Google “being a pastor is hard” and you’ll get over 26 million hits on articles that discuss the secret pains of pastors—some of them written by me.
The idea that pastors have it harder than other professions has seeped into the fabric of the church until no one questions it any more.
But do we really?
What are we expecting?
Part of the problem lies in our expectations of the pastorate. Many of us were raised in churches where we held pastors in the highest esteem. We felt drawn to ministry because of the impact these people had on us. But when we began to pastor our own churches, we discovered that not everyone had the same deference toward clergy that we had.
Does the New Testament suggest that ministry is an easy job? Of course not. When we listen to Paul talk about his ministry, it’s pretty sobering:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.—1 Corinthians 4:9–13
I don’t know many 21st-century pastors who could boast of such hardships. But in the middle of his desperation, Paul’s work helped him identify with Christ and his sufferings.
I don’t want to downplay the heartbreaks and difficulties that pastors experience. God knows, I’ve had my share of pastoral heartbreak. But I’m concerned that we magnify pastoral difficulties in a way that makes it hard to recognize the everyday struggles of people in our churches.
Every time we talk about how hard it is to be a pastor, we’re not necessarily convincing anyone but ourselves. All that the people in our care hear is, “Your struggles aren’t very significant compared to mine.”
Common complaints about pastoring
If it’s been a while since you held a high-pressure secular job, it’s hard to remember that all jobs have elements that suck. They just lack the platform to tell everyone about it.
Let’s look at a few problem areas in pastoral ministry.
1. Pastors are on call 24/7
Feeling like you’re constantly on call can create a sense of unease. But this feeling isn’t peculiar to pastors. I had a close friend who managed a restaurant. This guy had to drop everything and take care of emergencies a lot more often than I ever did as a pastor.
Also, if you can’t create some boundaries in your life, that’s kind of on you. You don’t have to return every phone call immediately or drop everything for people all the time. No one’s really thinking, “Hey, I called my pastor at 3 a.m., and he didn’t return my call until the next morning. Jerk.”
2. Pastors are always dealing with squabbles
Dealing with congregational fights and ill feelings took up a lot of my pastoral energy. I felt like I was always mediating between various warring factions. But when I’m honest, a lot of that had to do with my immaturity and lack of leadership skills.
This is not a frustration that’s only found in pastoral ministry. Every job has conflict, and many people are in positions without any authority to really deal with them. I’d much rather deal with church squabbles than suffer through the politics and squabbling that a high-school teacher deals with on the daily.
3. Pastor’s decisions are challenged
Sometimes a pastor you have to make tough calls. You may have to tell people no, or make unpopular decisions. Afterward, disgruntled people will wander around and stir up dissension. It’s incredibly irritating.
Guess what? It is the same for anyone in a position of leadership. Every CEO has to make tough calls that people resent, and every manager has people trash talking them at the water cooler.
If this is a chronic problem for you, it might be time to brush up on your skills as a leader. Take some leadership classes, and improve the way you reach and implement decisions. It’s possible that these problems could be mitigated by strengthening your weaknesses.
4. Pastoral work cuts into family time
Finding a work/life balance is difficult. When people place a lot of expectations on you and you feel guilty if they’re not met, it can be nearly impossible to create any balance. This is a problem that most professionals struggle with.
Try telling an entrepreneur it’s time to call it a day, or stop the salesman from making that last call in order to meet his quota. Everyone in a professional position is wrestling to find balance—and it isn’t easy.
5. Pastors deal with a lot of scrutiny
When you’re in a high-profile position of leadership and making decisions that affect a lot of people, they’re are going to pick apart your decisions. Sometimes it’s folks who have absolutely no business scrutinizing you that will jump on the bandwagon and point out how they would have done things differently.
There isn’t an executive alive who doesn’t feel that they’re under a microscope, and the higher the profile the more scrutiny they feel. It just comes with the territory. The more conspicuous you are, the more people will analyze you.
The only way to avoid that kind of examination is to choose a supporting role instead of a prominent position.
6. Pastors carry a negative stigma
One of the biggest complaints that pastors make is that people just don’t respect us. There’s some truth to that. I don’t know how many wonderful conversations have come to an awkward halt when someone asked what I did for a living.
But pastoring doesn’t carry the kind of social stigma that being a politician or police officer does. I wouldn’t want to walk a mile in the loafers of either of those vocations.
The difference is that the New Testament promises that people aren’t going to admire us for following Jesus. People don’t respect ministers, and they’re not necessarily supposed to. But we get to the joy of serving them anyway—and winning them over!
Quit focusing on the difficulties
If you’re a pastor, I know how hard it can be. I’m sure there have been plenty of moments when you’ve wanted to throw in the towel. But that’s not very unique. Most people in your church have work frustrations.
We need to remember that by constantly harping on the difficulties of pastoring, we’re projecting our frustrations onto the people we’re serving. I can’t imagine the negative impact of constantly telling children how difficult they are to parent—however true it may be. It’s no better to do that to our congregations.
We get to invite people into a closer, more-obedient relationship with Jesus. We encourage them to discover the adventure of answering the call. Honestly, why would they answer that invitation when we’re always telling them how miserable it’s made us?