In my early days in ministry, I thought of the Apostle Paul as a Ministry Mutant. He was wholly different than regular people and was Holy Ghost hardwired for the rigors of ministry. This was absurd. By making Paul “nothing like me” I conveniently excused myself from being “anything like Paul.” As long as Paul was a freak of nature, there was nothing required of me!
Over time, I came to understand that many people see pastors like I used to see Paul. Ministry Mutants. This is equally absurd.
Here are eight things about pastors you may find surprising:
1. Pastors have feelings
It is always open season on pastors. Hurtful things said often get back and it does damage. Over time, it does a lot of damage.
2. Pastors get discouraged
I believe pastors need nineteen pieces of encouragement for every piece of harsh criticism they receive. I know many good and gifted pastors who simply quit ministry because they were discouraged.
3. Pastors actually operate out of a sense of call
Pastors care deeply and struggle to balance their personal lives with the demands of their congregations. I don’t know any pastors who see ministry as a “job.” None.
4. It’s always personal to pastors
When people quit a church it hurts. When criticism comes from unexpected places, it hurts. You can tell a pastor “It’s not personal” all you want. It is personal. Ministry is not just what we do, it is our lives.
5. Pastor’s spouses suffer all the stress of ministry and none of the rewards
Being married to a pastor is a tough gig. Period.
6. Pastoral ministry is hard on marriages and families
The pastoral divorce rate is too high. Too many PK’s go prodigal. Pastors see the good and the bad; pastor’s families normally just see the bad. Pastors “accept the call.” Pastor’s families pay for it.
7. Pastors don’t have pastors
Who do pastors talk to when they are hurting? It is an excellent question. The normal answer is no one and pastors are often lonely and isolated.
8. Being a Pastor in this COVID-19 crisis is tougher than ever
We can’t worship on site and now it is starting to get political. Churches will either reopen too late or too soon. The more polarized and acrimonious things get outside the church, the more polarization and acrimony inside the church. Spiritual leaders walk on a razor’s edge. Regardless of their theological positions. Leading a church right now is like walking a Midwestern cow pasture; you are bound to step in something.
So here is the deal. Being a pastor is hard. Especially now. Hard on pastors. Hard on marriages. Hard on families. There are many sacrifices that go with the territory and we get that. But we are still human beings. We need family, friends, love, understanding, forgiveness, encouragement and support.
Here are two simple things you can do today:
1. Send your pastor a note of encouragement
2. Pray for peace, power and protection for your pastor and your pastor’s family
Pastors are not Ministry Mutants. It would be so much easier if we were…
Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.