To preface my answer to this question, I’ve been privileged to serve as a pastor of several congregations over the course of many years. For another decade before that, I was a guest in the homes of scores of pastors and their families as an itinerant evangelist. My opinions here come from first hand observation and personal experience.
In today’s society, all too often the demands upon a pastor exceed what they really should. The pastor is traditionally considered a church’s head “everything.” He’s the spiritual and administrative head, the sole minister, the legal corporation president — and basically the know-it-all, do-it-all, “chief cook and bottle washer.” In many small churches, the pastor will conduct all the services, lead the singing, do all the preaching, handle all the visiting, counseling and spiritual matters, while he may also have to take care of the office work, bookkeeping, or even the janitorial, maintenance or building repair.
In my years of traveling to hundreds of churches, I found many pastors to be some of hardest working, most versatile, multi-skilled people I have ever met. And for the main part, they pick up all these skills out of the necessity of their circumstances — having no hired staff or few willing volunteers to do these things for them. In too many cases, the pastor has to do far more than he was ever called for or even trained to do.
This really isn’t the way it should be. Ideally the pastor should be the spiritual overseer, devoting his attention to the higher priorities of prayer and ministering the word, while delegating the load of administrative tasks, details and responsibilities to other ministers, elders and deacons.
The early Apostles faced this same dilemma. They received complaints that some of the widows of the church were not being cared for as they should. So they selected qualified persons to delegate these tasks (believed to be the first deacons), so they would not be distracted away from what God had really called them to do — to be men of prayer and of the Word. “…It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).
The rewards of being a pastor are many. Without question, there is no other position in the world that has a higher honor, than to be called of God to be a pastor. However, it is a vocation of extreme contrasts. It can be sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible in the same package. Despite potential blessings of leading souls to Christ, the job of pastor is one of the most difficult, agonizing tasks there is.
Some of the greatest challenges of a Pastor are:
(1) Being Misunderstood.For the most part, the life and ministry of a pastor is not understood by the average layman. A policeman once told me the same thing about law enforcement officers. He said, “The only one that really understands what a cop does is another one.” I could relate to what he was trying to say. Sheep really don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a shepherd — only other shepherds. The average layman has little concept what a pastor is, what he really does, the hassles he deals with and so forth.
Being a pastor isn’t a job, it’s what a person is. When God calls a person to be a pastor, He places in him a shepherd’s nature and characteristics — to love and care for his flock. He is a pastor all the time. It’s what he thinks about, what he lives for, his purpose on the earth. It’s not possible for him to go home at the end of a day and leave his job behind the way that most people can. His, is an all consuming task. The pastor is on duty twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He frequently receives phone calls at home from morning to evening, and often in the middle of the night. Most of his home activities are related to the church. Most social calls or relationships are church related. A large percentage of his conversations with his family involve the church. His home should probably be a refuge to rest or to have a life of his own, but it’s usually the only place he can hide himself long enough from interruptions, to pray for the church or to study for the sermons he must preach there.
(2) Coping with Criticism.Like most other public figures, a pastor and his family live in the public eye, like a “fish bowl” where people watch them constantly, frequently viewing them with criticism and cynicism. People who enter the ministry must be prepared to face much criticism, sometimes of a brutal and cruel nature. However, all those who have risen in leadership or accomplishment know well the sting of their critics. It has been said that “the only way to avoid criticism is to ‘Say nothing, Do nothing, and Be nothing.”
People frequently find disappointment with pastors, largely due a lack of understanding of what pastors do. Rarely does a church ever have a written job description for their senior pastor, and if they do, it’s usually too vague to help much. And it seems that so many have a different opinion of what they think the pastor should do. They usually hand him the keys to the church and assume that he’ll take care of everything that needs to be done — without realizing the hundreds of details that it all may require.
(3) Faced with an Overwhelming Task.It’s been said that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. But when we realize that the majority of American churches have fewer than 100 people, you can imagine that the pastor and his family often make up a great portion of that 20%. As we have mentioned, in many of those churches, the pastor is often faced with having to do jobs he was never trained for — everything from plumbing to desktop publishing… and besides this, he also must be the well studied preacher and teacher. Beyond these demands, his life will be one of constant distractions, receiving dozens of calls and letters each day, and expected always to drop anything he’s doing to sympathize, counsel, or encourage those who ask his help. The pastor seldom has enough time to do everything — time is always one of his greatest needs.
I can remember being in many a pastor’s home, joining with him in tearful prayers for God to send helpers, workers and finances to lift the heavy load on him and his family. Ironically, I would think back to one of my college textbooks on church administration — it was written on the lofty example of a congregation numbering 1,000 in attendance, with a staff of dozens, though to my knowledge not one of those students went on to pastor a church of that size. Many pastors will never know what it is to have a paid staff, and must pray for volunteers to train and delegate responsibilities. Unfortunately, for most churches, the pastor wears more hats than he should endure, physically and emotionally. According to researcher George Barna, among the most discouraging aspects for pastors is the extensive range of duties they must fulfill that exceed their mix of gifts and talents.¹
Author James Rutz says that the average pastor often feels overwhelmed and lonely in his task. “He beats out his brains in the pulpit week after week to make a difference in people’s lives. But sometimes he feels like he’s been condemned to a lifetime of futility, trying in vain to motivate a sullen pack of foot dragging spiritual adolescents who never quite seem to see the big picture, never get excited enough to shoulder responsibilities, and never come anywhere close to a full 10% tithe.”²
(4) Resisting Manipulation .For many, this will sound unbelievable. But the pastor is a frequent target of manipulation and control. Sometimes people unintentionally take advantage of a pastor’s willing heart, and make requests and demands that begin to dominate his personal life. And then there are others who view the pastor like a politician, trying to lobby his favor or influence to attain a position, to favor their opinion, etc. But there are those who have a definite personality profile that feeds on being in control, and if they can’t get the pastor to do what they want, they’ll often turn on him and try to run him out. A prominent pastor once said, “There’s an old saying about pastors: If they can’t run God’s man, they’ll try to ruin him.”
Because of this or other sour experiences with people, pastors will sometimes distance themselves from close personal relationships. They may even refuse favors or monetary gifts directly from persons, unless they are given anonymously, since such gifts often have strings attached — perhaps unintentionally, the giver will often expect preferred treatment, recognition, or to have a “special influence” in the pastor’s decisions.
(5) Coping with Emotional Conflict.During the ministry of a pastor he will face challenges and strange conflicts in his emotions that he was never prepared for. This unique man most likely entered the ministry out of his divine calling, and his love for people. But he was probably surprised to learn that shepherding people was a life filled with wounds, hurts, and disappointment.
As the pastor faces his daily tasks, he will begin a ride an emotional roller-coaster. With each person he counsels or prays with, he will experience a momentary bond with their circumstances or burdens. During the course of a day he may console someone with a terminal illness, listen to trivial complaints, meet with a couple to discuss their marriage plans, or find it necessary to correct someone for their sinful lifestyle. He will go from one contrasting situation to another, and then within a short period, he will have to find a way to restore his composure from all these concerns to preach an encouraging, heartfelt sermon to the congregation.
Most others who deal with repeated crisis or trauma eventually learn how to develop a callousness in order to cope with the emotional upheaval of their jobs. Paramedics, police officers, or emergency room workers understand this all too well. However, when a pastor deals with a daily assortment of similar urgencies, unlike other emergency workers, he cannot distance his feelings from crisis. He cannot allow himself to become callous to protect his emotions from becoming involved. It’s the nature of his calling and his job to care. His flock expects him to be sensitive, a person of genuine compassion, to feel their hurts and to share their burdens.
(6) Coping with Disappointment.Furthermore, during his ministry, he will experience many disappointments and heartaches with people. Many will fail to do what they promised and disappoint him. Others will criticize, judge, speak against him, betray him or even seek to ruin him or his family. Some will try to gain his friendship for ulterior motives — to manipulate his influence for their own agenda. Many he loves will eventually leave the church for some reason… some will move away, others may backslide, become offended, or simply reject his ministry. Dozens of times, he will experience the loss of beloved members of the flock through death. Many, many are the wounds of a shepherd, that the flock never really understands.
(7) Dealing with Satanic Attack.The pastor and his family are targets of Satan’s greatest attacks. The enemy’s strategy is highly intelligent. If he can overturn the shepherd with temptations or trials, he can likely scatter the sheep. According to insurance statistics, ministers experience an unusually high rate of stress related illnesses (such as ulcers and nervous conditions), depression, marital difficulties, conflict with their children or family, financial problems, and so on. To complicate matters further, if he does face such challenges, some will criticize him as a spiritual failure.
(8) Perseverance.There will be numerous temptations for the pastor to simply quit. He must be a person of tremendous faith and prayer to overcome the many challenges — to set his face as a stone, with unflinching determination and steadfastness. The average layman will never realize the price his pastor must pay to be his shepherd — the heartaches he will endure to minister to men’s souls. Jesus, the Great Shepherd was a man acquainted with grief and sorrow, despised and rejected, and His under-shepherds and pastors also identify with these characteristics. How necessary it is that we pray for him, encourage him, show him love and not add to his list of wounds.
¹ Today’s Pastors, George Barna
² The Open Church, James H. Rutz
From The Book, “What People Ask About The Church,” #30
This article is reprinted by permission of Dale A Robbins and is copyrighted © by Dale A. Robbins, 1995, and is a publication of Victorious Publications, 13010 State Hwy 49, Grass Valley, CA 95949. You may download for personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before reproducing for any reason, by calling (916) 273-8475, or e-mail us at Victorious@comports.com. Unless otherwise stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
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