Our Journey of Hope

For pastors, it can feel like a double crisis when a family member is confronted by a major health challenge. First, there are concerns on the homefront—like those faced by all families when a member is battling cancer—but the pastor also shoulders the ongoing responsibilities of leading and caring for the entire church family.

There are no hard and fast rules for dealing with this situation. Some pastors and their families may take this time to step back and withdraw, putting their regular lives on hold while they deal with the cancer, as many other families do when dealing with cancer.

Other pastors and their families may instead choose to invite their congregation into their cancer journey, serving and strengthening the flock by one family’s example of what it looks like to stand in faith in the midst of a terrible storm.

But for some pastors, just being a pastor at a time like this makes a terrible thing even worse, and they may not see a way out.

If you are a pastor, you can already imagine the extraordinary effort that sharing your journey would require if you were to continue to faithfully encourage and edify your congregation while you are also dealing with the distressing challenges at home. Being upfront about the challenges your family is facing and being honest about the whole experience, the good and bad, may require a greater transparency than you and your church are accustomed to sharing.

Yet, imagine the enduring impact you could have. Your family’s example of openness and faith could ripple powerfully throughout the entire church. People need godly examples. In one way or another, nearly every member of your congregation will be touched by cancer at some point. For them to watch you and your family go on the same difficult journey may be inspiring, encouraging and instructive.

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, 
and just as you have us as a model, 
keep your eyes on those who live as we do.

Philippians 3:17

Sometimes, when a family member is battling cancer, pastors may feel compelled to put on a good front and play the part of the strong spiritual leader. But on the inside, they are overcome with blame, drowning in fear and unable to tell anyone about it.

If your goal as a pastor is to help your families successfully navigate their own cancer journeys with faith and hope—and if your goal as a person is to stay strong — here are three prayerful suggestions:

1. Reject blame

If a member of your family has cancer, recognize that it is not his or her fault. We realize that some people will get cancer, but we don’t know why a specific person gets cancer. “He was a smoker,” we say. Or, “she was always working on her tan.” But many people smoke and many people spend all day in the sun and do not get cancer. There is no benefit to speculating about what you or anyone else could have or should have done differently.

It doesn’t help the healing process to focus on regrets. You must keep blame out of the equation. Your focus now should be on the sick person getting well and everyone making better decisions in the future. Naturally, we should all do what we can to prevent cancer—that’s only wisdom—but you and your family need to look together toward the future and not dwell on the past. Preventative measures may still not have kept the cancer from occurring.

2. Resist fear

Fear that comes from uncertainty is an unrelenting enemy. The anxiety and stress surrounding a cancer diagnosis can affect every member of a family and may even impact the patient’s physical recovery. One simple key to overcoming fear can be knowledge. Many patients and their loved ones find that much of their fear evaporates as they learn more about the disease itself—the actual risks, the recovery rate, the newest treatments and even the worse-case scenarios.

Also, learning more about what God says in His Word can be a powerful way to overcome fear. It is deeply comforting to know, for example, that when the Lord is our Shepherd, His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23).

3. Receive help

Finally, you need to accept the fact that you and your family will benefit from receiving the love and support of others. You do not have to face this situation alone. You are surrounded by family and friends and church members who may be happy to provide transportation to a doctor visit or mow your lawn. It is often true that receiving help can be hard for a pastor, because you see yourself as the source of help for others.

In some churches, a pastor may feel judged by certain members of his congregation—“If he only had more faith, his wife would be healed.” Those types of sentiments are unhelpful and often without grounds. But when people come together in unity to help, and experience the situation firsthand, they often lose the will to judge.

And when the whole congregation joins together to serve one in need—which includes the pastor—we are fulfilling our calling as the body of Christ. We are here to care for one another. “Carry each other’s burdens,” the Bible says, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of compassion and 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

 Learn more about Our Journey of Hope here.

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®

Our Journey of Hope is sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®