When the Shepherd Gets Sick
Ulcerative Colitis. That was what I was diagnosed with almost 15 years ago after going through some significant discomfort and difficulties. I had never heard of it before, but it is now something I am acutely aware of every day.
Chronic health conditions are defined as "a condition that lasts for a very long time and usually cannot be cured completely, although some illnesses can be controlled or managed through lifestyle (diet and exercise) and certain medications" (www.webmd.com). As of 2012 it was reported that about half of all American adults suffered from one kind of chronic illness or another (www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/index.htm).
Pastors aren't supposed to get sick. Sometimes we don't think we can afford to be sick. But nevertheless, God, in His sovereignty, allows some men in pastoral positions to experience chronic health conditions during their ministries. I have several pastor friends who struggle with a variety of different chronic ailments. Yet each week, they faithfully prepare for, pray over, their times of public proclamation of the Word of God.
Apparently the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12) and Timothy (1 Timothy 5) each had some kind of ongoing health condition as well, which added to the stress and load of their ministerial plate. Paul's thorn in the flesh apparently remained with him till he died. Yet God's grace was sufficient for him to endure whatever it that health condition was.
Having a chronic condition is not enjoyable, nor is it always easy. While some periods of time are better than others, there is really never a day that goes by that I am not thinking about my U.C. in some way. Some men deal with heart disease, diabetes, gout, or a a variety of other issues. There are good days, but there tends to be even more not-so-good days.
Does your pastor struggle with chronic health conditions? Maybe he does and just has not revealed that to you. Perhaps he fears that the knowledge of his health condition may scare away certain people, or may cause others to be less likely to trust him to be there long. Whether he chooses to inform the congregation or not is completely up to his own discretion.
As a church member, though, pray for the health of your pastor. While many people may pray for the spiritual health and vitality of their pastor, do not neglect to pray for his physical health, too. I know many jobs can be stressful, but the physical, emotional, and spiritual stress of pastoral ministry is greater than most people realize. While stress does not necessarily cause health conditions, it certainly does not help them either, and can exacerbate an already difficult condition. Also, do more than pray. Participate in ministry to help offload some of the stress that your pastor carries.
The physical health of your pastor is important. Encourage him to take a day off a week for some kind of rest. Challenge him to get some exercise and to do what he needs to do in order to stay healthy. A healthy pastor provides great energy for a church family. While every pastor is bound to get bed-ridden from time to time due to the flu or other ailment, pray for God to allow those times to be few, and to spare him from the greater difficulties of any kind of chronic condition which could hinder, dampen, or even end his ministry for the Lord.
I look forward to the day when I receive my glorified body, with intestines that are pure and curse-free. I will rejoice on that day and give all the glory to God for His all-sufficient grace.