I came into ministry later in life after over 20 years in the business world. Maybe this explains some of why I was surprised when I entered the ministry at how hard churches can be on a pastor.
I never knew.
My church leadership blog has given me access into the lives of hundreds of pastors. Many are in smaller churches where they are one of a few, if not the only, staff members. Others are in larger churches where there are more staff members to spread the workload. Regardless, however, of church size many times the pastor is drowning. His spouse is drowning. His family is suffering. They can’t keep up with the demands of the church.
Honestly, I never knew. At least not to the severity of what I’ve discovered.
Some churches expect the pastor to be at every hospital bed. They expect them to know and call when they are sick. They expect them to attend every Sunday school social and every picnic on the grounds. The pastor is to officiate their wedding and then be the counselor when their marriage is suffering. Someday preach their funeral, but for today visit their neighbor who isn’t going to church — instead, of course, of them building a relationship with the person and bringing them to church (which is way more effective.)
The pastor is supposed to recruit Sunday school teachers, manage a budget and be actively engaging the community through a healthy Tuesday night evangelism program. Then, they expect a well researched, well presented Sunday message — fully abreast and addressing all the current news events of the week — one in the morning and one at night, along with a passionate leading of the Wednesday night prayer meeting.
One pastor told me he is allowed one Sunday off per year. I hesitated to do the math on the number of messages he is doing in a given year.
And, in the midst of all those responsibilities, when I talk to many pastors they hear far more negative feedback from people than they ever hear the positives.
Wow! I never knew.
And with different parameters the same unreasonable expectations may exist for every staff member of a local church.
Now some of this is exaggeration, and no doubt most pastors reading this love their people and love their work, but in some churches it is exactly the expectation. And, in principle, the activities may be different, but the level of activity is normal for many pastors, again, especially in smaller churches.
And, even in those churches where the expectations are totally unreasonable there is probably a pastor who is desperately trying to live out the call of God and love people.
But, to be honest, I’m burdened for those pastors.
I learned when my boys were young and I was running a business, serving on the city council and on dozens of committees, if I wanted to be successful as a husband, father, and business owner, I had to be personally and privately healthy, so I could achieve more publicly.
It was then, for example, running switched from being a fun pastime to a necessary part of my week. I needed and craved the downtime and the exercise. It was then I had to get up early to make sure I had the days quiet time to fuel my soul. It was then I became diligent in scheduling my week, so I didn’t miss family activities.
If I could give one piece of advice to pastors, ALL PASTORS, especially during Pastor Appreciation month, it would be that they take care of themselves personally. Take care of your family, your finances, and your emotional health. It’s the only way you can meet the demands of your church.
You may need to share this post with some key leaders you trust in the church. You may want to have a hard conversation and establish some healthier boundaries within the church. Take some time and read Jethro’s advice to Moses. Read Acts 6.
I love you pastors.
I want you around for a while. We need you. You’re doing Kingdom work.
Take care of yourself. If needed, reach out to someone before you crash and burn. God called you to do His work, but the work He called you to do specifically, won’t be done (at least by you) if you aren’t here to do it.
I’m pulling for you!