Pastor Dan Kiehl's Weekly Letter to the Congregation
July 22, 2020
Dear Oakwood Church family,
I'd like to begin by thanking so many of you who have taken the time to call or write with words of thanks, encouragement, and promises to pray for me over these recent months. You will never know how helpful this is for me and our other pastors, especially in these days of unusual challenges and limited contact with the congregation. Often being a church leader can be a difficult calling, but someone once pointed out to me that pastors probably get 50 times the amount of encouragement and thankfulness for their labors than the average person gets in their job. I will never take that for granted. Thank you, Oakwood, for your support of your leaders.
I am doing very well. I've never been very susceptible to pastoral burnout, I think, because of my tendency to draw clear lines between my callings as pastor, husband, father, and average Christian. I have an inner drive to retreat and isolate that can often be detrimental to relationships but it also helps me to manage the weight of leadership and shepherding responsibilities. I also have a wonderful, extremely supportive wife who brings me much joy. And, to be honest, the Lord has sheltered me - I've been blessed by relatively smooth sailing in ministry and very capable co-leaders, compared to most other ministry situations. I feel that it's a great privilege to preach and teach God's Word and to work with other leaders to strengthen and grow the church, especially a healthy church like Oakwood.
I say all of this because I am painfully aware of how many other pastors are struggling to bear up under the weight of these responsibilities. We've witnessed the downfall of many well-known pastors in the past few years, but many, many others have fallen within more ordinary situations. Scott Sauls recently wrote, "Studies show that pastors experience anxiety and depression at a rate that is disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population. Due to the unique pressures associated with spiritual warfare, unrealistic expectations from congregants and oneself, the freedom many feel to criticize and gossip about pastors with zero accountability (especially in the digital age), failure to take time off for rest and replenishment, marriage and family tensions due to the demands of ministry, financial strains, and self-comparison, pastors are prime candidates for relational isolation, emotional turmoil, and moral collapse." Dr. Thom Rainer did a study once to determine how many hours it would take in a given week for a pastor to fulfill the expectations of the average church member, and the answer he came up with was 114 hours!
But the problem hits close to home for me, especially recently. I serve on a committee of our Presbytery that is responsible to shepherd and give oversight to the pastors. In the past couple of weeks, we've had two pastors step down from serving due to serious moral failures, and another pastor is being investigated for a serious failure in leadership. Just yesterday I spent several hours counseling with one of these pastors who described himself as empty and spiritually exhausted. In my eight years of being in this Presbytery, I'm aware of at least 3 other pastors who have left the ministry due to moral or leadership failures.
Dr. Archie Parrish once visited a church that I used to serve and challenged our members to commit to praying for the church leaders at every meal. He reminded us that we are in a spiritual war with the forces of the Evil One, and one of Satan's highest priorities is to bring down the leaders of the church. We have much evidence to show the effectiveness of this strategy - when there are moral failures, leadership abuses, and divisions among the leaders of a church, the membership suffers greatly and the work of the Kingdom goes undone.
The best way to protect our leaders is to pray for them. The Apostle Paul wasn't at all bashful about asking churches to pray for him - he knew how desperately he relied upon the prayers of God's people and the work of the Holy Spirit. He asks the Roman Christians, "I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf..." To the Colossian church, he says, "...pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word..." The writer of Hebrews asks, "Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things." You bless your whole church when you pray regularly for your leaders. All of this to say, "Keep up the good work, Oakwood!"
Remember that this Sunday, July 26th, we will return to two services - a service at 8:30 AM with extra CDC precautions for those with health concerns and a service at 11:15 AM with the same precautions that we've been using for the past couple of months. The 11:15 AM service will be live-streamed and recorded.