The Secret Pain of Pastors
- The President of the United States
- A university president
- A CEO of a hospital and
- A pastor
That’s the dream job. You can read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf and preach. I want to do that!
Here is the secret. Being a pastor is hard work. It’s not for wimps.
This is the reality—the job of a pastor can be 24/7 and carry unique challenges.
Some pastors wear themselves out trying to help people. Some wound their families because they are so involved in ministry. Others flourish in their ministry and personal life.
Approximately 85 percent of churches in America have less than 200 people. Sixty percent of churches are under 100 people. The average size congregation in the U.S. is 89 people, according to The Barna Group. Staffs are small, and needs are great. In many situations, the pastor needs to be a Bible teacher, accountant, strategist, visionary, computer tech, counselor, public speaker, worship director, prayer warrior, mentor, leadership trainer and fundraiser.
Who can be all of that?
- Ninety percent of pastors said the ministry was completely differentthan what they
thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
- Seventy percent say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
Some of the unique problems that pastors face are:
1. CriticismPastors can be criticized by a lot of people for a multitude of things.
“Music is too loud. Worship is not long enough. It’s too long.”
“Sermon is not deep enough. It’s too long.”
“Pastor thinks he’s too important. It took me three weeks to get an appointment.”
“You talk too much about money.”
“Can I talk to you for a minute, Pastor?” This simple question can cause a pastor to think: “Oy vey. Now what?”
We pastors need to find a way to not take criticism so personally and learn from truths that could be hidden in the criticism.
2. RejectionMembers leave, leaders leave and pastors’ friends leave. The reality is—people leave.
The smaller the church, the more obvious it is when people leave. Some leave for reasonable decisions; many leave ‘ungracefully.’ They leave the big churches, too—by the thousands.
People leave T.D. Jakes’ church, and they leave Andy Stanley’s church.
When our church had about 150 people and some would leave, it was so disappointing. I tried to console myself by thinking, “They may be leaving by the dozens here at Oasis, but thousands have left Jack Hayford’s church, and he’s a great pastor.” … That only helped for a minute.
“We want something deeper.”
“My needs aren’t getting met.”
These comments can feel like a personal rejection.
Every pastor has heard, “I’m not getting fed here.” Bill Hybels has heard it. Wayne Cordero, Dino Rizzo, Ed Young, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick and Matthew Barnett have heard it.
Really? Not getting fed? In those churches? How is that possible?
One of the most difficult conditions to achieve is to have a “tough skin and a soft heart.” Love people, hold them lightly and don’t take it personally.
“Uhhh, OK. Lord, help us.”
3. BetrayalTrusting church members with personal burdens can backfire. They may end up telling the pastor's personal issues to others. Staff leaders can take church members away. The pastor trusts a person with the platform or title, and that person uses the influence given to them to take people away. The Judas kiss.
Church staff causing problems is a betrayal. Pastors rightfully think, “I’m paying you to solve problems. I can get new problems for free. I don’t need to pay someone a salary to create them.”
- Forty percent report a conflict with a church member at least once a month.
- Eighty five percent of pastors said their greatest problem is they are tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members and associate pastors.
- The #1 reason pastors leave the ministry is that church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction, but the people are not willing to follow or change.
- Forty percent of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.
4. LonelinessWho’s my friend? Who can I trust? If I tell another pastor my problems, will he criticize me, tell others or just treat me differently?
- Seventy percent do not have someone they consider a close friend.
Healthy friendships are crucial to a fulfilling life, especially to the wellbeing of a pastor. Put special effort in this area.
When fatigue comes in, you not only look half-empty, but also dirty, contaminated and undrinkable.
6. Frustrations & DisappointmentsDisappointments come in many ways.
Because of smaller congregations, the average compensation package for pastors is between $35,000 and $40,000. There are many things pastors in this salary range are not able to do for their family that other people around them can do.
There are many areas of ministry in which judging "success" is difficult. Pastors can be hard on themselves. We work in an area that good work and good effort does not always guarantee success.
Many pastors work hard but are missing some kind of "X-factor." They are good people, sincere believers, love God, know the Word, have great content in their sermons, but somehow it’s not clicking. It’s frustrating.
It’s like a worship leader who loves Jesus and has a great singing voice but somehow cannot lead people in an effective worship experience.
Some days, leaders feel like they can’t seem to do anything right. The ministry finally gets momentum, and then a leader in the church falls. Things are going well, and then a couple of your biggest givers leave.
The church needs money, but the pastor doesn’t want to put too much focus on money. It’s not about the money—but it becomes about the money.
All of this can be overwhelming.
- 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
- Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
- Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
- Fifty percent of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if
they could, but have no other way of making a living.
- 45.5 percent of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
How Christians and church members can help:
Pray for your pastor.Pray for guidance, protection, healthy friends, their marriage and family. Pray for inspiration, anointing, the leadership team, unity and clarity.
Protect your pastor.As best as you can, don’t allow or participate in gossip and criticism. How can you serve and problem solve to prevent overload?
Encourage your pastor.Thank him or her for his or her work and ministry. Thank them for their sacrifice. Tell them a specific time in which you or someone you know experienced a life change in their church. Honor them to others. Let your pastors know you are praying for them. According to the Barna report—the profession of “pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman.”
To Pastors.Don’t give up, pastor! Persistence is powerful.
Keep on. Really! Your work, your labor of love and your sacrifice matters.
I realize the last thing a pastor needs is another sermon. But these verses have helped me. Hold on to God’s Word with your life.
Looking at other ministries can be inspiring. Comparing yourself to other churches can be destructive and discouraging.
Make new pastor friends. Expose yourself to new influences, new leaders, churches or ministries that are doing some things differently.
Discover to some fresh views and ideas. Sometimes, it just takes one or two new ideas that can change momentum around.
Pastors that are struggling or are no longer in ministry may have unresolved hurts. I encourage you to find healing. Seek counseling; find a local Celebrate Recovery group; equip yourself with resources on healing (some examples areSafe People or Boundaries) and share your secrets with safe people. Remember, you're only as sick as your secrets.
*The Fuller Institute, George Barna and Pastoral Care Inc. provide the statistics I have used in this post