To my roughly fifteen Pastors in six congregations of four mainline denominations over my forty-nine years in the church.
Greetings in Christ from your brother in the pew.
For those outside the church, if they wander across this letter, let me unpack what is meant by the word Pastor.
Pastors fulfill their calling (vocation) in public ministry, shepherding their flock (John 21:15-19), and raising them up to be disciples (students and followers) of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). They preach the good news of God’s rescue of us from the fruits of our own rebellion (Romans 10:15, 1 Corinthians 9:14, 16, 2 Timothy 4:2, 17). And, they faithfully administer the sacraments (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29).
Sounds great! So why am I writing?
The purpose of this letter is one of encouragement.
I have noticed that the job description above is what might be described as “the recruiting poster“. Sometimes recruiting posters fail to describe the activity in the trenches. Let me describe the trenches for the benefit of outsiders and for the encouragement of all Pastors.
I want pastors to know that someone out there “gets it” and that someone out there is praying for them.
What pressures do Pastors face on a daily basis?
- Spiritual Pressure – To quote Paul in Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God… Pray, stay alert, persevere, and intercede.”
- Public Pressure – Pastors work in PUBLIC. Their good days are public. Their bad days are also very public. The scrutiny is tremendous.
- Effectiveness Pressure – Pastors are expected to mentor babies in the faith AND to develop mature disciples (Hebrews 5:12-13, 1 Peter 2:2). This balance is almost impossible to achieve. Simple sermons bore those who crave “meat” and Greek and Hebrew exposition lose the “young” toddlers in the faith.
- Image Pressure – Pastors families are public. This one hurts the most in my view. The pressure of having a photogenic and behaviorally-perfect family is a source of many stressful days and tear-filled nights for Pastor, their wife, and children.
- Cultural Pressure – Pastors stand in the “no-man’s land” between the trenches of church culture combatants. There seems to be no safe place to stand when the old guard and the new guard are both taking well-placed shots to move you toward their entrenched positions, to join their side, and to drive the others back, out, or away. Some Pastors choose sides and wage war. Others try desperately to “blend the trenches” and are criticized by both armies without mercy it seems. No matter the approach the Pastor finds himself “without a country” emotionally, and often this is in the center of church life, namely worship.
- Administrative Pressure – The organizational and administrative pressures have increased to an all-consuming level in some congregations. Pastors often have academic abilities to study, write, and teach. Others have affective abilities to encourage, listen, and give wise counsel. Still others have a servant’s heart to know who needs what and when. But few can do all these things AND run a board, manage the office, untangle human resources regulations, understand health plans for employees, wisely choose retirement packages for employees, and make necessary hiring, firing, and promotion decisions.
- Health Pressure – Trying to do it all has led to many health problems in Pastors over the years. Or if they are in good health, now, there is no margin. If they have a health issue, there is very little play in the joints for backup and assistance. This takes a great toll on the mental health of a Pastor.
- Political Pressure – I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up with a rising pressure that many dislike the most. There are mounting political pressures on pastors. Pressures from within the congregation to take a stand and to speak out on behalf of the congregation. Pressures within to NEVER do that. Pressures from without to comply with secular culture’s demands and fads. Everything is politicized to tbe benefit of no one.
Pascal’s Law in fluid mechanics says that “pressure in a confined incompressible fluid is omnidirectional and omnipresent inside the container“.
From my perspective pastors live in an incompressible fluid.
Living, working, and loving under omnidirectional, omnipresent pressure with no near-term end in sight (because that is the nature of your calling) is impossible…without God.
“…what is impossible with man, is possible with God…” – Jesus describing the likelihood of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Luke 18:27
Pastors (and all other disciples) are called to be “impossible people” as Os Guinness wrote.
May God in His grace empower us to fulfill our impossible callings:
- to respond with love when insulted
- to seek wisdom in every decision
- to gather advisers and to take their advice
- to trust our brothers and sisters in Christ
- to trust again after that trust has been violated
- and to DAILY worship and pray to Him from whom all blessings flow
May God bless you and keep you, Pastor, (and your family also). May God lift up His countenance upon you. And most precious of all, may God grant you His peace in this IMPOSSIBLE life. -Amen
Your brother in Christ,