The Struggle is Real: 4 truths every pastor needs to apply to be healthy.

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The Struggle is Real: 4 truths every pastor needs to apply to be healthy.


(and I mean, the struggle is real.)

Today I heard the most heartbreaking story. A pastor friend whom we hadn’t seen and heard of in more than a decade finally agreed to meet up with my husband and I. We had only heard rumors here and there, and tried on many occasions to reach out to him then, only to face a dead end.

Today, he met us.

It was true, he had left the pastorate.

It was true, he had cut off all his connections with the church community and his Christian friends.

It was true,  he had walked away from ministry.

It was true that at one point, he almost took his life.

He had just finished his post-graduate dissertation and was looking forward to receiving his Ph.D. in Theology when his world suddenly crumbled from under his feet. His wife left him, taking with her their children. He thought everything was okay with his life, but as he soon found out, it was not. At his lowest point, he stopped short of an inappropriate physical relationship.

In extreme shame over what he almost did, and not having the strength to face his congregation, he threw in the towel. Then he disappeared from the radar, even from his closest friends.

This is just one of the many stories of fallen or broken pastors. Sadly, the number of cases seems to grow, instead of the opposite. We’d like to think that they are getting the help and counseling they need and are restored back without incident. More often than not, the answer to both is, “No, they are not.”

What do stories like this tell us – those who are in the pastoral ministry as well as the congregation?

A pastor’s job is not all frills, not all triumphs, and not all stories of victories. Many, perhaps too many, are stories of heartache, pain, shame and defeat. There are already many articles that have been written about the main causes why pastors fall, and mostly of the better-known pastors, and how they fell from grace (sex scandals, abuse of power, fraud, heresy, infidelity, misuse of church funds, addiction or substance abuse, etc.). So I will not talk about that here. But instead, I want to address some things that, while it may be implied in these articles or even in our hushed conversations, it is not clearly stated and therefore at risk of not being recognized at all.

Ministers and pastors do walk the thin line of self-sufficiency. It is often called for in our work, an occupational hazard of sorts. We need to be able to be confident in what we do and in our leadership, otherwise our congregation would not follow our lead! But we also do have to remember that we are only able to lead the way we do by God’s enabling and grace.  So, perhaps it would benefit us more to take a regular time off and bring to mind these things.

  1. Pastors are human, too. This isn’t being said to justify our mistakes and our sin, but rather to remind ourselves that we are not super human beings. We feel tempted. We fight off struggles of the heart and of the flesh. We feel. We cry. We get angry. We get hurt. We fail. We are not perfect. And, if we do not keep watch over our humanness, we will fall. Many pastors do fall hard because the pedestal they stand on has become too high – a pedestal built either by those around him or by himself, or both. 

Pastors, the more we are aware of who we are (our humanness), our capabilities and our limitations, the faster it will be for us to realize when we are dabbling with an area of temptation.

  1. Pastors hurt, too. We hurt, too. Admit it. I have been around pastors and their spouses long enough to observe that, when they say they have been hurt by their church (or by someone), it is usually much deeper than just an offense or a minor spat, the pain or damage is usually already too deep to even bear. This is because we do two things: either we ignore it the hurt, or we try to solve it. My husband once said at a men’s conference, “Seek help when your problem is still a monkey, not when it’s already a gorilla. No one can help you when you are already carrying a gorilla-of-a-problem!”

Pastors, don’t wait until your problem is a gorilla. The saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” easily applies to pastoral life as well.  Take precaution before crisis becomes unbearable.


  1. Pastors need help, too. Our friend shared that he literally had no one to turn to. Everyone looked to him to solve their problems, but when it was his turn, it hit him hard that he had no one to do the same for him. At the onset, he had no one ministering to him or to his family. Even though a few of the church leaders saw signs that things were not doing well with their marriage, no one talked to him to help. Why? Because they don’t know what to say or how to help, or would feel embarrassed when they put their pastor in a tight spot. Some would shrug it off with the thought that, “it’s the pastor! He and his wife know what to do! God will help them.”

Pastors, get help. Don’t bear the weight of the problems alone, even if they may seem small. If you haven’t yet, perhaps it is about time to form friendships with other pastors or a group of men whom you can trust. Better yet, find a person who you trust enough to speak truth to you, rebuke you when needed, remind you regularly and love you always.


  1. Pastors need a friend, too. Oftentimes, people are not asking for solutions to their problems but someone to journey with them through it. Pastors are no exception. We may probably have all the answers for other people’s problems, but come short for our own. That’s okay. Our friend knew there was no solution to his situation at the moment and had no desire to rush it or get back on the ministry saddle. He knew this was a path where he had to just keep on trekking, for that time. Looking back, he says he didn’t question God’s love or will for him, in fact he recognized God’s love and grace fully in his life. He was just at a point where he had to make hard decisions, but how it would have been better to have a friend alongside him, to minister to him.

Pastor, find someone who will walk with you in your journey toward restoration and healing from whatever it is that has weighted you down. 



Donna Tan, from the Philippines, is a missionary, a pastor’s wife, a pastor’s kid, a counselor, resource speaker, blogger, professional editor (academic and popular writing), and a published author. Her passion is to minister to women, particularly to women in ministry such as pastor’s wives and women pastors. She has a flourishing mentoring ministry among these women in the Philippines. 

Donna’s ministry experiences span ages and cultures; having led youth and women ministries in the Philippines, as well as women ministries in the US.

Donna is married to Dr. Jason Richard Tan (Ph.D.), and they have two children – Joshua (17) and Elisha (13). They have been married for 20 years.

Jason and Donna are missionaries with GlobalGrace Fellowship (Monrovia, CA) serving globally from their home-base in the Philippines. She is the Admin Director of Great Commission Missionary Training Center.

You can connect with Donna through her blog or through her FaceBook Page: Donna Castillo-Tan.







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