Almost everyone I know has job or career challenges. Few people have it easy. Some work full-time and still live below the poverty line. Some are single mothers who struggle to provide and care for their children without the help of family. Some have had to retire prematurely due to job-related health issues. And some have invested 20+ years in a company only to get pink-slipped and then struggle to find work. Almost no one has it easy. Yet some things have happened recently that have broken my heart and prompted me to offer insights into the challenges of being a pastor in order that I might inspire others to have compassion for the struggles of those in ministry and to feel a burden for lifting them up in prayer.
In the course of two weeks this summer, three people I know and one megachurch pastor I don’t know lost their positions as lead pastors. One was a close friend who is quite simply burned out with the local church. Even though his congregation has grown, he has exhausted himself trying to move the church forward against resistance from founding members and a timid, passive board. He is worn down and has nothing more to give. Rather than continue fighting or relocate his family, he chose to step down and look for a secular job in his community.
The second man is a young pastor with a big heart and high energy. He has worked hard and made multiple sacrifices to move the church forward, yet a close friend basically advised him to resign because of an elder who wants him to become like the former pastor or leave. This pastor chose to resign for the sake of the church. He didn’t want to split the congregation, so he stepped down without another ministry position lined up.
The third man is a pastor I have coached. He is a wonderful person with a shepherd’s heart, yet his church had been struggling, and its leadership felt that they needed a change to move forward. This news is heartbreaking because this pastor is sincere and deeply cares for the community he has been serving. The leadership felt a change had to be made for the health and future of the church, but a wonderful man was hurt in the process.
The fourth man is a megachurch pastor with national name recognition. He founded a church that has grown to over 30,000 in weekly attendance. As the church grew, so did the pressure to maintain it. He was giving so much to the ministry that he had nothing left to give his wife and kids, and when he did have free time, he was drinking alcohol to escape and relieve the stress. When the situation escalated and he was confronted, he refused to get the help he needed. As a result, he was fired.
Each of these situations is different, yet they all involve people who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and others and who, in spite of hard work and sincere intentions, now find themselves at a crossroads without jobs.
Ministry is 24/7. You are always on call. You can plan a vacation or a Sabbatical, only to have your plans changed by the death of church member. You go to bed exhausted, only to be awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call from someone in crisis. You can block out a day for office work, study, and preparation, only to have a spontaneous visit from a well-meaning church member who simply wants to talk for an hour or more and has no idea of your workload or deadlines.
The real issue is not unplanned phone calls, jumbled plans, or re-adjusted schedules, though. The main challenge is the emotional energy ministry requires…
Walking with people through these types of events causes a special kind of exhaustion that is often referred to as “compassion fatigue.” This fatigue is compounded when you are dealing with two or more of these events simultaneously and someone sends you a scathing email about the weekend worship music.
Then there are the people who are always suggesting that you need to give more. Or the ones who tell you that you have failed them after you have invested hours trying to help them. Or the ones who play Monday morning quarterback and critique your sermons. Or the one who saw you in the grocery store but felt you weren’t friendly enough…
I think you get the point.
As I said earlier, everyone struggles. But those who are representatives of God carry a pressure to be “on” all the time. They see and hear the dark side of people's lives. They walk with people through their most difficult moments. They bear an emotional weight few understand.
Therefore, I would ask you to do a couple of things:
1) Show support to your pastor(s) and spiritual leaders. The Bible says in Hebrews 13:17, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” In other words, try to make their work easier not harder. This doesn’t mean you should avoid talking with them about concerns or problems, but it does mean showing patience and sensitivity when doing so.
2) Pray for your pastor(s) and spiritual leaders. The very next verse in Hebrews 13:18 says, “Pray for us.” The Apostle Paul told the church in Corinth, “you help us by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:11). This is something anyone can do. Lifting up your leaders in prayer helps them carry out their calling.
I often tell people there is a reason Moses, Elijah, and several other chosen servants in the Bible asked God to take their lives. Being called into ministry is a blessing, but it is not for the faint of heart. It is a challenging responsibility. So, support and pray for your spiritual leaders, and hopefully, they won’t end up being another one of the estimated 1500 pastors who leave the ministry every month.