Have you considered how much our Hillside pastors have become a part of your life? Even though they are not related, our pastors celebrate with us the most important events in our life. These are occasions where relatives you haven’t seen in awhile make a special trip across the country to share with you. Marriages, baptisms, professions of faith are all milestones in your life and when you ask one of our pastors to be part of this celebration, you are asking him to become an important part of your life.
For example, Ron married Kim and me in October of 2000. We are so grateful and blessed for his service, that we send him a Thank You card every third week of October thanking him for the blessing he is to us and to the church we love.
There is another life event where you call on our pastor to provide comfort and council and that is when there is a death in your family. In 2017, Kim and I lost Kim’s mom, Betty, unexpectedly and the shock almost overwhelmed us. The next day, Betty’s pastor, Rev. Deb York of Trinity Reformed Church, reached out to us. She provided spiritual comfort and made a point of calling us every day for the next week or so. She gave us her cell phone number so we could call her anytime of the day or night, and provided resources like Christian funeral directors, attorneys, bankers, and realtors.
It was at that point I realized being a minister and pastor is more than preaching a sermon every week. I began to consider all the jobs Ron, Daniel, and now Arek do. They are managers, administrators, counselors, teachers, care-givers, celebrators, ministers—along with several other jobs.
Last November, I interviewed Ron and Daniel about the different duties of a pastor. As we talked I realized that an important part of the pastor’s job is to recognize the private and confidential nature of much of their work. They didn’t want to share too many specifics because these moments of deep grief and great joy are special, often private, moments. It’s nice to know if I’m ever in a crisis, not only can I count on their pastoral ministry, but my privacy as well.
I asked how they deal with stress, especially funerals. In 2017, our congregation had two deaths in particular that took an incredible emotional toll on me, personally. “And I don’t even know these people” I told Ron and Dan, “I know who they are, but don’t know them well enough to unexpectedly stop by their house.” When parents have to mourn the passing of their child, the empathy I feel for those parents becomes internalized to the point where I just
want to take time away to cope with these feelings. So if deaths like these affect me the way they do, then how much more the pastor?
When it comes to stress, “We do manage it,” they told me, “but in our own personal way.” Ron pointed out that, “God certainly provides special grace in those situations to be able to care for others when we are also grieving.” They talked about being able to compartmentalize things to a degree—recognizing that they will have time “later on” to deal with their own grief and struggles. Both agreed that it was essential to take that time: “You can’t just pretend these things don’t affect you—they do.” Daniel said. “You just learn to grieve later.” Ron talked about a time when it was only after a funeral that he cried about a loss. “It’s not that I was in denial, it’s just that I needed to help others for a time. Then I could deal with my grief.”
Seminary classes help some with these matters, but it also helps to be in a staff situation with others who have learned some lessons about taking care of others without burning yourself out. Ron added, “Younger pastors take important lessons from older pastors who have more experience. Personally, I can’t describe how grateful I am to George (Mossel) for being my mentor.”
Both Daniel and Ron were quick to say that Hillside is extremely aware of the challenges they face in their work. Elders and other leaders clearly show their care and concern for our pastors, making sure they take some time off and get help when needed. They appreciate the support they experience as people regularly ask how they are doing as they care for others.
“So has there ever been a grieving family where you found inspiration in the family’s strength?” I asked.
Both agreed that when you go to help someone else you often find yourself being deeply helped and encouraged. “When you spend time with someone who clearly knows that death is not far off you spend time with someone who is thinking about the most important issues in life,” Daniel said. “Faith in the face of death is a powerful witness.” Ron added, “To be with people who are honest about how much something hurts but who also dare to believe that God is still with them in their pain, is to be present at a holy moment. God is there in an amazing way.”
Daniel and Ron have each had the experience of hospital rooms becoming holy places, places where you wonder if you need to take off your shoes because God is there. Ron recalled a time when he was present after a baby was stillborn. Tears and sobs of grief and pain filled the room. “I’ll never forget what the grandfather said at that time: ‘This is not the end of the story. There is more to come.’ That was deep faith, real faith, honest faith. It was true Christian hope in the midst of a broken world.”
Even though our pastors are just doing their job, I believe they deserve more than their paycheck. Our pastors are, after all, human. And their career is more than a biding of time until retirement. Our pastors put their heart and soul into their job, their life is a dedication to a higher calling like no other profession.
So how do we thank our pastors (and their families)? In a recent chat with one of our seniors, the topic of receiving cards in the mail came up with the observation there’s something special about opening your mailbox to find a card with encouragement and thanksgiving for your blessing. Maybe this article can act as an encouragement to write our pastors and their families a note or to take a moment and just say thanks—let them know that you appreciate what they do.
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. (I Tim. 5:17)
by Bob VerBurg