Playing hurt: Six things you can do to keep ministering

By Bob Bickford

Most every pastor I have met has entered into ministry with a high sense of calling and a desire to honor God through preaching, teaching, discipling, shepherding, and caring for the flock God has entrusted to him.

Some among us are filled with idealism and intense passion to see the church body grow, mature, and fulfill the mission of Christ. We pray hard, lead to the point of exhaustion and, like Paul, feel the burden of the church daily.

Sometimes we get hurt.

Every pastor has felt the sting of criticism about a sermon and the pushback from small changes, but hits like those are common and frequent. The kind of hurt I’m thinking about is the hurt that takes your breath away, causes your knees to buckle, creates mental fog and fatigue. It feels like a knife in your heart and a blow to your gut.

When your child rebels.

A key leader has a moral failing.

Your close friend betrays.

A disciple abandons Jesus.

The family you heavily invested in walks away.

A staff member leads a coup.

This kind of hurt stays with you. It’s not shaken by a nap or diminished by a day off. It drags on. It persists.

And you still have sermons to preach, people to lead, and congregants to shepherd and love.

Sometimes we have to play hurt.

It seems like the last thing you can do, but here are six things that have helped me continue to fulfill my ministry calling and responsibilities when I was hurt and waiting for God to heal.

Embrace suffering as Jesus did

Our culture rejects pain and suffering, and in doing so often misses the important work that suffering can accomplish in our lives. Suffering is one of the most significant and powerful teachers we can have. Jesus, God incarnate, was subjected to suffering.

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, rejoice as you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may also rejoice with great joy when His glory is revealed.” (1 Pe. 4:12-13)

Jesus, the perfect son of God, did not lack anything, nor was He flawed. The suffering he experienced, by God’s design, fully accomplished the work for which he came, the saving of sinners like you and me. Our response to suffering should not be shock or surprise but understanding that leads us to joy. As Jesus suffered, we will suffer too. It is an honor that turns to joy when we consider Christ.

Engage in community

Pastors can often avoid significant relationships. Navigating the lines between pastor and congregant can be confusing. It may seem we always have our “pastor hat” on. One guy in our congregation told me he didn’t want to hear about my personal challenges or struggles, because it hindered his view of me as his pastor. That hurt deeply. Pastor, you need a circle of friends, brothers to whom and with whom you can be real, take off the “pastor hat,” and be a fellow follower of Jesus. Do whatever it takes to find brothers like that.


As pastors, our labor requires us to carry burdens. People in our churches call us in time of crisis for prayer and counsel. The subject matter is often heavy: broken marriages, addictions, job loss, death, terminal illness, mental health struggles, and personal wounds from a painful past. It’s not uncommon for a pastor to carry the emotional weight placed on his shoulders each day. In heavy seasons, laughter can become rare. A Christian counselor gave me sound advice: Find ways to laugh on a regular basis. My youngest daughter and I developed a habit of watching comedians and funny videos and intentionally, and loudly, over-laughing.

Keep a personal sabbath

The 24/7 nature of our work creates pressure to never take a day off from ministry. Many pastors serve bi-vocationally and don’t have the luxury of a full day off. The point is simply this: You must have down time. Time devoted to rest and relaxation. The gospels show us that Jesus took time away from the demands of teaching and ministry to rest, pray, sleep, and eat. Take a full day and, if that is not possible, try developing the practice of multiple mini-sabbaths. Intentionally plan for them.

Work with your hands

The work of a pastor is often difficult to quantify. Having a conversation here or there and preaching a sermon can be quantified in time, but many times one can do those and other tasks and wonder; “What did I really do?” Years ago, I developed a woodworking hobby, and you probably won’t be impressed with anything I’ve built, but what I’ve found is that finishing a project with something tangible to show from my efforts increases my joy, refreshes my mind, and tires my body.

Release pain through prayer

Some time ago, I was introduced to the Imprecatory Psalms. These are prayers to God concerning enemies who have done wrong, are threatening attack, or who have acted violently. They are prayers that God would “get” or judge the enemy. When praying for my enemy, I am helped by asking God to act against them as He wills, not as I would. In praying like this, it is important to never forget that we are sinners too. Our frustration, anger, and hurt may be due to our sin, not the sin of another against us. My trouble may be because I did something foolish and hurtful. When that is true, I need to own it and repent. However, there are times when pastors are unjustly attacked, criticized, and harmed. Asking God to deal with those who do these things allows you to release the pain and trust Him to act.

Is your hurt so deep that you can’t see past it or feel like you can’t go on? Reach out to the Pastor Helpline at 1-844-PASTOR1 and talk confidentially to caring professionals who can help.

Published March 20, 2018

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick