Have you ever wondered what it is like being a pastor of a church? have you ever imagined what it is like to be the leader in charge? Have you ever thought how wonderful it would be to serve the Lord in vocational service? Philip Wagner uses stats from several reputable sources to help us understand some of unique situations pastors face in ministry.
Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:
- The President of the United States
- A university president
- A CEO of a hospital and
- A pastor
Is that true? Pastors love God and love people. They get to pray for people, lead people to a faith in Jesus Christ, and teach the Word about God.
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 family because they are so involved in ministry. Others flourish in their ministry and personal life.
Approximately 85% 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?
- 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they
thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
- 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
Personally, I love being a pastor. I have a great staff. We have great people in our church; I am content whether going through good times or difficult seasons. Of course, it’s a lot easier to be “content” when things are good. I have great friends who are pastors. My marriage is strong. I am a better man because of my time in ministry.
Some of the unique problems that pastors’ face are:
Pastors 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 3 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.
Members 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 TD 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.”
Trusting 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.”
- 40% report a conflict with a church member at least once a month.
- 85% 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.
- 40% of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.
We pastors have to find a way, with God’s grace, to love people as if we have never been hurt before.
Who’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?
- 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
Are my friends really my friends or a church member who is a temporary friend who may leave any day now?
Healthy friendships are crucial to a fulfilling life, especially to the well-being of a pastor. Put special effort in this area.
- 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
- 70% felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50% still felt called.
Keeping personally refreshed is an art and a science…and extremely important.
When fatigue comes in, you not only look ½ empty, but also dirty, contaminated, and undrinkable.
6. Frustrations & Disappointments
Disappointments come in many ways.
Because of smaller congregations, the average compensation package for pastors is between $35,000 – $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 that 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.
- 50% 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 % of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
This is not the case for all pastors. In fact, many that I know have managed to handle these issues well.
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 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.”
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.
So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time, we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Gal. 6:9 NLT
Be careful of the comparison trap.
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 are Safe People or Boundaries) and share your secrets with safe people. Remember you’re only as sick as your secrets. Pastors—I love you!
*The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. provide the statistics I have used in this blog.