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 further 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. Pastors are not mutants; they are just folks. Called? I hope so, but just folks.
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 (some people consider this their ministry) 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. Churches are declining and pastors don’t know what to do. 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 about what they do and struggle to balance their personal lives with the demands of their congregations. I don’t know any pastors who see ministry as a “just a job.” None.
4. It’s always personal
When people quit a church it hurts. When attendance and giving are off 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. You can apologize all you want. It still hurts. Ministry is not just what we do, it is our lives.
5. Pastor’s spouses suffer all the stress of ministry and few of the rewards
Being married to a pastor is a tough gig. Period. Fried trust receptors seldom regenerate. This point is not helpful; it is just a fact.
6. Pastoral ministry is hard on marriages and families
Some congregations think their pastor is “on call” 24/7/365. It is not a realistic expectation. 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 often choose “the needs congregants over the needs of family.” The emotional cost is staggering. In an odd bit of psychology, some clergy children turn from organized religion to support their clergy parent.
7. Pastors don’t have pastors
Who do pastors talk to when they are hurting? It is an excellent question. They really can’t talk to parishioners. It puts everyone in a bad place. The normal answer is “no one” and pastors are often lonely and isolated.
8. Being a Pastor in this COVID-19 crisis is tough (and it was tough before)
Right when many thought things couldn’t get any worse; we were told we couldn’t worship on site. It was unimaginable. Even after four months, about half our churches have still not reopened to on-site worship. Some have announced they will not even consider reopening until next year. To make matters worse, COVID-19 is not going away, the government can’t indefinitely print money, you can’t shut the economy down forever and reopening the country is highly political.
You can’t win in highly politicized environments; you just have to make a decision. Churches will either reopen too late or too soon. Pastors either addressed the crisis too much or not enough. 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.
Hard on pastors.
Hard on marriages.
Hard on families.
There are many sacrifices that go with the territory and pastors get that. But we are still human beings. We need family, friends, love, empathy, understanding, forgiveness, encouragement and support. And in the difficult times, we need more of all this than ever.
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
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.