Pastoring looks easy to some, but it’s not. Pastoring is difficult.
It is hard to convince non-pastors that pastoring is a weighty responsibility. Any attempt to discuss the issue seems like self-promotion and self-pity. Uncaring individuals label pastors as complainers but simply calling a pastor a “whiner” reflects an ignorance of the facts and meanness of spirit. I have discovered that the opposite is true. Pastors are generally optimistic, dedicated, and willing to serve without complaint.
Pastors sit under judgment, daily. (I wish people would stop judging what they don’t understand.) Blame always seems to be put squarely, and only, on the pastor’s shoulders. Pastors are judged on the basis of how good they make their people feel. Their livelihood requires them to be entertaining, friendly, popular, and well-groomed. Even the conduct of their spouse and children impact their job. People can be unkind. Pastors can be bullied. God can seem absent. Growth can feel miles away. The mission feels far off the radar.
Why can’t some people realize that sometimes their pastor’s world is also filled with trouble and hardship–sometimes big hardship–just like other humans. They just can’t be as verbal about it because of the expectations that exist. I know of pastors who have suffered through near-death surgery, intense grief, mental breakdown, sickness, sin, and near marital collapse, and their congregation knew nothing about it. Now you may say, it was the pastor’s pride that kept him or her silent but likely that was not the case. The real reason is that he or she could not trust others with their pain. To say it bluntly, there are some people would silently celebrate the suffering of their pastor.
The Schaeffer Institute, in a survey of American pastors, discovered some interesting findings. You can access this information by visitinghttp://www.truespirituality.org. Here are a few that I found interesting:
Hours and Pay – 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week, 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job, and 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Health and Well-Being – 70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Marriage and Family – 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families, 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked, 80% of spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
Church Relationships – 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
Longevity – 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years, and only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
There are extended seasons of dissatisfaction in the ministry lives of modern pastors. This doesn’t mean that there is despair and pessimism, but some days they feel disappointed or dissatisfied with the way things are. There are at least three areas of such disappointment that make pastoring particularly difficult. Disappointment occurs when something falls short of what was anticipated or hoped for. It is the painful gap between what one expects and what is experienced.
Pastors are disappointed with God.
I’ve never met a pastor who was satisfied with the amount of new believers, the health of their church, or the level of its community impact. Alexander Pope said, “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Pastors are victims of their own optimism.
Every pastor has heard the silence of God and felt the deafening of their faith. Many pastors have prayed, for many years, for the hand of God to move. And, while God has done significant things, many of their prayers feel unanswered. They have interceded for the lost to be won, people to be baptized, and leaders to rise up. But most haven’t seen the results for which they have been begging.
I appreciate all of the theological arguments for “unanswered prayer” and I fully subscribe to the sovereign will of God, but I’m talking about the way pastorsfeel. This can be different than what pastors know or believe. It’s this feeling that makes pastors frustrated or depressed. Unmet expectations always breeds despair. Pastors, who believe they have honoured God with their lives, can feel dishonoured by Him when pain comes. They work hard to do their job but some days it feels like God and man are screaming, “More bricks! Use less straw!”
Pastors are disappointed with their congregation.
Pastors, in every church, want their people to go to the next level. Even in the healthiest churches, the pastor has a positive dissatisfaction with the state of their congregation. Sometimes this makes congregations feel that their pastor is too judgmental and makes the pastor feel like people don’t want to change or are uncommitted. Yet, both feelings are untrue. Because ministry is a pastor’s life, they sometimes feel that church ministry should be a greater focus in members’ lives. This causes conflict.
Recently I sat on a discussion panel at our Master’s College and Seminary. The first question, which was directed to me, was from a student who asked, “What has been your greatest disappointment in ministry?” I didn’t speak of salary, failure, comforts, insults, or missed opportunity. I spoke of people. People whom I had seen fall away from God. Then, each panel member after me, told stories of the same disappointment—individuals who traded faith for sin. At the end of the day nothing crushes a pastor more than to see a person fail and fall.
Pastors are disappointed with themselves.
Beyond the expectations placed on pastors and their spouse to be perfect, there are professional expectations that are broader than they were even a decade or two ago. Even the most basic list of duties include preaching, counseling, administrating, fund-raising, chairing meetings, correcting, teaching, socializing, visiting, reporting, analyzing financial statements, praying, vision casting, carpentry, and cleaning the church. And, they are expected to be good at ALL of them. Everyone has an unwritten job description for his or her pastor. I read recently that the present-day pastor tries to shoulder the fifty-eight New Testament “one another” exhortations alone.
Perhaps part of the problem is that pastors are fulfilling a position that has evolved into something that is outside of what is defined in scripture. The contemporary role of pastor is invented. Pastors operate in a broken institutional system and faulty ecclesiology. Contrary to Scripture, the pastor has become a religious specialist. He or she is the sole doer. Fewer “laity” (an unbiblical term, by the way) are able, or at least more unwilling, to use their gifts within the assembly. So the members are left to evaluate how well the doer is doing.
There is little hope of avoiding hurt and conflict in our current model. This is the curse of the institutional church – the loss of the priestly participation of the members. For example, the New Testament letters show that the presentation of the Word came from the individuals present at their gathered meetings. Even the “sermon” as we know it has no precedent in Scripture or in early church history. It’s not that it is wrong; it’s just an addition to what is shown in the New Testament.
So, what does this information mean for pastors and non-pastors? It means that congregations need to cut their pastor some slack, and pastors need to get up, go to work, and be the best model they can be—nothing more, nothing less.
Here are three ways individuals can help:
1. Examine your personal expectations for what you anticipate from your pastor. Make sure it’s biblical, realistic, and seasoned with grace. Don’t bring them someone who wants to come to Christ. Instead, you lead them to Christ. Don’t tell them to visit a sick person unless you have visited them yourself. Don’t point out the un-mowed grass. Mow it! Only after you have invested your own time, money, and energy, to the extent that you are able, will you have the right to voice your concerns.
2. Shoot the Pointer Dog. These dogs point to where the hunter should shoot. These creatures sniff out the prey and point to the problem. The hunter is then expected to take action. Every church has someone who feels it is their job be the eyes and ears for the pastor. They usually are people who victimize the pastor by being people who see being right as more important than beingnice. They have a clear opinion of what the pastor should be doing. In particular they are judgmental toward others. As Philip Yancey writes, “Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.”
3. Be guilty of over-affirming. The truth is, there are more affirmers than critics in most churches. It’s just that the critics are more vocal. Don’t be afraid to affirm your pastor, and I don’t mean the sneaky kind of affirmation that one tends to give when the pastor does something we feel is important. Give encouragement liberally. Your pastor can essentially be affirmed into becoming the pastor/person God and you want them to be.
4. Trust their motives. Each of these disappointments is devastating for an individual who loves people and wants to minister to them. You will serve them and the Kingdom by being brave enough to be loyal and patient. If it is difficult to trust your pastor’s actions, trust their heart. They do want to serve you and the Kingdom, but like each of us sometimes the want becomes can’twhen life takes its toll on us. Someone once said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I’ve been reading copies of Mother Teresa’s letters lately. Most consider her a hero of faith and a model of compassion. What many do not realize is that she struggled for years with discouragement and disappointment. Maybe today your pastor feels the same way as her. She wrote, “That darkness that surrounds me on all side. I can’t lift my soul to God—no light or inspiration enters my soul. I speak of love for souls—of tender love for God—words pass through my lips and I long with a deep longing to believe in them. What do I labour for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there is no soul then Jesus, You also are not true. Heaven, what emptiness—not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind for there is no hope. I am afraid to write all those terrible things that pass in my soul. They must hurt You. In my heart there is no faith, no love, no trust; there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted.—I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation.—I don’t pray any longer. I utter words of community prayers and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray. My soul is not one with You and yet when alone in the streets I talk to You for hours of my longing for You. How intimate are those words and yet so empty, for they leave me far from You. The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal.”
Even in pain, Mother Teresa kept ministering. Perhaps you could be that person who helps your pastor to do the same.