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4 Ways Your Pastor Might Be Struggling More Than You Think

Written By Jacob Ng, Singapore

Jacob is husband to Yvonne, dad (and playmate) to Jed and Justus, and a pastor of Redemption Hill Church, Singapore. He still wakes up amazed and grateful that God would consider him worthy of all these roles. He strives to make much of God by enjoying and giving thanks for the daily grace of life in the mundane and ordinary.

When news broke on the suicide of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein from Inland Hills Church, California, a concerned friend sent me a message to appreciate my work and to find out how I was doing. It was a nice gesture triggered by a sense of shock that was shared by many others in the world. How could it be that a pastor who seemed to “have it all together,” was so overwhelmed by the pressures of pastoral ministry and personal struggles that he took his own life?

In our age of celebrity culture, we all have a tendency to make much of people who are talented, well-known, and influential. In the church context, Christians are guilty of it too. We respect leaders who are dedicated and gifted, but this respect often develops into unrealistic ideas about them. The truth is, pastors are broken people—weak and fallible just like any other human.

The gospel of grace they preach is the same gospel of grace they need and depend on daily. No matter how long you have been a Christian, all of us—pastors or not—will never outgrow our need for support from the body of Christ until the day we enter into God’s glory.

You may be surprised, but these are four common ways that your pastor is probably struggling more than you would imagine.

 

1. Pride and self-reliance

If you have ever been put on the pedestal by others before, you know it is not a bad feeling at all! That is, until you are honest enough to realize the person on that pedestal does not exist, but is simply a figment of your imagination.

Many pastors struggle with the expectations of those who look up to them—and strive hard to live up to these expectations. Deep down, they could be driven by a need for approval, or a fear of disappointing others. Unfortunately, it can be hard for pastors to realize that this insecurity is rooted in a form of pride and self-reliance. What started as a sincere desire to serve the church selflessly, can over time become what we rely on to validate our worth. The weight of thinking “it all depends on me” can be utterly crushing.

As church members, it is crucial that we see our pastors simply as those who are called “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:12-13) While it is not wrong for us to honor and respect pastors, we must be clear that their ministry is not to point us to themselves, but to Christ.

 

2. Marriage and family

The first time someone suggested to my wife that it must be an amazing blessing for her to be married to a pastor, we both laughed. If only they knew how flawed we really are, and how much we struggle with the daily grinds of our marriage like everyone else.

I have had conversations with enough pastors to know that it can be easier to lead a church than to pastor our own families well. I can apply active listening skills well when I am attending to someone in my office, but at the end of the day I struggle to do that properly for my wife. While I am 100 per cent certain in my heart that my wife and children are the dearest to me, my actions have often shown them otherwise. For example, there have been times when I have sacrificed family time for ministry. Even when I am physically present with my family, my mind can be ruminating on a different planet.

Over the past years, I am grateful that my wife has graciously put up with the worst in me that I was not even aware of. We have cried, prayed, confided in others, repented of our sins, and put our faith in Christ again and again as we worked through different difficult issues. We testify to the covenant-keeping love of God that has faithfully held our marriage by grace, and will continue to rely on that.

Instead of assuming that our pastor and his family “have it all together,” perhaps we should take time to offer the pastor encouragements and reminders to prioritize and love his wife well. Perhaps we should take initiative and speak into the lives of the pastor’s children, and point them to Jesus with our words and deeds. Our pastors and their families need our grace, love, support, and practical help as much as any other member in the church.

 

3. Emotional fatigue

Most preachers preach truths better than they apply them, and “cast all your anxiety on him” (1 Peter 5:7) is a classic example. My anxieties and emotional burdens often feel glued to my palm no matter how hard I try to fling them to God.

At age 37, I still feel physically well and strong. What wears me down is not physical tiredness, but the emotional fatigue that comes from pastoring and preaching. My job description does not reflect things that I often find myself doing—such as struggling with words to comfort those who have suffered unthinkable pains, bearing the burdens of those who are struggling with deep brokenness, composing myself to respond with grace to those who are difficult and hurtful (whether intentionally or not), and beating myself up for the many blunders I have made. On a really challenging day, I could feel so burdened by waves of different emotions and thoughts that I have no idea what to do or pray. When I tell people that God chose the weak and the clueless like me to do His work, I really mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Having said all this, please don’t stop coming to us with your burdens! Loving and caring for the flock well is a load that all good pastors gladly bear. However, do remind us to rest well, and be gracious to us when we are unavailable.

Understand that your pastor does not necessarily have all the answers to the many difficult questions in life. Understand also that he will not meet all your expectations. Sometimes, he may take a day or two to reply your email or text. In moments when you see your pastor struggling to keep up, your best gift to him could simply be the benefit of the doubt—that he is really trying his best, and not that he does not care.

 

4. Mental health conditions

According to Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health, about 5.8 per cent of adults in Singapore have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder at some point in life. Churches in Singapore (and around the world) seem under-equipped to understand and help those with serious mental health conditions. I am not suggesting that the church is responsible to provide treatment or cure. However, we do need to have a basic understanding of this important matter in order to be able to recognize symptoms of common conditions and provide guidance on where to seek appropriate professional help.

I know of hyper-spiritual churches that would quickly attribute these symptoms to demonic forces, and super-conservative churches that would distance themselves completely from clinical psychology, psychiatry, and the use of medicine. This gap, combined with my earlier three points, could be the reason some pastors may be suffering silently from mental health struggles, like depression and anxiety disorders, that could go unnoticed by their churches for years. By the time these mental health struggles eventually surface, it is usually because of something major or tragic. I pray that our churches will grow in understanding and applying good gospel theology to these complex matters of life in this broken world.

At our church, we partner with a Christian counseling ministry and regularly invite our leaders and members to attend their online courses. The ministry offers us a great wealth of theologically robust and practical resources to help us meet some of our counseling-related needs. If your church has access to such resources as well, I would encourage you to equip yourself and learn more about how we can best support each other through the different challenges we face in life.

 

Final thoughts

If I sound like I am complaining about church or my job as a pastor, that is the furthest thing from the truth. I love my job as a pastor. I feel privileged that God has called me to the vocation of proclaiming the greatest news ever—the news of a Redeemer who came to rescue me from myself and restore the brokenness of this world. That is really the deepest and most lasting cure to all our struggles.

To love and care for our pastors well, we must not assume we have fully understood how much sin has affected all of us. Sin is not just about our actions or behaviors, it also affects our hearts and deepest affections. It is the grand psychosis that blinds even the most spiritually gifted among us.

Hence, pastors need your grace, prayers, and encouragements. They need to be constantly reminded to find rest and hope in Christ alone. They need to be pointed to the Good News they preach again and again.

All of us are part of the same story, and none of us is the protagonist. The hero is someone else—Jesus. Your pastor may preach that story really well, but he must really “get” it in the depth of his heart.

Has Community Become Our New Idol?

Written By Jiaming Zeng, USA

“Thirst was made for water. Inquiry for truth.” – C.S. Lewis

I’ve never been good at socializing, especially at large events such as parties, networking, and happy hours. I talk to many people, yet still walk out of events feeling like I know no one. Friends tell me that they often feel the same way.

Often it seems like over half the conversation is spent on TV shows, stories about other parties we’ve been to, or random stories about a friend’s wild adventures. Occasionally, topics as simple as “how a bike lock works” or “how to make a peanut butter sandwich” can be discussed for over 10 minutes. Is this really what we gathered to talk about? We try so hard to keep the conversation going. Yet in the end, we say so much, but communicate so little.

One of the most popular TV shows of our generation is Friends. Deep down, we all hope to find a group of friends like the original Friends—a community where we laugh at each other’s bad jokes, tolerate each other’s annoying habits, and truly believe that “I’ll be there for you, ‘cause you’re there for me too.” In a way, community has become society’s new idol, sharing the stage with fame and success. In today’s world, a fulfilling life involves more than a successful career. We want to go on unforgettable adventures, engage in meaningful experiences, and build lasting friendships.

Yet why is it that, even though we are all searching for community, and we all know we are searching for community, we still can’t seem to find the community. What is amiss in our current approach to community?

Everything we long for has a natural remedy—for thirst there is water, for hunger there is food. Does our longing for genuine connection and belonging point to a deeper need in our hearts?

Our dissatisfaction with the present state of community is a reflection of our longing for God. From the beginning, God designed us to “not be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We find fulfillment not merely in community with other people, but ultimately in community with God. His great desire for a relationship with us is why Christ gave His life on the cross.

Community isn’t just about me or what I feel. For Christians, community is important because this is where we reconnect with God and each other amidst our disjointed world. When we are a community filled with God’s love, we are able to be a witness to the world. Our redeemed relationships show the world who Christ is and what He did.

But how can we build such a community?

 

Building A Real Community

The Bible has many things to say about community, but I want to focus on one particular concept: Grace.

Grace is the idea of loving someone and accepting them unconditionally. For me, Jesus is the perfect source of grace and exemplifies the ideal community we are all searching for. As the Son of God, Jesus showed us perfect grace when He came to live, drink, laugh, forgive, and even sacrifice Himself for, us even though we did not earn it. In His last command, He outlined the key to ideal community for Christians: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Grace is what makes hard conversations possible; it’s what allows us to be comfortable and genuine in our communities. In her famous TED Talk presentation, “The Power of Vulnerability”, Brené Brown points out that the fear of not being worthy of love or belonging is what keeps us from forming meaningful connections. Therefore, she calls for us to be vulnerable, to be authentic, and to not be afraid of who we are.

However, the fundamental reason we are afraid to be authentic and vulnerable is precisely because we don’t expect to receive grace from our communities. We’re afraid that if we do something outside the “ordinary” or accepted standard, other people in the room will judge us. We are afraid that we won’t be shown grace.

As a private and reticent person, I constantly struggle with vulnerability. Questions of doubt and fear often run through my head when I attempt to be authentic and share my life with others. What if I share too much? What if I open up and the other people don’t? What if I come across as weak and needy? I didn’t realize how much I was not sharing until a friend pointed out to me, “You know, you would talk a lot, but you really don’t say much.” By failing to be authentic, by giving in to my fear of vulnerability, I’ve distanced myself from my friends and community.

Brené’s talk is among the five most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Many of us realize the importance of vulnerability and its connection to community. Yet, we are still afraid. Brené calls for courage. While courage is admirable, not all of us, including myself, have the courage to be vulnerable. However, we do have the power to share grace. Only by showing grace to others will we find the power to be vulnerable. For “give, and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38). Before we can receive, we must learn to give.

Sharing grace doesn’t have to be inspirational or dramatic. It can be as simple as initiating conversation with the quiet person in the room or helping your roommate with her dishes because she has a mid-term tomorrow. It can be baking cookies for your office or inviting your friends over for a home-cooked dinner. Many times, it’s the small things that matter.

Furthermore, even if you feel that your grace isn’t reciprocated with grace, show people the grace of understanding and forgiveness. Of course, don’t forget to show yourself grace. Forgive yourself for missing that paper deadline and, sometimes, it’s okay to go to that movie even if your research isn’t working. Because remember, Christ has already shown us the perfect grace. I can always find comfort in the fact that I’m loved and upheld by Him despite my mistakes. The actions of grace can be simple, yet their implications profound.

Sharing grace is what empowers us and the people around us to be vulnerable. Personally, the practice of showing grace has helped me grow closer to my friends. By inviting friends over for dinner and helping others, I’ve slowly gained the courage to trust, to open up, and to engage in deeper conversations. When we trust others in the room to show us grace, we will have the courage to be ourselves, be authentic, and be vulnerable. Grace is how we experience love in our communities. For Christian communities, grace is how we mirror God’s love to the world.

Francis Su, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, once said that you do not need accomplishments to be a worthy human being, and whatever your level of academic success, you are always worth having coffee with. That’s what grace looks like.

So that’s my call to you. Go search for a community with grace and foster grace in your existing communities. Grace is what Christian community should embody. By fostering a community built on grace, we are not only creating meaningful connections among ourselves, but also bearing witness for the cross and embodying the love of God in our broken world. For “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).

Finally, as the Apostle Peter said, “Above all, love each other deeply. . . . Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4: 8-10)

P.S. I highly recommend listening to Brené Brown and Francis Su’s talks, which heavily inspired this article.

 

This article was originally published on Vox Clara, Vol 7 Issue 1 (Winter 2018) as “Community As the New Idol, And the Sharing of Grace”. This version has been edited by YMI.

Are You A Friend of The World?

Day 22 | Today’s passage: James 4:4-6 | Historical context of James

4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

A few years ago, I worked freelance for a horse-racing magazine.

Everything went well at the start, but after a few assignments, I realized there was more to horse-racing than simply which horse finishes first (pardon my naivety). My eyes were opened to the world of gambling where people would do just about anything for a chance to win more money. Organizers would attempt to increase the betting pool by conducting fun-filled activities alongside the horse races that seemed harmless on the onset—like a family carnival for parents with young children, with “free” manicure and massage sessions. However, it was not a simple means of keeping the kids occupied but rather a way of tempting people to place more bets, such as placing five bets would entitle one to redeem a manicure session.

I was disturbed to discover that beneath all the buzz lay a dark side that capitalized on the punters’ greed. Many would spend beyond what they could afford—often in four-figure amounts on each trip. Once, a woman told me that she had spent all her money and had no money left to go home.

This got me thinking. How could I, as a Christian, continue to work for the magazine when what it stood for clashed with the godly values that mattered to me? The Bible clearly calls us to be good stewards of money (Matthew 25:14-29) and to guard ourselves against greed and the love of money (Hebrews 13:5).

I made up my mind to quit because I did not want to place myself in a position where I could be influenced by gambling and compromise on my values. I was afraid that one day, I would also join them in placing a bet.

James points out this conflict of values, desires, and lifestyles between worldly people and God’s people in verse 4. He calls those who profess to be believers of God, but yet dally with the world as “adulterers”. He warns them against being unfaithful to God.

James also teaches us that friendship with the world makes us an enemy of God. In a friendship, there is a sharing and acceptance of each other’s values and beliefs. We may begin to become more like each other as we spend more time together. And there is a mutual trust which allows us to have a say and influence over each other’s life. As author Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Likewise, we will also develop an affection and appetite for ungodly attitudes and behavior if we allow ourselves to be influenced by and “be friends with” the world. That is when we would become enemies of God.

However, this does not imply that we are supposed to distance ourselves from everything that is in the world. Instead, we are called to be careful not to conform to what the world teaches us (Romans 12:2), but to set our minds on what is godly (Colossians 3:2).
We can do so by loosening our grip on money, choosing to live a simple life, and consistently giving to others.

God, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, demands our complete devotion to Him (v. 5). He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5), and He alone deserves our allegiance. In his commentary on James, Bible teacher Kent Hughes notes that jealousy is an essential element of true love. He says: “The Holy Spirit’s true love for us evokes a proper intolerance of straying affection. The personalness of this ought to steel us against wandering.”

It is not by our mere human effort, however, that we stay faithful to God. James assures us in verse 6 that God gives us more grace. He promises to help us in our weaknesses, obstacles, and challenges. This is especially so for those who are humble and who seek to love God wholeheartedly and submit to His ways.

We face an ongoing battle between pursuing the world’s interests and God’s. May we continue to take heart in God’s intense love for us and always choose Him over the world—no matter what it costs.

—Alvin Chia, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. Is there anything in your life that can draw you away from God?

2. What can you do to avoid becoming a friend of the world?


Alvin Chia is always hungry. One of the things he cannot do while others easily can is to stop eating after a meal and stand still at a bus stop. But he is well aware that God is the only one who can truly satisfy him and cause him to be still. He used to be a sports journalist but he doesn’t exercise. No wonder he is no longer one now, so that he doesn’t have to live an inconsistent life.

Read 30-day James Devotional

A Christmas of a Different Kind

Title: A Christmas of a different kind
Materials: Watercolour
Artwork by: Jasmine Wisz X YMI
Description: To many, Christmas is about the beautiful decorations, the exchanging of gifts and the scrumptious food. Cards and advertisements greet you with common sayings of “Merry Christmas”, “Have a jolly Christmas” and “Tis the season to be jolly” but almost never about the true meaning of Christmas.



JESUS CAME TO BE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Twinkling lights, sparkling glitter and shiny baubles have one thing in common: they shine and captivate our attention. This is what Jesus is meant to be. In John 8:12, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” How will you radiate His light this Christmas to others around you?

 

 

 

JESUS CAME AS THE GIFT OF GRACE
Whether a gift comes in a box, a stocking or just as it is, we receive it with gratitude. God gave us the gift of grace that came in the form of a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger—the gift that all mankind needs. Having received His indescribable gift (2 Cor 9:15), how will you share it with others?

 

 

 

JESUS CAME AS AN ATONING SACRIFICE FOR OUR SINS
Animals used to be slaughtered as sacrifices to God (against their will). But Jesus did so willingly for you and I, by dying on the cross. By doing so, He has atoned for our every bitter thought and evil deed, so that we can come blameless and righteous before Him. This Christmas, let’s declare with our hearts filled with thanksgiving: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) How will you thank Him for His sacrifice this Christmas?

 

 

 

JESUS CAME TO DIE FOR US
Christmas trees are the centerpiece of the Christmas season. We adorn it with tinsel, top it with a star and encircle it with presents. If we strip it bare, top it with a sign that says: “King of the Jews” and encircle it with crying women—we get the scene of Jesus’s death on the cross.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) How does knowing that He died for you personally change the way you celebrate Christmas?