When A Pastor Faces Cancer

When A Pastor Faces Cancer

By Our Journey Of Hope

As a leader, King David was a man after God’s own heart.

But that does not mean he did not fight giants. Over the years we see him face some pretty big storms. He battled many dangerous enemies. He fought for his life and he fought for the very survival of his kingdom. He knew how it felt to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

At times, King David even felt the way cancer patients may feel in the middle of a storm. 

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me? 
Psalm 13:1-2

When you minister to a pastor or another spiritual leader with cancer, you should offer the same spiritual, emotional and practical support and care you provide to anyone else in this situation — except that your cancer care ministry has an added dimension: When you help the shepherd, you also help the flock.

One important thought you may wish to share with a pastor is that God can use this cancer experience to shape him or her into a better minister — because He is “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Since pastors and other spiritual leaders may think of themselves as those who do ministry, they may be less comfortable in a role as one who receives ministry. So, in your ministry to a pastor, you may find it to be more effective to speak more as a “coach” or “encourager” than as a “teacher.”

Face the Facts

Encourage pastors to be realistic. If they have cancer, they have cancer. Sometimes faith can border on denial. Is it realistic to expect that a spiritual leader would never encounter difficult times? Why would any of us be immune? We live in a broken world. The corruption of sin and disease runs rampant, and touches us all.

Although science has identified many of the possible risk factors for cancer, we do not really know why some people get cancer and others do not. But we do know that some people will get cancer in this life. So, if a leader has been diagnosed with cancer, then that leader will need to face this battle. This is an enemy he or she needs to fight, and one that may be overcome.

Refuse to Hide

As a pastor embarks on this serious battle, he or she may need to hear that this is not a battle they have to fight alone. Of course, the doctors, nurses and medical teams are there to provide their best care. Family and friends will do what they can do to offer support. Also, as you minister to a pastor, he or she needs to know that you are there and will stand with them.

If it feels appropriate, you may wish to encourage the pastor to share his or her diagnosis with the congregation before the information becomes public or subject to rumor. Not only does this protect the people, but as they become aware of the health challenges their pastor faces, the pastor may be touched by their show of love and support.

Shepherds may also need to be encouraged to accept help from their sheep if they (or their families) would benefit from that help. As a cancer care minister, you want to help pastors understand that they have far more practical assistance available to them than they may realize — people who would love to bring meals, mow the lawn, provide childcare, and drive them to doctor appointments. The congregation may even feel they are part of the fight alongside their pastor when they are able to contribute. It may actually benefit those helping.

Determine your Course

Since fear often comes from the unknown, why not help the pastor shine light into the darkness? Often, if any cancer patient gets more information about their disease and treatment options, the knowledge may help alleviate anxiety.

Even if the situation is as bad or even worse than the pastor has imagined, at least they know the truth. Once someone has the facts, they can start to make plans to deal with reality. This is as true for a pastor as anyone else — once they understand their situation, they will pray with more confidence, they will be a better patient, and they will be more comfortable as they accept help from the people in their lives who care about them.

On the other hand, if they are just along for the ride, then others will make decisions and define the conversation. But if the pastor is proactive, then he or she may take a certain measure of control in what they do, and how the situation is viewed. Whoever tells the story, tells it on their own terms.

Invite Others Along

As you care for a pastor who has chosen to publicly deal with a health challenge, you may wish to encourage him or her to consider how God might be able to use this season to teach the congregation and strengthen their faith. Is it merely a coincidence, or could the pastor actually be in a leadership role for such a time as this?

Certainly, everyone in the church will watch how the pastor responds to this challenge. Some members of the congregation or the local community may see the leader’s situation as an indication of weakness or a sign of judgment. But it is likely most will feel empowered when they see that their pastor — like King David — has put his or her trust in the Lord.

But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.
And the Lord shall help them and deliver them;
He shall deliver them from the wicked,
And save them,
Because they trust in Him.

Psalm 37:39-40

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