I thought I could pastor without it. No more. If you’re a pastor, you’re going to have to learn to pastor sometimes with a broken heart.
I remember meeting a congregation member in the aisles of Costco. I spoke of the funeral service I had just led for a dear old saint in our church. I described how hard it was to bury her. “It never occurred to me that you would feel that way,” she said. It had never occurred to her that pastors who read Scriptures at gravesides are reminding themselves, as well as everyone else, of what is true when we need it most.
It’s not just funerals. It’s the person you pass on the bike who used to come to church but never turned to Jesus in repentance and faith. It’s the person who shows up week after week buried under a protective layer because of profound hurts experienced in the past that are obvious but unknown. It’s the person you meet over coffee who not only tells you about their sin but clings to it. It’s the sadness of preaching the grace and tenderness of Jesus, and then seeing someone determined to get as far away from that grace as possible.
Don’t get me wrong. We have joy in ministry too, more than we deserve. The overall tenor of our ministries is not normally the minor key. But there are times that we will mourn. Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44); we will sometimes weep over our people too. Paul felt sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart (Romans 9:1-2); there may be days that we feel this too.
“Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” asked Spurgeon. “Passionate longings after men’s conversion, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth? … Such soul-travail as that of a faithful minister will bring on occasional seasons of exhaustion, when heart and flesh will fail.”
I’m not writing this post to offer any advice on what to do when brokenhearted. If you want that, you’ll probably find resources like Lecture XI of Lectures to My Students, Volume 1 by Spurgeon helpful. He knew what it was like to pastor with a broken heart. But I’m not sure that all of us need advice as much as we do realistic expectations: expect a broken heart as part of what it means to be pastor.
We should and will pastor sometimes with broken hearts. And that’s not wrong. It’s required. We need more pastors who know what it’s like to occasionally weep. We need to learn how to pastor with a broken heart.
“Be not dismayed by soul-trouble,” wrote Spurgeon. “Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.” Get used to occasionally pastoring with a broken heart.