Here are some interesting statistics from https://www.soulshepherding.org/pastors-under-stress/
- 75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed”
- 90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week
- 90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
- 70% say they’re grossly underpaid
- 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
- 78% were forced to resign from their church (63% at least twice), most commonly because of church conflict
- 80% will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make it a lifelong career. On average, seminary trained pastors last only five years in church ministry
- 100% of 1,050 Reformed and Evangelical pastors had a colleague who had left the ministry because of burnout, church conflict, or moral failure
- 91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now”
They also give other, similar statistics about self-care routines, emotional health, etc. and cite sources for all of the data.
These numbers are shocking. What in the world is causing such stress? Isn’t pastoring a peaceful, restful, faith-filled life of sleeping late and eating fried chicken? Isn’t having a front-row seat to watching God turn lives around the best life, the most blessed life?
Many of you know that my husband is a senior pastor. He and I both grew up as children of senior pastors, so the lifestyle of a pastor’s home is our default. I have learned, though, that a lot of people don’t know what pastors do. I remember as a young child I told a teacher “My father doesn’t work. He is a pastor.” Little did I know! This blog is to help change that misconception.
This is not an exhaustive list of duties on the job description. (Exhausting, but not exhaustive.) Other pastors will have other responsibilities. This is the off-the-top-of-my-head list I came up with in about 45 seconds. I’m sure I forgot something.
Each pastor’s situation is different. Responsibilities vary by exact title, whether they are youth pastor, executive pastor, senior pastor, education pastor, teaching pastor, connections pastor, whatever. The size of the church affects this. Also, each denomination does it a little differently. The Church of Christ, Episcopal, Baptist, Catholic, or independent contexts will each be different.
The church I grew up in, that my father pastored, was a small Apostolic Pentecostal one with no paid support staff. The church my husband pastors is also Apostolic Pentecostal, but somewhat larger, with the recent addition of some other staff. The themes, though, are consistent, so apply them as they fit.
As you read this blog, think about what you expect of your pastor; specifically, how many hours per week you think your pastors should spend on each item? So here we go:
This one seems pretty basic. Obviously, people expect their pastors to attend church. What they don’t think about is that the pastors are often the first to arrive and the last to leave. If your church has multiple services, this is multiplied. Any extra set-up or breakdown or preparation for communion or whatever is on top of that. It’s not as simple as it seems.
Also, I can’t even tell you how many times pastors attend church when they are sick, running a fever, praying they won’t have to run to the bathroom to throw up, etc. When you’re the only one prepared to do your thing, you have to do your thing. If your kid is sick, you bring them with you and put them in a back room on a blanket to sleep. The service must go on. You pray for mercy, grace, and healing and go on.
This one is also obvious. The pastor is expected to deliver well-thought-out, perfectly-delivered, inspiring, Biblically-sound, thought-provoking, relevant-to-life messages. Oh, and they should keep your attention with entertaining stories and humor while they’re at it. Nobody wants a pastor that is too serious, but the subjects shouldn’t be taken too lightly. You can see that this gets tricky.
What many DON’T think about is that every one of these messages takes preparation. Reading, research, preparing visual aids like PowerPoints, etc. each take time. If it is a teaching session, any kind of class interaction or engagement has to be planned and prepared. If it is a small-group situation, the lessons, discussion questions, reflection questions, etc. must to be prepared, written, edited, and disseminated.
A pastor is expected to be well-versed (excuse the pun) on all things Biblical. And as if the entire Bible weren’t enough to conquer, a pastor is also expected to know about (and have “correct” opinions about) all things religious and every current event local, national, and global. But they mustn’t be too political; that might alienate people and offend them.
Professional Development/Continuing Education
A part of the above “General Study” includes attending conventions and conferences. This may look like “time off,” but the schedules at these events are grueling, and meanwhile, the church at home must still be taken care of in his/her absence. Instead of being a vacation, it’s more like working a double shift.
This is one that I think everyone is familiar with. There are certain things that pastors are expected to attend to. The obvious ones that everyone requires are weddings and funerals. Hospital visits are expected (though I have yet to figure out why simple situations require a pastor). Other possibilities are advice for pre-marriage, grief, sickness, divorce, mental health, addiction, abuse past or present, finances, children in trouble, professional dilemmas… Anything someone might feel they need help with, the pastor is expected to be able to deal with. Sometimes it will be referred out to someone else, but often it’s the pastor that gets it first. Also, there are graduations, birthdays, showers, and other happy occasions that a pastor is expected to attend, usually with a gift. And if you attend one person’s birthday but not another for whatever legitimate reason, well, that can get tricky.
What people often don’t realize is that there are many business-type things in the church that have to be done. Laws must be followed. Insurance must be purchased. Fire codes must be complied with. By-laws must be passed, known, and followed. He/she must work with whatever board and trustee structure is in place. Business meetings must also be prepared for and presented. Also, there is the human resources side of things: hiring, laying off (hopefully not firing), making sure employees have the proper insurances, retirement, payroll, taxes, workman’s comp… These details are enough to drive a pastor bananas.
This is something everyone knows about and many complain about, few realize the burden of it. Everyone in the congregation has an opinion, and never does everyone totally agree on what should be done. It’s truly amazing: the same person can be spending too much and too little at the exact same time.
Again, like a business, the money must be not only managed, but accounted for. This is obviously an absolute necessity, but it takes time: counting it, crediting it to people for tax purposes, depositing it, writing checks, keeping track of where it was spent, presently data to the board and congregation, all take several hours per week.
Most of the functioning of the church is done by volunteers, or at least it should be. (See Ephesians 4:12) The body of Christ should be doing its thing, being the hands and feet of God’s work in this world. These volunteers are a real blessing. Without them, the work of the church would come to a screeching halt. However, working with volunteers takes a special touch. Since they are volunteers, it takes gentility, respecting their personal wishes and time preferences. They can at any time say no, decide to take a break, or do some other thing you never anticipated that must be handled with care and prayer. It’s much different than handling employees who you pay to do a job and then require certain things of.
As the church grows, things have to be scheduled. Services and classes obviously, but also facilities cleaning, lawn care, teaching rotation, transportation, any food supplied to anything, cleaning after events, the list goes on and on.
No matter whether the meeting place is a home, a rented storefront, or a sanctuary fully owned by the church, the place will need certain things done for it. If the building is rented, it has to be set up for whatever is being done that day, from Sunday School rooms to musical instruments to A/V. If it’s a building owned by the church, the place must be maintained and all the things in it. That means everything from gum in the carpet to the heating going out. The bathrooms need toilet paper, and the carpets must be cleaned. The parking lot must be plowed of snow, or the lawn must be mowed. Backed up toilet? Tell the pastor. No matter that she has to preach that morning and has 15 people lined up to talk to her and there’s a first-time guest to make feel welcome.
Those volunteers I mentioned? The ones that could take some of the burden of facilities management, and scheduling, and bookkeeping, and a million other details? They have to be trained, grown, and developed. It often feels easier to just do it yourself. And it is, in the short-term, but unless you want to be there doing literally everything until Jesus comes, you have to develop the skills you detect in people. God helps you see what people can become with His help, but those talents have to be developed. They don’t grow themselves.
Setting of Direction and Vision
While doing all this, the pastor has to set goals, set direction for the church, and decide what needs to be expanded, what needs to be cut, and how to get there. This seems like it would be easy and obvious, but it takes a lot of quiet, a lot of brain space, a lot of nothing-else-pressing going on. With the list of things I’ve already lined out, you can see that this is extremely hard to get.
Interaction With the Larger Organization
Many blessings come with being a part of an organization. The accountability, resources, infrastructure, missions opportunities, fellowship, etc. are very helpful. However, this takes up time with meetings, focus, work to be done for other churches, etc. And any official positions, appointed or elected, add another dimension to the scope of what pastors’ work looks like.
Every aspect of how a pastor spends their money is a possibility for people’s opinions: car, house, vacation, clothes… the list goes on. Some people will think a purchase is too expensive while other people will think the exact same purchase is not classy enough. I don’t know of any other profession that is so open to be scrutinized over literally everything.
On top of this, the pastor’s family life is always under the microscope. Their spouse is expected to act and dress a certain way: not too frumpy and not too flashy. Their children are expected to behave a certain way: not too loud, but friendly, and always well-behaved. And all of this is to be managed under the pressure of the list of other things that need to be done. To be honest, the scrutiny can be exhausting.
Every pastor is expected to be praying for every single person in the congregation, all the people who HAVE been in the congregation, and all the people who might come to be in the congregation. And all this should be done while maintaining his/her personal relationship with God and spending time in a personal prayer life. Perhaps it’s surprising, but this personal time of prayer doesn’t happen automatically. It has to be fought for, scraped out, and guarded. Sometimes, in the pressures of the job, it gets pushed below the priority line of what actually gets done.
Probably the hardest part of being a pastor is that the pressure never ends. Nothing less than people’s eternity hangs in the balance, always. And it’s lonely. It’s hard to find friends who understand and who you do not also have some ministerial responsibility for.
On top of all these responsibilities, many pastors must also work a secular job to pay the bills, sometimes supporting the church with their own funds. So in those situations, all of these things must be juggled with another outside job.
The stew of the things on this list for years on end, all of this under pressure, these are the reasons that so many pastors are burned out, overtired, and feeling stale.
It may sound like I am complaining. I am not. Having a job in which you are also doing what you love is a blessed life, indeed. The rewards are amazing and fulfilling. The results are heavenly and everlasting. But many people who go to church on a regular basis have no idea what their pastor really does and how much it costs in blood, sweat, and tears. It’s called having a burden for a good reason.
So next time you wonder why your pastor didn’t do what you expected, think about what you are expecting, what others might be expecting, and why maybe that’s a little harder than it might seem. Love them, pray for them, communicate in a Christ-like way, and let them be human. The job is harder than it seems, and they are not superhuman.