Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why is pastoral ministry so stressful?

"The reasons may be as numerous and unique as there are pastors. However, recent research is unanimous in citing the following problem areas: the disparity between (somewhat idealistic) expectations and hard reality; lack of clearly defined boundaries - tasks are never done; workaholism ('bed-at-the-church' syndrome); the Peter Principle - feeling of incompetence in leading an army of volunteers; conflict in being a leader and servant at the same time ('line-support contamination'); intangibility - how do I know I'm getting somewhere?; confusion of role identity with self image - pastors derive too much self-esteem from what they do; time management problems (yet pastors have more 'discretionary time' than any other professional group); paucity of 'perks'; multiplicity of roles; inability to produce 'win-win' conflict resolutions; difficulty in managing interruptions; the 'little adult' syndrome (Dittes) - clergy are too serious, they have difficulty being spontaneous; preoccupation with 'playing it safe' to avoid enraging powerful parishioners; 'administration overload' - too much energy expended in areas of low reward; loneliness - the pastor is less likely to have a close friend than any other person in the community." Roland Croucher


  1. Yes, the older I get the more I think that pastoring is incredibly hard. It seems to me that it is very hard for people in ministry positions to maintain a healthy sense of self (perhaps characterised by diverse things such as spontenaity, humility, self-care) in the face of all the assumptions, expectations and scrutiny that come with the role. I can understand that this produces enormous pressure, which easily results in the desire to have some expression of what is felt to be one's 'authentic self' in unhealthy things such as pornography/overspending/overeating/affairs. From where I'm standing, you and Andrew seem to do a good job in the face of this challenge.

  2. You could summarise that whole post with "it's tough because it involves other people"...

  3. Yeah - although doctors, nurses, counsellors, teachers all spend an enormous amount of time caring for people and I don't think they confront these issues to the same degree (though of course they deal with some of these issues, to some degree.)

  4. I imagine doctors, nurses, counsellors and teachers would feel the same way if they were constantly on call.

  5. Wow - that's quite a list. So Simone, Jo says you and Andrew manage well - what's the secret? How much (if at all) does a consistently strong sense of calling have a part to play? What about personality? Do cultural aspects make a difference? ie a dutch lady was telling me recently that the clergy in Holland (maybe when she was younger - not sure) were both paid and respected in the same way as doctors - and had to study for seven years, too. What secret ingredient makes some ministers able to stick it out and others not?

  6. Hey Cath - Jo was being kind! We've only stuck at it for 7 years. We've hopefully got another 30 to go.

    I don't think 'calling' as such has much to do with it for us, nor the other things. I think Jo's on the money when she talks about maintaining a healthy sense of self. Which is so hard to do.

  7. I blog. And write stuff. And exercise.

    Andrew runs.

  8. Some thoughts...

    Doctors, Nurses, Counsellors and Teachers in general have better support structures, and more defined hours and responsibilities. They have worked hard as a group to define boundaries, and have developed cultural expectations about who they are and what their job is. A lot of this is supported and/or mandated by government with the resources to "make it stick".

    I don't think churches - and that's looking at both the congregational and the denominational level - have done as well at supporting their own full time and part time ministry workers in setting expectations, and well-meaning workaholics (who have burned themselves and/or their families out) haven't helped.

    This is a hard culture to change - particularly in smaller, disparate congregations with 1 full-time worker and little/no congregational support.

    And in addition to "it's dealing with people" it's dealing with people that have a conscious/unconscious feeling of "ownership" on the church or even the person "they appointed" and so their expectations are stronger, as are their reactions when things aren't to their liking.

    On the other hand, it's one of the few jobs where you are privileged to be 100% working for the kingdom (which is not often given the double honour it's worth).

  9. Thanks Simone. Thanks for those comments, too, Mark. That last paragraph (of Mark's comment) is a biggie - the fact is, no matter what the issues, there is no getting away from the fact that the Bible speaks of ministry as an honour, to be held in honour, and profoundly honourable. Important to be reminded of that in the face of everything else, I guess!
    Could I also add (because I've had a rotten day and I feel like whining) these things sound way, way too familiar to ME right now:
    Paucity of perks, inability to produce 'win-win' conflict resolutions, difficulty in managing interruptions,confusion of role identity with self-image, lack of clearly defined boundaries... etc etc. Maybe pastoral ministry bears many similarities to raising young children...

  10. A further thought - ministry is perhaps the only profession where the worker's spouse (generally wife in most churches) is expected to do the same job, despite any career/gifts or other role she has - mother, carer, etc. No other job requires the wife to be present at the job interview or have her activities examined as to the appropriateness of the pastor's appointment (except maybe the head of state's wife). No doctor's wife is asked to give talks on health and nutrition at the hospital, unless she also is a medical professional and is being paid for it. No lawyer's wife is expected to come into the office and answer phones. No teacher's wife is expected by the clients of the school (students parents) to mark the students exams. No psychologist's patients ring up his wife at home to ask advice. No other profession has so few boundaries between the work of the husband and the husband/wife/family relationship. And this attitude of saying that it is okay to "rob the worker of her wages" is perpetuated by such things as requiring a wife to all but sign on the dotted line that she is willing to run the children's program at church (quite apart from her giftings or other commitments) not to mention be the women's bible study administrator, and social event coordinator and sometimes speaker before the husband is hired or considered suitable or the best bet for the job. I think it doesn't help the spiritual growth of the pewsitter to teach them that this is an appropriate and Christian way to treat full time Christian workers and their families. It's also not Christian for pastors of churches to be workaholics and by example teach church members, particularly those who take on voluntary roles of "leadership" to also think that Christian workaholism is somehow more spiritual.

  11. Thanks Simone. I read your blog occasionally. You always manage to provoke a response within me:)

    The self image thing is enormous I think. Massive. With all the talk at the mo about church planting and the uncensored fascination with the success of Driscoll et al, we (I mean me!!) beginners really need to get ourselves sorted before we start and keep getting ourselves sorted as we go along.

    An identity built around growing the kingdom rather than a identity built around the King of the kingdom is very different and will more than likely lead to disaster.

  12. Naomi- true. The wife of pastor is a funny thing to be. It's hard not to buy into all the expectations. Perhaps we feel more responsible than we should... I think we do it to try to take some pressure off our husbands.

    Al- Thanks for commenting out loud! An identity built around the king of the kingdom is a great way of looking at it. Harder though.