Why Your Pastor Is Struggling & What You Can Do!

Because of the nature of my job I get to meet with hundreds of pastors a year and probably interact online with well over a thousand a year!

I coach and consult with leadership teams and pastors quite frequently in my travels and via video conferences.

I’ve got all the respect in the world for pastors. It is without a shadow of a doubt one of the hardest and most thankless jobs out there.

1) No set hours
2) Awful pay
3) You basically become the property of your church
4) Hugely unrealistic expectations placed upon you
5) The reason you got into the ministry usually falls to the wayside amid of all the daily drama of your congregation.

I’m not saying these things are always true… but I’m sure many pastors reading this are nodding their heads along to that list. In fact you are probably thinking – “why did you make such a short list?”

It’s not just my experience

In fact, I’d say about 60% of the churches I go to are extremely on fire with passionate leaderships and so my views are skewed in a rather positive light.

I was reading some of the research from the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development from their studies they have conducted on pastors over the period of 1989-2006 and frankly the results are quite terrifying.

Here are some statistics that jumped out at me especially:

How Is Your Pastor Doing?

Now something to bear in mind here is that these statistics are about the evangelical church… not the stoic, dying, “religious” church… this is supposed to be the branch of the church most passionate about God. The branch that focuses on discipleship, Bible study and personal relationship with God!

But why do pastors feel this way?

I’d like to say I’m surprised or shocked by these statistics. However I’m not at all, I’m a pastor’s kid, I’ve been around dozens of churches and their leaderships on various levels and I’ve even served on a few leaderships myself. I’ve seen it all!

The truth is that anyone particularly close to a pastor knows it’s a really crappy job.

The reason however is primarily boiled down to one main issue…

We have no idea what a pastor should actually be doing!

Most pastors and certainly their congregations have a very warped view of what a pastor’s role is.

Labouring in the wrong role creates a huge strain and sets a goal before us that is not possible. We are doomed to fail before we begin.

2 things congregations believe their pastors are responsible for & why they cause burn out:

1) Mediating between God and man

How many of us have gone to the pastor for advice?

We say “I’ve prayed about it but I don’t know what to do. What should I do?”, “What does the Bible say about this issue?”, “Is this a sin?” or “What’s the right thing to do?”

We wouldn’t say it as bluntly, but truth be told for many people the pastor is Jesus.

The Bible clearly states that only Jesus intermediates on our behalf with God.

But honestly we don’t like that. We’d prefer to have someone sitting in front of us to speak for God.

It’s like when Moses gave the people of Israel the word “God wants to have relationship with you individually” – what did they say? “We don’t want that, go up the mountain, ask Him what we should do and we’ll do what you tell us.”

We just never learn our lesson!

Your pastor is not there to mediate between you and God. He is there to teach you that you already have a mediator, Jesus, and equip you in how to talk to God yourself.

If you aren’t hearing God, the pastor’s job is not to hear for you, it’s to help you connect with God!

Why are pastors burning out?

1) Their congregations (often hundreds of people) expect them to hear from God on behalf of them all.
2) The pastor facilitates the lie!

2) Making people stop sinning and live more holy

Congregations put it upon their pastors to make them better people. To help them stop sinning and become more holy.

Firstly, if I’ve said this once, I’ll say it 100 times more… you cannot become “more holy”! (see “The Christian Life Is Not About Becoming More Holy”)

Your actions have absolutely nothing to do with your holiness! You are holy because Jesus has made you holy. Trust me, your pastor can’t make you more holy than Jesus already has!

Now, our actions are important. But that is not what determines if we are righteous or holy. Just as God’s actions don’t determine who He is… it is who He is determines His actions.

Our identity is as a righteous, holy and perfect child of God. Made one with Him in Christ. A new creation.

As we believe that identity we start to walk it out and our actions will change.

But we must remember – we do not see less sin in our lives by trying not to sin.

We see less sin in our lives by believing in Jesus’ gift of righteous and allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us.

So why is this such a big deal?

Because like it or not, almost all congregations expect their pastor to change their actions and make them “more holy”. They want to stop sinning – let’s face it, none of us like the fact we still sin – we just need someone to tell us how to stop!

This is where pastors have historically really dropped the ball. Obviously we want the same thing… for people to have healthy, whole lives, completely free from sin.

However we forget the cardinal rule of the gospel. That we ARE free from sin and the only thing we can do to be put back into the bondage of sin is to focus on our own efforts!

When we tell people what to do, and what not to do, we do not equip them to walk sin free… we put them in the bondage of sin! “The purpose of the law was to increase sin” Romans 5:20, “The law makes you sinful beyond measure” Romans 6:13, “The strength of sin is the law” 1 Cor 15:56

Only grace can set us free from sin. We have to focus on helping people BELIEVE correctly.

As pastors when we understand that it is not our responsibility to make sure everyone in our congregation is “doing” the right thing. We find freedom to move, from babysitting and obsessively controlling everyone, into helping people believe correctly. Helping establish people’s faith.

Our job is simply to represent Christ and help people discover their righteousness in Him.

Why are pastors burning out?

1) Their congregations (again, often hundreds of people) expect them to stop them sinning and make them more holy.
2) They believe the same lie – and thinking your job is to stop hundreds of people sinning is enough to drive you insane!

How we can help our pastors

Here’s the deal – there are a lot more issues that pastors face. However in my mind they are the most crippling. If we as a congregation could remove these two false expectations from our churches we would see our pastors start to flourish.

The truth is, the less we expect our pastor to hear God for us the more time he will have to equip us to hear God for ourselves!

The less we expect our pastor to babysit us and make sure we aren’t sinning, the more time he will have to equip us in our beliefs and we will see sin fall to the wayside as we discover our righteousness.

Like I said there is so much more to this than just these two issues. But lets start somewhere.

Let’s pray for our leaders.

Let’s encourage them.

Let’s remove the pressure from them and free them up to do what God has actually called them to do… To equip us to go on our own unique journey with God, not walk the journey for us.

What’s your experience been?

Whether you are a pastor or not I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of these statistics and what you think we as a church can do to help.

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  1. Awesome.
    But the “pastor” (I hate that word, I’m a minister/vicar/leader) often perpetuates the situation by being needy and wanting to be wanted.
    When we call the leader a pastor we perpetuate a pastoral approach to leadership. When we need other types of leadership, that can be undermined be members demanding pastoral responses and by a confusion about the role of “the pastor.”

    • Hi Dave,

      Yes – there were so many different directions I could take this. Honestly the I only used the term “pastor” (which I have no problem with, when used appropriately (although it rarely is)) because it’s the language that the majority or people use and frankly it would require a whole other blog post to tackle why I didn’t use the term pastor! haha

      Thanks for sharing man! Great thoughts!

  2. YES!! Well thought out and written.
    Then, there are the pastors who were never meant to be pastors, who are pastors.
    I had a pastor in a childhood church, who had a cruel edge to his humor.
    I was always uncomfortable around him. I never knew when he was going
    to hit me with a humor zinger.
    WHAT was THAT all about?
    I think he was in the wrong profession.
    Many “pastors” are really teachers, evangelists, etc and don’t know
    how to “pastor” people. We can all be Danny Silk!
    Pray for them.
    That’s it.

    • Absolutely Lynn…

      One of the biggest problems in the church today is we glorify pastors and leaders in the church – we don’t admire and respect those “in the world” (who lets face it are doing what 99% of Christians are called to do!) We treat people in business, education, politics etc as second-class citizens.

      Because of this when people get passionate for God they think their only option is to be a pastor or a missionary. When realistically while a possibility is quite unlikely. It’s much more likely they are called to be a real estate agent, a teacher, a mayor, a tax collector or any of the other myriad of respectable jobs out there… ok… not a tax collector!

      All that to say, I agree many pastors were never called to that role! Many of them aren’t even one of the other “5 fold”… they are probably called to be accountants or something. No wonder they hate being pastors and burn out! haha

  3. I’ve often wondered if many of the issues pastors face stem from being in the wrong office or “profession”. In most of the Church today the only position that pays is pastor and I suspect that many that are called to other offices become pastors by default. Another issue is the way we, the body, choose pastors. The tendency is promote and encourage the most charismatic, the best speakers, the ones that look the best. Many of these are, indeed, leadership material in the Kingdom, many are not. The error of Samuel is repeated over and over. We have to move beyond seeing with the eyes of man and learn to see each other through the eyes of the Father.

  4. Thanks Phil great article! There is immense wisdom in your words without complex jargons! What a breath of fresh air it is really to hear/read someone speak not just words with grace but with grace tone also!

    I can so relate to you, i’m a PK (Pastor’s Kid) also (that’s how we call it here in the Philippines LOL)! I’m currently working out my license, i’m a fresh Electronics Engineer. And I am currently praying for direction whether to go and help my father FULLTIME or work and build my career as an engineer. Ministry has been like my sibling. It’s one year older than me and I’m 21! I love the ministry but there are times when i don’t. I half heartedly said once to my father ‘why don’t we just leave this, it’s burning as out’. We have invested our whole lives to this, we 3. My parents were Biology university professors from a reputable university here in the PH. Sometimes when i think of it, we could have had an easy life, a house we can call our own, car or any vehicle (that could have made our travelling to the capital and back to the province, where we live,–locations of our plant and main churches respectively, laid-back ), etc., if my parents continued in their professions and did not go full time in the ministry. Financially providing for my expensive engineering tuition fee in a great university could have been alot easier also. And ofcourse dealing with our own problems will be way way easier handling without sister’s so & so’s problem with her grandson, brother’s so & so’s with his shaky marriage, etc., in mind.

    But i thank the Lord still, because of these we have been better persons. I thank God for my wise and loving parents who have devoted themselves wholly in loving and raising me and the church. I’m still in my grace journey and have a lot to learn and unlearn. I thank God for this reality which i wake up everyday: Christ in me, the hope of glory.

    Thanks again phil for this enlightening post :)

    • Thanks for sharing your journey Joshua – I think when we are called into that world there is no greater thing to do… I think the danger is many aren’t called and do it out of obligation – I don’t think anyone can truly know (although we love to judge people and guess!) if a person was called or not, we simply have to know that for ourselves.

      Bless you bro! Whether you take the engineering world by storm or go into the ministry with your father… do it all for Jesus!!

  5. Okay, So I did not go through and read all the comments on this article.. However, I would have to say that this is extremely accurate.. I have noticed that the pastors that protect their time tend to last longer.. Another thing I would say would be great for pastors to be able to do is to find an Armor Bearer.. I don’t know if you know anything about an armor bearer but they would save Pastors so much as well..

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