The Secret Life of a Pastor

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

·       A pastor


Could 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 of God.  That’s the dream job. You can read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf and preach. (“I want that job… and I’m already a pastor!!”) 

Here is the secret: Being a pastor is hard work.  It’s not for wimps.   

The reality is, 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.  60% of churches are under 100 people in attendance. The average size congregation in US is 89 people, according to The Barna Group.  Staffs are small and needs are great.

In many situations the pastor is expected to be a Bible teacher, an accountant, strategist, 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.  We have inspiring leaders, a culturally diverse church, full of great people; I love it, good times or bad times.  Of course, it’s a lot easier to be ‘content’ when things are good. I have great friends who are pastors.  I am a better man because of my time in ministry.   But it’s important to present some of the unique challenges of ministry.

          Some of the unique problems that Pastors face are:

1.  Criticism  

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?”

I’ve learned not to take every criticism so personal as I did in the first few years of ministry.  I would hear 10 great compliments and 1 negative comment; and I would think about the negative comment all day long.  It stole the significance of the positive things we were doing in ministry.   To be honest, even now, some criticisms can still hijack my attention and steal my ability to see the blessings around me.

Pastors need to find a way to not take criticism so personally and learn from some truth that could be hidden in that criticism.

2. Rejection

Members leave, leaders leave and pastors’ friends leave. The reality is – people leave.  Real life is fluid.  We would like to think everyone who enters our life will stay in our life but they won’t. 

The smaller the church, the more obvious it is when people leave. When our church had about 150 people and some people left – it was so disappointing.  Some leave churches for reasonable decisions, but many leave ungracefully.

But you know what? They leave the big churches too - by the thousands. People leave TD Jakes’ church and they leave Andy Stanley’s church. I tried to console myself by thinking, “They may be leaving by the dozens here at Oasis but thousands have left Bill Hybels’ church and he’s a great pastor.” (That only helped for a minute.)

Pastors hear, “I’m leaving… We want something deeper… My needs aren’t getting met.” Even if they are true for the people leaving, these comments can feel like a personal rejection. Every pastor on the planet has heard, “I’m not getting fed here.” Bill Hybels has heard it. Wayne Cordero, Ed Young, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick and Matthew Barnett have heard it.

Really?  Not getting fed? …In those churches? How is that possible?

As Pastors, it’s important to realize that many times when life transitions occur, leaving is a good thing. We need to remember that we want to see people advance and move forward in life.  Whether it’s relocating for their work, being closer to family, going to college or getting back to what God wanted them to do before they arrived on your doorstep. 

One of the most difficult characteristics to achieve, as a pastor is to have “tough skin and a soft heart.”  This is the best way to love people: Hold them lightly and don’t take their personal decisions, personally.   The opposite condition, “Soft skin and a hard heart” will limit your ministry greatly.

“…Uhhh, OK.  Lord, help me.”

3.  Betrayal

Trusting church members with your personal burdens can backfire. They may end up telling your personal issues to others.

Staff leaders can take church members away. The pastor trusts a person with the platform or a title or a place of influence and that person uses that influence to take people away.  The Judas kiss.

The toughest part about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies.

If staff pastors or leaders leave your church, are dishonest about their ‘story’ and take people with them, it can be devastating to endure.  It’s especially hard when people who were part of your congregation follow them and think the Holy Spirit is actually leading the pastor who is starting a new ministry.

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% of pastors 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, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors.

·       The #1 reason pastors leave the ministry: Church people are not willing to go the same direction 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.

Here’s the thing, if people want to go, let them go.  God is big enough and gracious enough to help us on both sides of the betrayal.  We pastors have to find a way, with God’s grace, to love people as if we have never been hurt before.

5.  Loneliness

“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?” 

The stats reveal that 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend.  This can leave a pastor asking, “Are my friends really my friends or a church member who is a temporary friend, who may leave any day now?”

Some pastors feel isolated from other pastors as peers because their church is smaller or the reach of their ministry is not as extensive of the pastor they are trying to build a friendship with.  A pastor may think, “Just because my church may be smaller than yours does not mean I don’t have a strong relationship with God or have wisdom that could help other leaders.”  This thought is especially dominate when your value is heavily invested in what you achieve in life, rather than who you are as a person.

Healthy friendships are crucial to a fulfilling life, especially to the well being of a pastor.  We have to put special effort in this area. 

Recognizing the trust level that a leader can offer to people is a skill that has to be cultivated.  Jesus had his inner circle of three, then the larger circle of twelve (which included Judas), the 70 disciples and the 500 followers after the resurrection.   With each group of people, he trusted with a different level of access to Him privately.  He also had different expectations of each group.

Getting confused about who is a person you are ministering to and the one you are allowing into your circle of friends can create disappointment. To me a safe person is one who understands how to relate to you as a friend but does not allow that to interfere with how they see you as a pastor. 

6.  Weariness

  • 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 – faith can dissolve. Weariness changes our interpretation of everything. A lack of refreshing times can make the glass that is half full – not only look half empty, but dirty, contaminated and undrinkable.

What refreshes you? What fills you up? What makes you feel connected to family and friends? To the best of your ability, make sure those things are in your schedule consistently.

7.  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 that pastors, who are 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 add to a sense of being overwhelmed.

  • 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, but the statistics are revealing aren’t they?  

How Christians and church attenders can help the pastor- 

·       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 you can don’t allow or participate in gossip and criticism.  Protect his reputation.  Protect his time.  Think about how can you help lift the load they could be carrying and try not to contribute to their 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 a friend’s life was changed. 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”.  This is why it’s important to pray, protect and encourage your pastors and their families.

A Word 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.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 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, but comparing yourself to other churches can be destructive and discouraging. Most people compare their ‘behind the scenes’ with others “highlight reel.”  

Make new friends who are not in ministry, but are similar to you in your faith.  Make new friends who are pastors; they are your peers. Expose yourself to new influences, new leaders, churches or ministries that are doing things differently. Discover fresh views and concepts.  Sometimes it just takes one or two new ideas that can turn momentum around.

Pastors – You are heroes! 

*The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc. provide the statistics I have used in this blog.