The Pastor and Physical Pain: How to Cope in the Midst of Leading

by Casey Gibbons/ January 31, 2019

My husband Scotty was injured while playing college football more than 20 years ago. He wasn’t supposed to get sacked as the quarterback, but he did. He tried to move on with his active lifestyle, but one surprise cut under him while he was playing a pickup game of basketball was the final blow. Four back surgeries later, physical pain plagues his life 24 hours a day. 

I wish I could say leading in ministry caused God to bless us with healing. But it hasn’t. God has allowed the pain, and yet purposely called my husband to serve in full-time pastoring for the past 25 years. So how does Scotty do it? Here are three insights on how to cope in the midst of leading: 


1. Call it like it is.

When Scotty and I were dating, he was open and honest to let me know that his injuries seemed to be beyond repair. He had been through one surgery at that time and was currently dealing with protruding disks, nerve damage, degenerative disease, arthritis, and scar tissue. It was a lot to handle. However, he had come to a place of acceptance and was communicating the truth of his reality. 

Acceptance is a process that requires a completely new perspective. Your mind must shift. Your spirit must release. Your body must adapt. Not being able to go back to “who you were” to “do what you always did” is a gut-wrenching reality. But the punch of the pain does ease as you come to a place of embracing the lifestyle now set before you. Even more so, once you can call it like it is, you can begin to move on and deal with it productively. 


2. Do what you need to do.

Pace is everything. This isn’t always easy with the schedules of a church, but it can be done. 

Scotty paces his meetings by giving time between them to rest or scheduling them back to back if driving is involved, to avoid more time back and forth. He paces his Sundays by avoiding standing on hard floors too long, not walking needlessly, and choosing to go home to eat instead of sitting in a restaurant. He paces his mornings by long hot showers and extensive stretching. Getting to bed as soon as he feels his body will be able to sleep, especially paces his nights. Otherwise, he is too tired to mentally handle the pain, but too awake to sleep. 

Circumstances do vary, but each day is thought through. He says no if he needs to and he says yes in a way he can handle. He must do what he needs to do so he can keep leading in spite of the pain. 


3. Live supernaturally.  

Years ago, Scotty attended a three-week pain management course at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. The doctors and staff were stumped on how to understand him. When they reviewed his level of medically documented injuries with his test answers of what his life is like, they truly thought he was lying. After a few meetings, they realized not only was he telling the truth about his ability to cope, but also that he was living supernaturally. 

One counselor asked us, “Do you realize that many people with your situation are chronically depressed, unemployed, distant from their loved ones, and often suicidal?” We didn’t know that, but we did know that we were living above and beyond the norm only because of the daily dependence on the grace of God. 

There was no other explanation, especially since Scotty had stopped two strong pain medications previously and was nearly off the third and final one. He had been and still is deeply gripped with trusting the Lord each day to do what he does in ministry and all other aspects of his life. 

While we do pray for a divine moment of healing, we also know that God is with us along the way. Whether you are the one in pain or the spouse of someone in pain, we want to encourage you that there is a spirit of strength that the Lord can give you on your journey as you cope in the midst of leading.