HELP! My Pastor is in Trouble!!!

According to pastoralcareinc.com: 72% of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week, 84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7.  23% of pastors report being distant from their family, and 28% of pastors report having feelings of guilt for taking personal time off and not telling the church.  Often times, we hear the phrases “the church is a hospital,” “the church is for sick people” or “the church is for the broken.” But what happens when the Pastor is the one that is in need of help?  The role of the pastor has evolved from being someone who preaches, visits ill members and helps to bury members that have passed away. The church at–large has also evolved and due to the various layers of ministry, the Pastor has had to evolve as well.

In some ways this change is a good thing: there’s more advances in technology that allows Pastors to track members’ giving and to plan for the stability of the church.  For some churches, Pastors have been able to assign duties to assistant pastors, executive pastors, deacons, or even administrative pastors. But, there is still a trend of Pastors reporting feeling overwhelmed and overworked.  In the same set of statistics, 90% of pastors report the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry. 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses have felt unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors at least one or more times in their ministry.

When it comes to Pastoring, it’s often the most overlooked profession.  One that not only those in the church sometimes invalidate, but also those outside of the church.  Furthermore, as we have seen other “noble” professions, the respect and admiration of being a Pastor has declined as well due to numerous reports of infidelity and other morally corrupt practices. 52% of pastors feel overworked and cannot meet their church’s unrealistic expectations, 54% of pastors find the role of a pastor overwhelming.  So it’s no surprise that 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy. Managing the “relational” aspects of ministry while also balancing the “business” side and the community relevance is a great task to undergo. The amount of sacrifice at times is not equal to the results.

Just this week, we all turned on the news, or scrolled through our social media feeds learning about the suicide of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein, Lead Pastor of Inland Hills Church.  One of the misconceptions of people is that Pastors – or generally, church leaders – do not struggle with the same issues that their congregants struggle with. Many believe that because someone is a Pastor that their life is good and they are “living right.” As you can see, from the numbers above, pastors often have an even heavier burden at times due to the layers of stress, expectations placed on them by others, and those they place on themselves.  They often feel pressure to be the best for the church, their communities, and their peers, and sometimes their families fall through the cracks. So who pastors the pastor? Who does the Pastor get to unwind with, or vent to that will be able to understand their hearts?

What can we do to help support, take care of, and show our pastors that we care about them:

  1. Remember, Pastors are people FIRST.  They have needs, get tired and often feel guilty when they can’t meet an expectations.
  2. Check your expectations.  Ask yourself: “is this a rational expectation for my pastor, or their family?  Am I causing them more stress? Is this expectation something that is humanly possible, and morally achievable?”
  3. Check on your Pastor.  Don’t wait til Clergy Appreciation Day, or Pastor’s Anniversary to let your Pastor know you care.  Whether it’s through a call, email, text, or verbally; check on your pastor. Ask them about their day.  Let them know you are praying for them, and if you are not, DO IT.
  4. Be mindful of their families.  Just like we would like our bosses and colleagues to take the complexity of our lives into account, do the same for your pastor.  Give them time away; both by themselves, and with their families. The church does not belong to the Pastor, it belongs to God. If your church can’t function without your pastor, then you can see where some of the problem lies already.  

Pastor’s your stress management and mental health is your responsibility.  If you don’t protect your peace, you will not be able to serve your church, or your family well.  So how would you do this:

  1. Pastors: set boundaries around your time, and your family.  Being on call 24/7 doesn’t make you a good Pastor, it makes you an exhausted pastor.  Remember: practice makes a habit. What you start you will have to maintain. Set good boundaries now, so that you don’t have to worry about them later.  
  2. Create a network of support.  No one understands pastoring like another pastor.  In addition to the Pastors that you may be under that pray for you, and pour into you, you have to have someone(s) who will be able to listen when you are upset or frustrated.  Someone you trust and believe will keep your confidence. 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend. 27% of pastors report not having anyone to turn to for help in a crisis situation. 84% of pastors desire to have close fellowship with someone they can trust and confide with.   
  3. Work on your own wholeness.  Before you were a pastor, you were the man/woman that has a past and there may be things that you need to resolve, deal with, or manage while pastoring.  Seek therapy if needed, Pastoring didn’t absolve you from your past, rather it highlights it even more. You can’t fix what you don’t face.
  4. Everyone needs time off.  Everyone needs a break. It may not be given, in this case you have to TAKE IT.  Your mental and emotional health depends on it. It may be one day a week, and/or one week a quarter.  You know what you need, make plans for it and prepare your church and staff so that you can have it. 70% of pastors report they have a lower self-image now than when they first started, while 57% of pastors feel fulfilled yet discouraged, stressed, and fatigued.

In closing, we are able to recognize that mental health issues are not solely spiritual matters and those that struggle with mental health issues do not do so as a result of not praying enough, loving God enough, or because of sin.  Mental and emotional well-being is a necessity for all people regardless of age, ethnicity, SES, and even profession. And as we can see, it is even more vital for some than others.