisha (the man of God) because he was giving revelation to Israel, God’s people. Likewise, the enemy goes after men and women of God (pastors and five-fold ministry) for giving revelation to God’s people. The devil and all his entire demonic host go after God’s servants, especially when they are giving His people fresh revelation from the Word of God. Here are a few things we should do for our pastors regularly:
- Pray for them. Paul said we are to pray for those in positions of authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Your pastor needs your continual prayers. They are on the front lines of the battle for you. Pray and do spiritual warfare for them as often as you can.
- Encourage them. Let your pastor(s) know you are behind them, and in full support of them, their ministry and vision. Know as soon as you tell your pastor you are behind him or her, the devil will hit you and try to get you to come against them. The very ones that cried out in praise to Jesus during His triumphant entry, days later cried “crucify him!” In Acts 14, the ones who tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Silas as gods, when they wouldn’t allow them to, stoned Paul. Resist this type of attack with all that you have and stand behind your pastor in full support.
- Make sure they are allowed to take vacations and periodic get aways. Make it possible for your pastor and their mate to get away regularly. Every pastor needs a few good vacations each year, and at least a three day mini-trip every three to thre months or so. There’s something about leaving the geographical sphere or area we minister in. It seems a heavy load lifts once we pass out of a certain geographical realm. Take up an offering for your pastors before they go, and if possible, even pay for their hotel and travel expenses.
The enemy will continually attempt to distract the man or woman of God from what they have been called to do. Here are a few things that can distract pastors:
- Busyness. The enemy will attempt to keep us busy with all kinds of things. Frequently, they seem to be important things, but are really only trivial distractions that God hasn’t called us to focus on. It was Martha who was distracted with all her preparation, while Mary sat at the Master’s feet listening to His words. Jesus said Mary had chosen the “good part” which would not be taken from her (Luke 10:38-42). The apostles were busy feeding people instead of focusing on the Word and prayer (Acts 6:1-4). This is where the body, and more particularly the leaders of the church come in to play. Jump in and help your pastor. Find out what needs to be done and do it. Ask what you can do to help relieve their burden. Pastors, don’t be afraid to let your people help. Delegate!
- Being bi-vocational. I don’t believe it is God’s ultimate will for pastors to be forced to work two or more jobs. They should be free to dedicate themselves to the ministry so they can give it their best. I understand there are times when it is necessary to work another job, but if possible, it should not be for very long. People always point to Paul and say that he made tents for a living. From my understanding of scripture, he only did so a couple of times and that for about a thirty day period and then promptly went back to full-time ministry. In most cases, the church or its leaders won’t make the necessary financial commitment, or the pastor is afraid to take a step of faith to trust God and leave his secular job.
- Dealing with conflicts. Often pastors are distracted by having to continually put out fires in the church. These “fires” usually come by way of people’s tongues. James said, “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity” (James 3:6). When people start to complain, criticize, and gossip, the fire begins to spread. It’s then up to the pastor to put the fire out. These conflicts can be directed towards one another, leadership, the Word being taught, the pastor or the church in general. Paul told the Romans, “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned and avoid them” (Romans 16:17).
Pastors often find themselves in bondage to financial need. This should never happen. The church should properly take care of its pastor. Paul told Timothy if the elder works hard at preaching and teaching, they should be worthy of double honor, and the context shows he was referring to finances (1 Timothy 5:17-18). It was only after the Philippians had given to Paul’s ministry in prison that he said God would meet all their needs (Philippians 4:17-19). To the Romans he said, if we become partakers of some ones spiritual things, then our duty is to minister to them with our carnal things, which is money (Romans 15:26-27). Also read 1 Corinthians 9:7-14.
The church should make sure the pastor is well taken care of. Pastors have expenses many do not have. Make sure they have a good salary. Figure the average salary of all the families in the church and pay your pastor at least that much. There should be other benefits as well, like showing your appreciation by taking up offerings for your pastors at special times like birthdays, Christmas, before vacations, etc. If you make sure your pastor is adequately blessed, God will satisfy you with the abundance of all His goodness. “I will fill (saturate) the soul of the priest with abundance, and my people will be satisfied with my goodness, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:14).
Battles with the Flesh
Pastors are often viewed as being above fleshly desires, but the opposite is true. It was written to the Hebrews that “every high priest (is) taken from among men” (Hebrews 5:1). Their calling is not because they are so spiritual, but simply that God chose them. “The flesh lusts (wars) against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another” (Galatians 5:17). You say, “Not my Pastor, he’s too spiritual!”
My overseer in ministry, the late Dr. Paul E. Paino, often said, “the more spiritual we become, the more our flesh fights us and the stronger it becomes.” It bothers me when people get on their “spiritual high-horse” after a minister goes through difficulty or failure. If the truth were known, the pastor or church leader probably fell because they had reached heights in God that few could ever imagine. If you want to see how strong the flesh is, try praying for an hour (Luke 22:39-46)!
Most people in the ministry struggle with self condemnation. Paul said frequently, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given” (Ephesians 3:8). He also said he was not worthy to be called an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:8-10). Ministers battle with things not going as well as they had hoped, or that they or their ministry aren’t far enough along, etc. Once discouragement sets in, they often begin to beat themselves up (at least inwardly). Encouragement helps immensely. You never know when your pastor may be battling with discouragement and self condemnation.
In Ephesians 3:1-7, Paul speaks of the revelation that was given to him. Any minister worth his salt is chained to the desire for supernatural revelation. They want desperately to hear from God, receive supernatural insight into His Word, and receive vision from the heart of God for their church or ministry.
They spend hours, days, weeks, and even months wrestling with God in prayer. That’s why Paul told Timothy to “study to show himself approved, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightfully dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Pastors often spend countless hours studying commentaries, memorizing and meditating on the Word, and seeking the face of God for divine revelation.
The minister is commissioned to preach the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). Pastors can’t help but preach, and if they are not preaching, they are miserable. Jeremiah said, “but if I say, I will not remember Him, or speak any more in His name, then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in and I can not endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).
For those who are truly called to the ministry, even when you feel like quitting, the Word burns deep within you and you can’t hold it back! Paul said, “If I preach the gospel I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel! For if I do it willingly, I have a reward, but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel has been committed to me – I have been entrusted with a stewardship” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17). Pastors are imprisoned to the preaching of the gospel!
Paul said he was obligated “to make all men see” (Ephesians 3:9 KJV). Any man or woman of God, with a passion for their call, experiences frequent times of frustration. Most of the frustration comes from trying to get people to see what we see. Trying to get our people (congregation) to grasp what God has shown us through the Word, the vision He has given us (Proverbs 29:18, Habakkuk 2:2-3), and the need for faithfulness (Psalm 12:1, 31:23, Proverbs 20:6), etc.
Paul said, “for this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:14). The man or woman of God feels a driving force to pray. He must pray for our people, the work of God, and in seeking the mind of God. Samuel said, “Morover, as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23).
Both Paul and Moses had a passion for their people. Paul asked to be accursed for his people, and Moses asked God to take his name out of His book of life if He would not forgive His people (Exodus 32:32 and Romans 9:1-3). Also read Jeremiah 30:21, Exodus 20:19-21 and 24:18. Let me challenge all pastors and ministers of the gospel. Our obligation is to cry out to God for the people of God and more particularly our people, those He has placed in our care. The Word of God says, “Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach” (Joel 2:17).
Pastors are particularly held captive by the church or body of Christ. They are in many ways married to the church. They know it’s through the church that God’s manifold wisdom will be made known to this world and all the powers of darkness (Ephesians 3:10-11, 21), that the gates of hell will be knocked down (Matthew 16:13-19), and that the church alone was given the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:13-19 and 18:18-20).
It is the church that Jesus will ultimately use to defeat the powers of darkness, to give victory to God’s people, and to display God’s glory, majesty and wisdom. As a result, the pastor has given himself to the church, second to Jesus alone. He is committed to building, defending, protecting, growing, and strengthening the church.
He knows it’s through the covering of the local church that the people of God find security, protection, and the proper foundation they need for growth and victory. It’s the sheepfold through which the people of God are cared for and fed. This is why the pastor is, at least in part, imprisoned to the church.