A word to pastors…during pastor appreciation month

I came into ministry later in life, after over 20 years in the business world. Maybe that explains some of why I was surprised, when I entered the ministry, at how hard churches can be on a pastor. I never knew.

My church leadership blog has given me access into the lives of hundreds of young pastors, many of them in smaller churches where they are one of a few, if not the only, staff members. I don’t see this as much in larger churches where there are more staff members to spread the workload, but in some smaller churches, many times the pastor is drowning. His spouse is drowning. His family suffers. They can’t keep up with the demands of the church. I never knew.

Some churches expect the pastor to be at every hospital bed. They expect them to know and call when they are sick. They expect them to attend every Sunday school social and every picnic on the grounds. He is to officiate their wedding and then be the counselor when their marriage is suffering. He is to preach their funeral and visit their neighbor who isn’t going to church. He is supposed to recruit Sunday school teachers, manage a budget and be actively engaging the community through a healthy Tuesday night evangelism program. Then, they expect a well researched, well presented Sunday message, one in the morning and one at night, along with a passionate leading of the Wednesday night prayer meeting. One pastor told me recently he is allowed one Sunday off per year. I hesitated to do the math on the number of messages he is doing in a given year. Wow! I never knew.

Now some of that is exaggeration, but in some churches it is exactly the expectation. And, in principle, the activities may be different, but the level of activity is normal for many pastors, again, especially in smaller churches.

To be honest, I’m burdened for those pastors.

I learned when my boys were young and I was running a business, serving on the city council and on dozens of committees, that if I wanted to be successful as a husband, father, and business owner, I had to get better personally and privately, so I could achieve more publicly. It was then that running switched from being a fun pastime to a necessary part of my week. I needed and craved the downtime and the exercise. It was then that I had to get up early to make sure I had that days quiet time to fuel my soul. It was then that I became diligent in scheduling my week, so I didn’t miss family activities.

If I could give one piece of advice to pastors, ALL PASTORS, especially during Pastor Appreciation month, it would be that they take care of themselves personally, take care of their family, so they can meet the demands of their church. They may need to share this blog with some key leaders they trust in the church. They may want to have a hard conversation and establish some healthier boundaries with the church. Take some time and read Jethro’s advice to Moses. Read Acts 6.

I love you pastors. I want you around for a while. Take care of yourself. If needed, reach out to someone before you crash and burn. God called you to do His work, but the work He called you to do specifically, won’t be done (at least by you) if you aren’t here to do it.

Join the MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour to read today’s leading pastors and authors share their stories of ministers who made a difference in their lives. Visit MinistryMatters.com/blogtour for a complete list of virtual tour stops and to link up your own post about a minister who mattered to you!

MinistryMatters.com “Why Ministers Matter” blog tour 10/1/2012 – 10/12/2012.

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19 thoughts on “A word to pastors…during pastor appreciation month

  1. This article hurts so much, because I have lived through it and I empathize with those who are enduring it now. In my case much of the pain came from keeping boundaries and not from having too much put on me. Ministry can grind to a halt and you have a standoff because you are waiting on the people to step up, but they expect you to do it all. You must refuse to allow the burden to be placed on you. For instance, if a ministry is falling short because of lack of help or lack of leadership or lack of commitment do you find yourself stepping in to save it? My advice is never to save people from looking bad and not following through. Let if fall and if necessary let them fall. One step I took in my last church was to promote the ministry a person wanted and if they failed to follow through or it was a train wreck I required the people to explain to the church why. I wouldn't excuse them or save them. That was a hard boundary to set up. In the past I would have saved it because I thought it reflected on me, but I learned to delegate responsibility and allow it to reflect on the people. Let them get the credit for a job well done and deal with the disappointment of the people when the ball was dropped. This slowed down ministry suggestions and it reduced overall ministry demand because only those who were serious would step up. I had a boundary with my deacons and church. I told them, "If you suggest it, you lead it. God placed it on your heart to do. He has given you the passion for it and will equip you to accomplish it." This reduced many of the silly suggestions as well and allowed me to keep the main things the main thing. Setting boundaries is the harder route, but in the long run it is better to not meet people's expectations, because whatever you do and allow, every pastor after you will be expected to do the same.
    I see a trend after serving in very traditional churches that previous pastors, pastors with an "old school" type of ministry, are the ones who caused and allowed this sentiment to develop in the people. The most important wisdom I walked away with from my last ministry assignment is this,
    Pastors are not given to the church to serve the people the way they want to be served, but to serve God in the way he has instructed. Pastor you are the only one who can communicate what your biblical role really is and uphold it. Be a straight shooter – speak with grace and truth and never allow people to place expectations on you and never be disturbed or try to please people's unspoken expectations either. When you begin to do that they will not respect you, but demand more.

  2. Show your pastor you appreciate him this month by sending us a picture of him with his favorite pie. Make him a pie or photoshop one into an existing pic like the one below. The funnier the better. Just sign up, create a post and we spread it out on the interwebs.

  3. Ron

    I’m also burdened for Pastors. But – My conclusion, and soul-lution is a bit different – you say…
    “the pastor is drowning. His spouse is drowning. His family suffers.
    They can’t keep up with the demands of the church.”

    And todays “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” becomes Burdened in many ways.

    1 – Burden one – Pleasing people, doing what they expect – NOT what God expects.

    Well, from your list, aren’t Pastors “doing” a whole bunch of stuff – NOT found in the Bible?
    And, wouldn’t you say, the first place to go, and agree with, is the Bible? For God’s expectations?

    2 – Burden two – Taking three names of the Lord – in vain. “Pastor/Leader/Reverend.”

    Haven’t “Pastor/Leader/Reverends” – also taken a “Title/Position” – NOT found in the Bible?
    I cudda missed it but – Any Disciples with the “Title” “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” in the Bible?
    Jesus, the only “ONE” called Shepherd, 1Pe 2:25, Leader, Mt 23:10 NASB, Reverend, Ps 111:9 KJV.

    3 – Burden three – “Titles” become “Idols” with – Power – Profit – Prestige – Glory – Reputation…

    ALL stuff Jesus spoke against. ALL stuff highly esteemed by men – Abomination to God. Lu 16:15
    ALL “Idols” of the heart. Ezek 14:1-11 – Addictions? – NOT easy to lay down?

    4 – Burden four – Trying to live up to the “Qualifications” for Elder/Overseer.

    Paul gave some tough qualifications for Elder/Overseer, that most “know” they do NOT meet.
    How many today are: 1- Blameless? 2 – Holy? 3 – Just? 4 – Rule well their own house?

    I Tim 3:4-5
    One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
    (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

    This one qualification, I Tim 3:4-5, seems to eliminate 80% of todays overseers – Because…
    Rule here also means – to be a protector or guardian, to give aid, to care for, give attention to.

    And – 80% of pastors' spouses wish they would choose a different profession.
    And – 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

    IMO – This says – 80% do NOT rule well their own house. Do NOT protect and guard their family.

    NOPE – In my experience – Today’s Elder/Overseers – Can NOT meet Pauls tough qualifications.
    And the “Pastor/Leader/Reverend” -And their families – suffer greatly.

  4. Interesting. It would be great to have some ways how to establish those boundaries and have the congregation accept it. My husband practiced from the onset making time for family and self as we started a work from scratch. In the past year he fell very very ill. He is just starting to get back on his feet. Because we are a young church and I am a licensed minister, I had take on a greater load. In the past few months we were attacked with accusations of not doing enough because we don't "socialize" with people enough,( we are the first to arrive at church and they last leave, not enough). My husband doesn't preach enough, doesn't teach enough, we aren't friendly enough ( we have a whole new group of people coming to church right now that my husband in spite of being very ill has been working with for 6 months, they enjoy my husband's company). It has been devastating because we have poured our soul into this church. People don't want to help, they want my husband and me to do everything. And then complain we don't do enough. They want us to do outreach every week, to do all the teaching and preaching, even though some are perfectly capable and we believe in people working in whatever ministry calls them. Never mind that maybe it would be just Christian like to help the Pastor out while he recovers from a major bout of illness! Ugh. Sorry, it's just tough!

    • I'm praying for you now. I have written several articles on some of the boundaries I have in ministry. Yours will likely be different from mine, but you need some. This is a very outside view, but I think I'd try to find one or two leaders in the church you trust and share this with them, asking them for guidance. They likely have insight and influence you don't have.

  5. Thanks Ron – great post. Having served in smaller mid size to now a large church setting, it's interesting to see and experience the different demands in the ministry world and how it affects the family.

    Appreciate you including the part about running and how it actually helped you serve your family better. My wife sometimes feel guilty about exercising though we know it's essential longterm. Still not really into a set routine but we're problem-solving.

    Grace and peace to you Ron.

  6. Something else you may not know. A pastor cannot collect unemployment for a second job if they are laid off. Being a bivocational pastor most if not all of their income comes from the second job.but even though they are laid off from the main job they cannot collect unemployment because technically they are not unemployed if they are "employed" by the church. Another sticky place is workmans comp if they get hurt on their second job. They cannot collect temporary total disability because theoretically they are not disabled if they can still " work" for the church. Being bivocational is a real sacrifice for a pastor to make.

  7. Thanks for your attention to this, Ron. Pastors and ministry leaders are my heroes and I want to be a friend and encouragement to them (and you). I will syndicate this post as much as I can. I appreciate you.

  8. Ron thanks for your posts man and your heart for ministry… I enjoy reading your blog. I too entered ministry after a life in the business world – and honestly wish it was a requirement for anyone considering a life in ministry! Take care and God bless you!
    Twitter: UnlikelyPastor