Pastors and discouragement
A recent post sparked some comments on pastors and discouragement. Bene asked:
If you don’t mind me asking, why is it that clergy more than most professions tend to take criticism and fickleness personally and hard? It seems to be a profession of extremes, where care-givers are quite sensitive or some are so hard-headed they’d crack cement.:^)
That sparked a few comments, generally agreeing that pastors can be a sensitive bunch. Before I offer a few theories, I need to make a couple of disclaimers. First, pastors should be allowed to have bad days. Everyone else does. I had two this week, more cold-related than anything else. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do. Second, I don’t think that we should feel too sorry for pastors. It’s easy for any group to play victim, but you really don’t get anywhere. Pastors have stress, but so does everyone else, so it’s hard to feel especially sorry for them. (Sorry if that sounds insensitive to my fellow pastors.) I don’t get discouraged too often. I’ve learned that if you live and die by the attendance or offering (bad but commonly used indicators of success), you live and die every week. If you care too much or too little about what people think, you won’t last long in ministry. When I came to Richview, the odds in my favor weren’t very good. Statistics are that a new pastor who immediately follows a pastor with a long tenure (23 years in my case) will last only two or three brutal years. I came knowing that ministry would probably be tough for a few years (it was), that I had to take a long view, and that I had to have a life outside of the church. Do I get discouraged? Yes, occasionally. When I do, it’s not because of what someone else has said. It’s usually because I look at my life, look at the job, and realize the two don’t match up. I guess this is where I should remind myself of God, but I sometimes just think I should be doing a better job. The answer to that, in my life, has been quotes like Peterson’s. I’m only one of many sinners in the church, with a different role perhaps, but I’m not the answer to every problem. I need to be myself, authentic, growing, humble. I need to remind myself that God uses weakness. Then I’m okay once again, okay in my brokenness and in God’s sufficiency. I found an article on Stress and Burnout in the Ministry, which you can read if you’d like. Some interesting dynamics are mentioned there (idealistic expectations, lack of clearly defined boundaries, etc.). One more note. I met with a new friend yesterday who works with the persecuted church around the world. After meeting with him, it was hard to think of anything as insignificant as a cranky deacon or someone who just left the church. The world really does have bigger problems.