October is Pastor & Church Staff Appreciation Month. I personally believe that we should appreciate our pastors every month. But it’s nice to have a specific time to really think about pastors and honor them and hold them in high regard for what they are called to do.
As a pastor’s wife, I feel I can talk knowledgeably about the ins and outs of being a pastor…the ups and downs…the highs and lows. We sometimes say it as a joke, and there are a lot of people that really believe it, when they say, “Oh, you’re a pastor? Nice. So what do you do during the week?” Most people see pastors as people who love God, love people, get to pray for people, lead them to Christ and teach Bible stuff. If that’s all there was to it, sign me up! Read the Bible all day, pray, play a little golf and preach on the weekends? Sounds cushy to me.
Now don’t get me wrong…there are so, so many rewards of being a pastor. So many wonderful things that happen when a pastor is in line with what God has called him to do. And I believe that the good and wonderful things far outweigh the struggles and the negative. Serving God in a pastoral role isn’t always sunshine and kittens. Pastors don’t always share those things with anyone but the people in their inner circle. But let’s discuss a few of them. Based on my own life living with a pastor for 23 years, and what I’ve heard other pastor’s wives, literally from around the globe, talk about, I want to share some things that almost every pastor struggles with.
Did you know that being a pastor is one of the four most stressful jobs in America? The other 3 in the top 4 include being President of the United States, being a university president, and being the CEO of a hospital…in no particular order.
Most churches in America average about 89 people. Having a church that small brings a lot of challenges, mainly because those churches usually have very few people on staff, yet they still face the same overwhelming basic needs that larger churches do. Just in the 23-1/2 years we’ve lived here in Cortez and pastored Rock Springs, David has had to not only be pastor, but also a Bible teacher, small group leader, accountant, administrator, strategist, visionary, computer tech, youth leader, chauffeur, counselor, public speaker, worship leader, prayer warrior, mentor, mediator, leadership trainer, fundraiser, pizza runner…and believe it or not, grounds-keeper and janitor.
Thank the Lord that many of those jobs are now being done by amazing and wonderful and servant-hearted people who also feel called to serve God in the local church!
But I can tell you this much for certain: As hard as it’s been at times, David has always done any and all of the above with a servant heart and a vision and dream that was bigger and farther reaching than the immediate need of making sure there was toilet paper in the restrooms.
So, in order to truly appreciate all pastors everywhere (not just David, but any pastor that you know), I want to talk about some of the struggles that pastors face, oftentimes behind the scenes and always in their quiet moments alone.
1. Criticism. Pastors are criticized by a lot of people for a lot of things. “The music is too loud.” “Worship is too long.” “Worship isn’t long enough.” “Your sermon isn’t deep enough. And you preach too long.” “The pastor must think he’s too important to talk to me. It took me 3 weeks to get an appointment to talk to him.”
What’s ridiculous is that most of the things people are critical of are not doctrine, but some trivial, personal opinion or issue that really doesn’t matter in the long run. I know pastors try not to take it personally and try to learn from criticism. But it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
2. Rejection. Members leave, leaders leave, friends leave. The harsh truth is, people leave. Some leave for perfectly legit reasons, but others leave “ungracefully” (in a snit, as we say in the south.) When people leave because they “want something deeper,” or their “needs aren’t getting met,” or they’re “not getting fed the meat of the Word,” it can feel like a personal rejection. And this happens in every single church, no matter how big or small, no matter how well-known or not well-known the pastor is. And every pastor struggles with feeling rejected. It’s hard to develop a tough skin and yet at the same time, keep a soft heart.
3. Loneliness. “Who’s my friend? Who can I trust? If I tell someone my problems, will they criticize me, or tell others, or just treat me weird? Are my friends really my friends, or are they just using me until something better comes along?” Seventy percent of pastors don’t have someone they consider a close heart friend. Pastors desperately need friends who will support them, pray for them, protect them, make sure their being is well, and gracefully kick them in the rear when they’re getting off track.
4. Weariness. Keeping yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy is vital! So many pastors cover all the responsibilities I mentioned before, and they are just physically worn to a frazzle. But even when there are others taking care of those things for him, he can still become weary in well-doing. There is still a lot on their plate, day in and day out, weekend in and weekend out. They can easily slip into fatigue, and even depression, when their health and time and heart are not taken care of.
A pastor’s life is a life of emotional highs and lows…critics and adoring fans…unreasonable expectations of church members. And stress and weariness follow very closely.
5. Frustrations. These come in many ways. Pastors work and work and work to help their churches grow and flourish and mature, but sometimes it’s hard to know if they’re being “successful.” Pastoring is a rare animal in that “good work + good effort doesn’t always guarantee visible success.” Sometimes, in spite of all the work they put into something, it’s just not “clicking”…and that’s very frustrating.
I know from experience that pastors sometimes feel like they can’t get anything right. For instance, the church finally feels like they’re gaining some momentum, and then a key leader in the church falls or fails. Churches need money to keep ministries going and growing, but pastors are hesitant many times to talk about money because of the stigma attached to it… “I knew it! All they talk about is money!” And that’s frustrating.
6. Personal difficulties. There are lots of times when something is going on in a pastor’s life…in their families, in their finances, in their friendships…that very few know about or need to know about. There are situations like a family member passing away, a child who has gone AWOL, a former church member shunning you in the grocery store, a “friendly, personal letter” from a “well-meaning parishioner” who needs to air some grievances. Church members rarely know all that’s going on in the personal life of a pastor, nor should they. But they need to be sensitive and realize that there may be times that the pastor is smiling on the outside, but aching on the inside.
These are just a few things that most pastors deal with on an all-too-regular basis…and some pastors more than others. Not every pastor deals with all of these things. There are many who have learned how to manage the struggles and not become overwhelmed by imperfection and circumstances.
So…how do we show appreciation for our pastors?
Encourage them for their work and for their ministry. Thank them for their sacrifice. Talk honorably about them to other people. Tell them that you’re praying for them…and then actually PRAY for them.
Pray for God’s guidance and protection and provision. Pray for them to develop healthy heart-friendships. Pray for their marriage and their family.
Protect your pastor as best as you can. Don’t start or participate in gossip or criticism. Don’t stir up conflict. Don’t assume the worst about him. Find ways that you can serve him and maybe lighten the work load to prevent burnout.
And above all, remember that pastors are only human. They’re never going to be perfect because they’re not Jesus, and they’re not the Holy Spirit. Out of 100 things they do, they’ll probably get at least one thing wrong. But God didn’t call them to pastor because they were perfect and flawless…He called them because they had a willing heart.
And on a final personal note…thank you, Rock Springs family, for always encouraging, praying for and protecting David and our family. We are so blessed! ❤ ❤