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Table Talk: Serving those who serve

February 6, 2019 No Comment

By: Mathew Block

“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” (Romans 15:30). 

With these words, St. Paul called on the Christians in Rome to remember his trials and sufferings in their prayers, that God would strengthen him to face his current struggles and, if it be His will, bring him at last safely out of them.

We sometimes forget that the heroes of the faith, like St. Paul, were as human as you and me. We can fool ourselves into believing they were immune to the cares and worries of this world. But they weren’t. When times were tough, they felt it. They wrestled with discouragement, sorrow, and fear. St. Paul’s words above remind us that even those we consider spiritual giants need encouragement and prayer from everyday Christians.

The lesson applies to your local congregations too. He might not be St. Paul, but your pastor is similarly in need of prayer. And yet, it’s very easy to forget that. After all, when you are facing a crisis, your pastor is one of the first people you turn to for support. We seek them out for counselling when we’re facing life challenges, for prayer when we’re facing health issues, and for consolation when grieving the death of loved ones.

The problem is, we begin to see our relationship with pastors, deacons, and other church workers as working only one-way: we are the patients and they are the doctors. But even doctors get sick, and when they do they need support from others.

In the same way, those we turn to for spiritual care are sometimes the ones in need of care themselves. But are we—as local congregations and as a larger institution—doing all we can to provide adequate care? It’s not just Christians asking questions like these. As we were preparing this issue for press, CBC News published an article about clergy burnout. “Priests and pastors shoulder a huge emotional burden,” the headline reads, “but they’re burning out… alone.” Because clergy spend so much of their time hearing about and caring for those facing intense suffering, the article notes, they can begin to face “vicarious trauma” themselves.

One of our features this issue—“Honourable Duty, Honourable Wound”—explains how this vicarious trauma works in practice, and the severe impact it can have on a church worker’s mental wellness. The article is a reprint from a secular publication and, as such, doesn’t quite describe the challenge in ways we normally might. We would want a greater emphasis on the consolation of Christ in the midst of suffering—and rightly so.

God seeks to bring healing to us in these ways too, serving through the vocations of trained healthcare professionals.

But articles like this one can help us consider the subject of mental and emotional wellness in a “Kingdom of the Left Hand” way—not just in the spiritual aspects which we in the church understand better. After all, challenges to mental wellness are not always (or even often) solely “spiritual” problems. They have real world causes and often require realworld treatment by doctors and counsellors. God seeks to bring healing to us in these ways too, serving through the vocations of trained healthcare professionals.

The Church brings its own expertise to bear in these situations as well. In this world of sin, there is no lasting answer to suffering except that found in Jesus. He is the ultimate source of consolation for life’s sorrows. He is a God who knows what it is to suffer. He longs to hold us close to His beating heart of love, to shower us with mercy and compassion in the midst of whatever crises we face.

We must repeat that message of comfort to one another again and again: pastors to people and people to pastors. “There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole,” go the words of the old African American spiritual (LSB 749). That balm is Christ.

Two other features this issue discuss church workers and mental wellness from a pastor/pastor’s wife perspective (see page 9). At their heart, these articles are meant to encourage church workers that it’s okay to recognize when they need care and to seek out support. I trust they will also spur laity to look for ways to provide that support more intentionally.

The congregation in Rome was called to pray for St. Paul; you are called to pray for the church workers in your congregation. Do as the Romans did, and strive in prayer with those who serve in your church, naming their sorrows and difficulties in prayer before God.

And don’t stop just at praying. Consider how God might use you and your congregation to be an answer to these prayers—the ways in which you might offer spiritual care and practical support for church workers in need.

We are all servants one to another. God give us wisdom and strength to serve as we ought.

Mathew Block is editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine and communications manager for the International Lutheran Council.