Most pastors love their calling. Most pastors could not imagine doing anything else. Most pastors have joy in their ministries. I want to be clear that I don’t view pastors as a depressed, melancholy, and forlorn lot. Most pastors would not come close to fitting that description.
But every pastor has points of stress. Indeed everyone has points of stress, including leaders of churches, organizations, and families. Pastors are not immune from stressors in life and ministry.
I hear from pastors almost every day. Indeed, I can’t remember a day since the advent of social media that I have not heard from a pastor. Some of these ministers gladly share their struggles with me. I am grateful. That means that these pastors trust me and view me as one who cares for them. They are right.
And though I did not do a formal tabulation of all the pieces of correspondence from pastors, I can share with you, with some level of confidence, seven of the greatest stressors on pastors. Indeed, I share them in the order of frequency I have heard them.
- Giving their families deserved time. In reality, no pastor has a day off. It is a 24/7 call where the next phone call or email means a dramatic change in their priorities. Deaths, accidents, and emergencies know no clock or holidays or vacation. Pastors are often required to leave their families to meet those needs. And pastors worry about their families and their needs.
- An unhappy spouse. No one can serve in a church or do any job with joy if their spouse is unhappy. The pastor is certainly not exempt from that stressor. Some of the unhappiness of pastors’ spouses is related to the first stressor noted. Some of it is related to the next stressor on the list. And still other times, spouses are expected to fill roles in the church because of who they married, not because they are equipped or desirous to do so.
- The glass house. One pastor wrote me that he struggles greatly because several church members have clear expectations about what clothes his wife and children wear, how the kids behave, and even what school they should attend. Other pastors have less severe cases of the glass house, but any level of this syndrome is uncomfortable.
- Lacking competencies in key areas. The ideal pastor is a great leader, psychologist, counselor, financial manager, orator, teacher, conflict manager, human resources professional, and strategist. No pastor is great in every area. Many pastors feel stress because they know more is expected of them in areas where they are not very strong.
- Personal financial needs. Many pastors feel financial stress because they do not make sufficient income to meet their families’ needs. The pastor who worries about paying the bills is the pastor who cannot focus on the ministry and the people of the church.
- Responding to criticisms. All leaders are and will be criticized. Pastors are no exception. The challenge that pastors and other leaders have is how to respond appropriately to criticism. Some critics should be heard. Some should be heeded. Others need to be ignored. It is often difficult to know which approach to take.
- Lack of a confidant. Pastors need a pastor. Pastors need someone who can be their confidant. Pastors need someone who will not judge them when they let off steam or complain about unhealthy situations and people. Very few pastors have such a friend or confidant. All of them need one.
Everyone has stressors. Everyone has problems of some magnitude. The pastor is no exception. And during holiday seasons, stress is often magnified and multiplied. Consider this Christmas season praying a bit more for your pastor. Consider taking time to say a kind word or write an encouraging note to your pastor. Or consider doing something for your pastor’s family.
Stress will not go away. But maybe those of us who truly love and care for our pastors can do something this season to help make the stress less of a burden for these who have been called by God.
It may be the best Christmas gift you give this season.