Shepherds are an endangered species in North America. The women and men who accepted a call to shepherd congregations through their valleys of the shadow of death have broad shoulders. But even the best are falling prey to deadly burdens.
Burdens they often bear alone.
Jim Howard, lead pastor of the Valencia campus of the more than 6,000 member Real Life Church in California fatally shot himself in the head at home on January 23rd, 2019. His associates didn’t hear his pain.
This post is for Pastors.
And their families.
And the people they pastor and those who lead with them.
Pastor Ted Parker, 42, of Macon, Ga., died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the driveway of his home while his 800-member church and his family waited for him to show up to preach on Sunday morning.
Inland Hills Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein tried taking his own life at his megachurch in August 2018. He died three days later. The pastor left behind three young children, and his wife. Weeks earlier he tried to explain his struggles to his congregation.
Most pastors are not suicidal. But most pastors do struggle.
“Pastors shoulder a huge emotional burden, but they’re burning out…alone.” Ainsley Hawthorn a reporter for CBC noted on Jan 20, 2019.
In 2017, Christ the Rock Community Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, announced that its founding pastor, Bill Lenz, took his own life—a tragic event that followed a months-long battle with depression.
There is no lack of statistics about pastors and depression, burnout, health, low pay, spirituality, relationships and longevity—and none of them are good. Three-fourths of them lead churches that are struggling by almost any measure or metric.
In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, but better young, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Yep. Google ratings.
The professional demands placed upon pastors are incredibly varied. Team leadership, budgeting, and project administration are often significant demands in a role that requires continual public speaking and individual counseling.
Combine that with being a scholar, an effective evangelist on the cutting edge of cultural relevance, and a leader in the righting of social injustices – even the prepared church leaders are usually left feeling inadequate.
4 Common Causes Of Ministry Pain
1. Emotional Pain: Doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists, and social workers are just some of the professionals who are at risk of compassion fatigue, burnout, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of regularly witnessing the intense suffering of others.
These ailments are caused by what’s called secondary or vicarious trauma. When someone describes a painful life event, an empathetic listener will feel grief, fear or anxiety on a small scale, like an echo of the original pain.
2. High Expectations: Pastors often tolerate and unwittingly collaborate with expectations that they are capable of doing anything and should be perfect in all aspects of life and worship. The clergy profession has been labelled a “holy crosssfire” as the leader and his or her family attempt to juggle competing expectations of self, family, congregation, denomination and God.
3. Deficient Social Support: A pastor spends the bulk of their relational energy engaging intimately and intensely with others, but without reciprocal sharing and support. Deficient levels of social support resulting from these “half-intimacies” contribute to consequences such as marital maladjustment, depression, loneliness, role overload and inappropriate relationships with church members, in addition to burnout.
4. Financial Demands: Working long hours for comparatively low pay is stressful for clergy and their families. It is not just the financial realities themselves, but the guilt that Christian leaders may experience for being concerned about such “materialistic” matters resulting in doubling of the stressor.
Intervention: Managing Ministry Stress
My friends, Dr. Gerry and Sharon Michalski, pastors at Soul Sanctuary, Winnipeg, Manitoba shared the following with lead pastors of large churches at a pastors conference in January 2019.
Their advice is a blueprint for pastors, their families, and church leadership to work together to ensure well being and replenishment.
1. Pastor – Stop. Breathe. Pray. Stop what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and gather yourself. Now ask Jesus for peace, wisdom and courage to be vulnerable. Repeat.
2. Do something about it. There can be a tendency for pastors to think, “This problem is just too big. I’m helpless. There is nothing I can do.” One key is to create a sense of personal urgency to do something. Lead yourself well.
3. Talk to a supervisor, physician, counselor, mentor or trusted friend. Seek their support so that together you can generate changes to alter the feeling of helplessness. Vulnerability in a safe space is courageous. Boards – insure help on all levels is provided and promoted – prayer, medication, support, counsel.
4. Be interdependent with God. Target and acting directly on the source of the stress in collaboration with God. Make use of the Sabbath principle. Take off a day a week, a week a year, 3 months sabbatical every seven years – not as holidays – but as rest for your soul.
5. Trade abstract expectations for concrete expectations. Pastor – do you have a job description? Agreed upon work arrangement and hours?
6. Take regular breaks. Walk. Run. Ride. Take a day off every week. Use your vacation days. All of them.
Kerith Retreats is a wonderful resource for pastors and their spouses. Surrounded by the calm of nature, Kerith Retreat centres offer the space to truly find stillness and the retreat schedule enables leaders to experience profound renewal.
Everything in a pastor’s life isn’t stressful. There is lot’s of joy. And we have amazing experiences, engaging in situations few see in a lifetime. Are you in church leadership? Talk with your pastor about this. Please pass this on to a pastor you know. Be an MVP for your pastor. Leaving a comment or a prayer below would be great. Thank you.
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