Four things to remember when your pastor is ill

I have been sick the last few days. Not sick enough for anyone to be overly troubled but enough to make concentration a lot harder and achieving anything much more difficult. Anyway, here are some things I have found helpful to remember when I’m sick.

Sick leaders remember God’s sovereignty

It is always tempting to begin thinking that the work of ministry all depends upon me. We so quickly forget that the Lord got on just fine before I turned up and he will manage perfectly well when I’m long gone too. Being sick, and unable to do all the things that I would usually do offers a helpful reminder that the Lord really doesn’t need me to build his church. It is amazing how things just carry on even when I can’t make them happen. The Lord helps restrain our pride when we are sick because we see that the work of ministry does not rest exclusively (or even primarily) on our shoulders.

Sick leaders highlight church health

Being sick and unable to do all that I would usually like to do reveals a lot about the health of the church I lead. If my church falls into disarray whenever I am too ill to do something, it suggests a level of dependency on the pastor that is not at all healthy. If all ministry in your church fails when the church leadership cannot make it happen, it is likely that we aren’t discipling our people, equipping them for works of service nor training them up to maturity in Christ.

The church leadership need to lead in such a way that the church itself would not be up the creek without a paddle were they all to meet Christ face-to-face sooner than they expected. When the leadership – particularly the pastor – is sick, we get a fairly good sense of how well equipped the church is to continue its mission without you there. There is an inevitable day coming when your pastor will no longer be able to lead your church, what happens when he gets sick gives an insight into how the church will cope when it comes.

Sick leaders are human leaders

If there is one benefit to your pastor being sick, it is the reminder that he is a frail human being just like you. All too often, pastors are treated like automatons who have been programmed to meet whatever felt needs we feel we may have. Many of us think the pastor is simply there to meet my needs and should be waiting at the end of the phone just itching to take my call, day or night, whenever I decide I need his counsel. Stories abound of pastors – laid down with some horrendous sickness – being forced from their beds to minister to someone who has no thought for what they are asking. The pastor’s illness doesn’t need to be taken into account – after all, we pay him to serve us, right?

But sick pastors show the church that they are frail and human just like the membership. They aren’t automotons, but human beings who get sick and ill like everyone else. And if they get sick and ill like real humans, just imagine how else their humanity might manifest itself.

Sick leaders offer opportunities for service and growth

As the membership see that their pastor or elder is sick, they are presented with a fresh opportunity for service. Just as members may expect care, support and sympathy when they are ill, they too can reciprocate such care and support for their leaders.

But not only is there an opportunity to serve the leader who is ill, there are opportunities to show yourself servant-hearted in picking up some of the ministry he is unable to undertake whilst ill. It could be that a sermon needs preaching, a Bible Study needs prepping, a visit needs doing or a million-and-one other things that we don’t even see happening day-to-day but that allow the work of ministry to continue in our church. As your leader is unable to do these things, you are presented with an opportunity to serve him and further the work of ministry while he is laid low.

It could just be that the illness of your pastor will present you with opportunities to serve, that you wouldn’t otherwise have, that will lead to your growth. The unexpected opportunity to preach, lead the Bible Study, or whatever it is might just open the door to other opportunities for service in the longer term. As Jesus said, ‘One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much’ (Luke 16:10). It could be that the Lord is using this laying low of your pastor to lead you to areas of service for the long-term in which you are to grow and for the good of your church.