THE TOP SIX STRESSES PASTORS FACE AND HELP FOR OVERCOMING THEM
BY IKE REIGHARD
“Higher. Stronger. Faster.” That’s the motto of the olympic Games. It also describes the pressure many pastors feet. We have to
preach a little better than we did last week” Our membership ought to grow a little faster. Our church should be raising a little more money. Our ministry needs to go a little higher. . . our outreach needs to be a little stronger. . . and we’d better work a little faster to keep up. We fed like we have to be Superman or Superwoman. But maybe it’s time to take off that superhero suit. You probably don’t look that good in spandex, anyway!
One of the ironies of preparing for the ministry is that seminaries give pastors academic education, but many don’t do enough to equip clergy for the everyday stresses of the role While pastors may feel well-equipped to preach, lead worship, and take care of church business, they’re not prepared for the daily battle of stress What are the major stresses a pastor faces–and how can you begin to overcome them?
1. Family vs. Church
Focus on the Family’s pastor H B. London says that the #1 stress on pastors–reported by 80 percent of them–is tension between home life and church Pastors who are trying to be superheros think they must have super families as well. I’ve seen too many pastors put their families in a fish bowl for everyone to gaze at Do you ever find yourself thinking in the following ways? Your marriage must be terrific Your kids have to be well-behaved and radically committed to their faith Your home must be spotless, and your dog has to be obedient Now that’s pressure on everyone! Of course, the pastor’s spouse has to serve more than anyone else in the church The pastor’s kids can’t listen to CDs, go to dances, pull pranks, or sin in even the smallest way No problem! Before I got married and had children, I had a sermon called “Ten Sure-Fire Steps to Raising a Godly child Who Will Not Fail.
” After Robin and I had children, I retitled that sermon, Three Things You Might Want to Try With Your Kids, but These May or May Not Work.”
However, if pastors don’t work to let their families be real people, unrealistic expectations mount, pressure builds, and the “super
family” becomes a shell of perfection on the outside filled with bitterness inside. We need to protect our families from this kind of pressure We get enough criticism We don’t need to bring on more by creating unrealistic of ourselves and our families. We need to take off our blue capes and red suits and put them in the trash along with our family’s capes and suits.
Relationships often make or break our pastoring. In seminary, you might have taken a course on counseling. But relationships in the church go far beyond the counseling room. Encouraging, listening, delegating, shepherding, comforting, directing–these are skills you need to be effective. Some young men and women are thrust into churches and commanded, “Lead”‘ These unequipped people do the best they can, but they bruise the very relationships they should be cultivating. Because of this, many pastors begin their careers by producing incredible stress in their ministries–they haven’t developed the necessary interpersonal skills they need to meet the demands placed on them.
I believe pastors come into a church on the lowest end of the influence scale. Many of us believe our position gives us some
automatic, unlimited influence. But that’s rarely the case. A dear vision combined with people skills builds respect and understanding. When this happens, real influence grows.
3. Push for growth
We all want to move forward, whether in our present churches or in other ones down the road. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these growth goals. We have our eye on a larger membership roll, a larger budget, a larger staff, and larger prestige. Sometimes we try to look spiritual and say that “larger” doesn’t matter. But most of us are acutely aware of who’s asked to speak at clergy seminars and conventions. We notice which pastors are writing books and which churches are being talked about. And many of us long to be one of them! It’s easy to allow these factors to be the measure of “the successful pastor” and “the growing church”
A friend told me that he went to a pastor’s convention where he and a colleague counted how many times someone from the platform used the words, `’This is the most important thing you can do in your ministry.” After four days, they had counted 37 separate instances of “the most important thing you can do”! A parade of ‘ the best” and “most accomplished” people strode across the platform. The implication was that if you want to be a good pastor, you’ll do evangelism like this guy, music like that one, buildings like this one, discipleship like her, preaching like him, and on and on. We compare fund raising, staff size, Sunday school attendance, new buildings, growth rates, and on the personal level, how many times the pastor is asked to speak at key events. Only a super-hero could accomplish all of that.
Over several years, the church I pastored, New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Georgia, was the second-fastest growing church in America. I got a lot of strokes for that (But if only we could have been number one . . . ) Yet keeping up that image nearly killed me. I was caught on a treadmill, running as fast I could and pushing other people to run as fast as they could so we wouldn’t lose our prestige. Fortunately, I learned something. Competition to be the best can rob a ministry of its spiritual aspects and reduce it to a business. The goal becomes getting more customers into the store and enticing them to buy the product. We hyped all kinds of events to get people in the door. Gradually, however, we learned that whatever you do to attract them, you have to continue doing to keep them. And every event or program has to be better than the event before it–bigger, more exciting, more pizazz–or it looks like a flop. The rat race never ends–until the rat dies or wises up.
And most importantly, the goal of seeing individuals develop closer and deeper relationships with God gets lost.
The comparison game doesn’t stop with pastors. Each person who sits in your worship service can turn on the television and see the greatest preachers in America virtually any time they want When you step up to speak you’re often competing with these preachers in the minds of your congregation. Of course, many people don’t realize that most of these high-profile pastors have fu time research assistants to help them prepare their messages, as well as a staff to shoulder the pastoral load They just compare us, and we usually come out on the short end of the measuring stick.
And it doesn’t end with preaching. You have to visit hospitalized members, handle the church finances, fix the water heater, talk to the deacon who’s thinking of leaving his wife, and see the deacon’s wife’s sister’s aunt’s brother. And people wonder why you can’t get to them at the drop of a hat. “After all, you only work one day a week! You’ve got six days with nothing to do. Surely you can go see my sister’s aunt’s brother.”
5. Changing communities
Another source of stress is the fact that our communities are changing. Pastors are required to change their traditional methodology to attract, win, and disciple a new generation. Of course, the old guard prefers things the way they were. But pastors have to think of their call from God to reach the unchurched. And if they don’t reach new people, their churches face extinction Pastors must now possess the skills to attract these new people, assimilate them into the service of the church, and bring them into the decision-making structure–all alienating the people who’ve led the church for years.
Most growing churches today contain four distinct generations with four distinct perspectives on life and ministry: the World War 11 era Builders who expect traditional services on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night; adult Baby Boomers who want their needs met by variety; young adult Generation Xers who want relationships and hands-on experience in their spiritual lives; and young Millennials who aren’t sure if they trust adults-and that includes you.
All four of these generations have their own distinct concepts of what a pastor ought to be, and that puts tremendous pressure on
pastors. Some churches realize they simply can’t have four target groups, so they focus on a narrower audience. Either choice–to reach them all or target a narrower group–generates more pressure from unfulfilled expectations.
6. Spiritual depletion
All of these stresses and others sap our spiritual strength Too often, when we study the Scriptures, we’re preparing for sermons, not gaining spiritual nourishment for ourselves. In the pursuit of professional excellence, we run the risk of losing our devotional life. Consequently, we lose the joy of our own relationship with God Our job become a substitute for our walk with Christ We give continually, and before long, our souls have dried up. Sure, we knew the Right things to say to look deep and spiritual. Our training has taught Us that. But if we aren’t constantly replenished spiritually ourselves, we can’t remain a reservoir for those to whom we minister.
Different personalities respond differently to these pressures. I know a few pastors who can walk out of their offices every day and
forget their stresses. But most men and women I know don’t understand how to set boundaries for those constant people-problems they face every day. These are committed people who are in the ministry because they feel deeply called by God to help others. But they allow the stresses of the job to destroy the joys of ministry and service. And very few people will say, “Pastor, take a break. You’re doing too much.”
Our desire to help people is certainly commendable, but far too often we become dependent on the approval of others for our sense of identity. Psychologists call this an external locus of control. Every word of affirmation feeds our hope that people accept us, but every word of criticism feeds our fear and self doubt. The strength and stability of having an internal locus of control first comes from knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God himself has called you into the ministry. It is his ministry, and he must provide. If we choose to focus on him and his will, we can let others think what they will about us without damaging our self-respect.
When we live for approval, we become compulsive about pleasing people. Our time and our thoughts are consumed with doing more and more to please others. And some of us won t delegate responsibilities because we’re afraid people will fail and that failure will reflect negatively on us. Or maybe we want to do the work so we get the praise. One study reported that 80 percent of people in helping professions (like nursing, social work, and ministry) are “compulsive fixers”–addicted to fixing others’ problems in order to gain some sense of identity.
If you see yourself in this picture, change. Learn what things you do well, and focus on those. Get help from your greatest resource, lay people. Learn to select, train, and delegate to create a strong team–whether staff or volunteers or a combination. Then affirm these people every chance you get. Glory in their successes! You can’t say yes to everything. You have to say no to some things so you can say yes to your priorities.
Finally, find at least one other person who will tell you the truth and remind you not to put that spandex on again. It may be a
fellow pastor, a mature lay person, or a professional counselor in your area. We all need someone to talk to and share our hearts with, and all of us need encouragement.
So part of the solution is changing how we think about ourselves and where we get our sense of identity. And the other part of the
solution is how we restructure our ministries to equip others to do far more than we possibly can ourselves. These changes don’t happen by magic. They occur only when we intentionally make plans, communicate those plans, and stick to the plans until they’re accomplished.
Someone came up to Corrie ten Boom after she spoke one day and said, “Miss ten Boom, everyone appreciates you so much I listen to them compliment you on your gifts and abilities. How do you handle that and remain humbler’
She replied “Every time someone compliments me, in my mind I turn it into a rose and lay it at the feet of Jesus. And every time I am criticized, in my mind I turn that into a rose, too, and I lay it at the feet of Jesus. If I don’t keep the praise, I don’t have to keep the criticism.
Ike Reighard is senior pastor of NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, and author of Treasures From the Dark (Baxter Press).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY VITAL MINISTRY, JULY/AUGUST, 1998, PAGES 39-41.
THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.