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Few understand cancer better than pastors. They regularly visit hospitals and counsel church members who suffer from this devastating illness. Cancer strikes nearly every family at some point. But for pastors caring for multiple families at all times, cancer is a never-ending fight. They watch beloved friends who formerly looked so healthy begin to whither away as they withstand bouts of chemotherapy treatments. In the worst cases, pastors are left to comfort the grieving family and conduct the funeral.

But who is left to comfort pastors when they get the dreaded diagnosis? Cancer doesn't exempt pastors, either, no matter how sizable their influence. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis announced in January 2006 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Then on Thanksgiving last month, rising young pastor Matt Chandler of the Village Church in Dallas suffered a seizure and hit his head. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where doctors eventually discovered a tumor in the frontal lobe of his brain. Surgeons removed the tumor on December 4, but the pathology report has not yet returned. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing church that draws about 6,000 each week waits anxiously to learn the diagnosis.

The spotlight turns on pastors in these cases because we're accustomed to them offering words of comfort and wisdom to the suffering. Perhaps we wonder if they will heed their own advice to trust God despite the circumstances. Maybe they will forsake what they have been telling the grieving all these years and forsake God. But good shepherds don't stop shepherding when danger threatens. That's when their work really begins. Both Piper and Chandler have modeled for their congregations how to turn the dreaded ...

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When the Pastor Suffers
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December 2009

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