Pastors and Discontent: Should It Really Be Like This?

I read an article today by Matt Boswell from Redemption Church, called, “10 Things Pastors Hate to Admit Publicly.” I had two distinctive reactions when I read the post.

  • Wow! How did he get inside my head?
  • No Way! It shouldn’t be this way when you are privileged to serve Jesus Christ as a leader of the church. Is this kind of insecurity, frustration, anger and even dismay a necessary part of ministry?

Boswell makes 10 points. I’m not going to copy the entire post here – not sure what the ethics of that are, but it annoys me when I see articles from Voices copied in toto on other sites. But I will interact with his 10 points – each of which strikes me as both true and troublesome.

Each of these things is a daily reality in the lives of men of God who serve the people of God, but they are also admissions of our sinfulness and frailty. They represent what is but ought not be. The points below are from Matt Boswell’s post. The comments are mine.

#1. We Take It Personally When You Leave The Church. 

Check.

I’ve had families that were nothing but trouble, but when they finally left the church I felt a personal sense of injury. Of course, there might be a little bit of relief that the are now someone else’s problem, but that wound is still there. I’m not SuperDave after all – able to leap tall Deacons in a single bound.

#2. We Feel Pressure To Perform Week After Week.

Check.

I know (and regularly preach) that we are accepted by God’s grace because of the righteousness of Christ, not our own. But I also feel this internal pressure (and sometimes external) to perform well week by week. I sometimes feel like that guy with the plates on the old Ed Sullivan show. He keeps all the plates spinning on top of poles, but if he he stops his frenetic spinning, everything comes crashing to the ground.

#3. We Struggle With Getting Our Worth From Ministry.

Check.

If things go sour at Southern Hills, will I be any less loved by God, any less worthy as a person? Of course not. I was never worthy anyway. My worth is in Christ.

Why is it that if I know that and preach that, how come I struggle so much to FEEL that!

#4. We Regularly Think About Quitting.

Check.

Sometimes I want to quit, sometimes I want to quit Southern Hills. Regularly. Not quite weekly, but almost. A couple of months ago I had a difficult meeting where unfair accusations were made against someone I care a lot about. I was so mad I went home, got out my computer and sent my resume to about 10 or 12 churches on sbc.net that listed job openings

Really, I just wanted to run away. The good news is that at my age, churches just throw my resume in the trash (that’s another post entirely!). So, I’m stuck with SHBC and they are stuck with me. But that sense of wanting to run away comes often for me, as it does for many in ministry.

#5. We Say We Are Transparent – It’s Actually Opaque.

Check.

I used to revel in my transparency, putting my faults and failings out there for everyone to see. When my transparency was used by members to try to destroy me, I gradually became a little more opaque.

Here’s what I think – churches want you to admit that your clothes get dirty but they don’t want to see your dirty laundry in public. They want me to admit my imperfections and struggles, but only in general terms. No details.

I have found it best to have my closest friends outside the church.

#6. We Measure Ourselves By The Numbers.

Check.

I have Facebook friends who humblebrag their numbers – to the glory of God, of course! “Rejoicing today that I got to baptize 3 and 2 families joined the church. God is good.” Others have become almost obsessive about disdaining numerical growth – as if it is a sign of shame that people are being baptized and the church is getting bigger. We Baptists have a tumultuous relationship with numbers, don’t we?

But there is in each of us a tendency to measure our worth by our church’s key numbers. It is sad, but true.

When I was pastor in rural Virginia, we had weekly associational pastors meetings with lunches. We’d go into the sanctuary for the meeting before hitting the fellowship hall for fried chicken. Each church had one of those number reporting boards, and you could almost see everyone staring at the board and calculating how their numbers compared to that church’s.

When the meeting was at my church, I had a little fun, switching the numbers around. Our attendance had been 139, but that became 931, etc. I switched all the numbers around. Drakes Branch had really had a GREAT week. After the meeting, as we were walking out, I said loudly, “Wow, somehow these numbers all got mixed up.” Yep. They’d noticed!

I wish my church’s current numbers were better than they are. I wish we baptized more, attracted more, lost fewer, collected more. There is a not a number at Southern Hills I wouldn’t like to see on the rise. But my worth is in Christ, not the numbers.

#7 We Spend More Time Discouraged Than Encouraged.

Check.

What an amazing privilege it is to preach God’s Word and lead God’s people. It really is. But the way we preachers whine, you’d think that we were tasked with cleaning backed up sewer systems.

But the fact is that even though I realize what a great privilege my job is, I hate it pretty often. Some of my people read my blogs, so I won’t get specific, but there are many times that I do not love what I do.

You need not offer pious platitudes. I know that admission is neither spiritual nor honorable. But it is what I feel from time to time. Why is it that we who are tasked with such a glorious duty spend so much time in discouragement and despair? Should it be that way?

The pressure can be intense and the stakes are high. This is not a new experience either. Read biographies of great leaders in church history and many struggled with depression.

Why? Why do the undershepherds of Christ spend so much time struggling with anger and discouragement?

#8. We Worry About What You Think.

Check.

This has been one of my biggest struggles – the fear of man and the desire to be liked.

I know I ought to care only about what God thinks of me and my ministry, and someday I hope that will be true. But today, I still care about what people think.

#9. We Struggle With Competition And Jealousy.

Check.

This was a huge issue for me, one God’s Spirit deal with me strongly about. I still struggle with it at times. Other pastors in town who preach the Word are not my competition, but my fellow-laborers in Christ.

Too often I forget that. How about you?

#10. We Feel Like We Failed You More Than We Helped You.

Guilt. Daily guilt. Did I do enough? Could I have done more?

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up on a Friday thinking, “I need to go visit Mrs. Whomever.” I am sure it was a prompting from the Spirit, but I got busy with my day and procrastinated the visit. I was awakened the next morning by a phone call that she had died. I went over and visited with the family, apologizing for not going the day before, but feeling guilty all the while.

My Point

I could analyze this all day, but my point is much simpler than that. I’ve talked to enough pastors to know that my feelings are not unique. We struggle with these identity issues, satisfaction issues, self-criticism and all the things that Matt Boswell mentioned. These issues are real.

But why? Why can’t we find our security in Christ and trust his sovereign work in the church?

I wish I had the answers.

 

Comments

  1. William Thornton says

    This is pretty good. I’d agree with you and him.

    On #7, being discouraged more than encouraged. I am unwilling to surrender to my emotions. If I am discouraged more than encouraged then it’s my fault and I need to put more energy in things that encourage me or try and be more conscious of the things that are encouraging.

    There are antidotes to most of these. I always hated it when people leave the church, at least until the time we had a few folks leave and a deacon told me they were going to give me a trophy for it.

    I think there are perfectly good reasons behind most of these points. It’s related to the recent post on unbiblical pastoral duties.

  2. Tom Bryant says

    I read the original post. Then I read this post. I thought about writing something, but knew I’d probably get flamed. Do we really think the pastorate is the only place these feelings occur. I spoke with a guy who owns a lawn mower ownership. He is successful, but in talking to him he said variations of post numbers 1,2,3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9.

    I guess I am growing to despise posts like this because it sounds like whining about “how hard we have it.” “No body understands all that we go through”. The ministry is work which means that it requires effort and we expend energy. Sometimes, I think we’re just whiners. I think this especially in a week where we will remember the beating, scourging and death of the Lord Jesus.

    By the way, I’ve been in the ministry for over 30 years. I am now in my 16th year at our church. So I’ve seen the problems and felt some of these same complaints. But we’re not the only ones who feel this way. The rest of them just man up and don’t whine.

    • Dave Miller says

      Tom, I would agree that we shouldn’t complain to our people about the struggles of the job, but I think we need to support one another.

      Maybe you are just better wired and things don’t bother yoy, but there are a lot of struggling and hurting men in ministry out there.

      Simply calling them whiners and exhorting them to man up is probably not helpful.

      • says

        Dave
        Very well said. I deal with pastors every day. They are not whiners; they many times are hurting and the hurt is ill deserved much of the time. I have found that many times all this “whiner” wants is a listening ear from someone who has been there, another pastor. Certainly we can listen to a brother pastor without thinking him a whiner. It’s not rocket science.

      • William Thornton says

        And yet, I have never been in an association where pastors did not regularly compare woes among each other. There is a value to this, I suppose, whatever emotional release and assuagement that comes from sharing common burdens. Wouldn’t you say that there is a point where this is unhealthy?

        If most of us pastor flat or declining churches, what must be the topic of conversation when we get together?

        • Dave Miller says

          There is of course a balance between what you describe and the “man up and stop whining” admonition from Tom.

          In Iowa there are a lot of lonely and hurting pastors. I’d rather help them than just tell then to stop whining.

        • says

          William
          I have been in those meetings and yes it can be unhealthy. However each other is really all we have on which we can “unload”. For many reasons we cannot share many things with people other than a fellow pastor.

          As a DOM I build into every retreat and many other pastor gatherings a time when my pastors feel comfortable and secure in sharing some rather personal concerns. Almost always there is one or more pastors who has gone through the experience being discussed who can offer great help. I see this as being healthy.

          • Dale Pugh says

            It is VERY healthy, sir. And good for you as a DOM for encouraging pastors in this way. I had a DOM who did that for me, and it’s one of the reasons I’m still going in ministry 20 years later.
            It is difficult for pastors to do this “opening up” to one another sometimes. We are just like anyone else–proud, self-sufficient, fearful–and we do not wish to appear vulnerable or weak. We are, though, and it is only when we admit that we have needs that we will find those needs met in the fellowship of others who can understand. It is a tremendous lesson to teach pastors to be encouragers to one another.

          • William Thornton says

            A steady diet of complaints, vents, and whines is emotionally and professionally very unhealthy. I feel sure that you as a DOM recognized this and took steps to move conversations in a more positive, solution-oriented direction.

    • Dean Stewart says

      Tom, did you call the lawn mower guy whinny? It seems on the surface you have compassion on the mower man and then seem to say a pastor who feels the same way is somehow less than a man. I find it hard to believe you are not hurt when people you care about letter out of your church. Anyway, I am friends with literally hundreds of pastors and some are hurt, burnt out, discouraged, confused, want to quit, etc… I have honestly had one episode like that in my life. My ministry brought me no joy. I bumped into a classmate from college. Not being my usual jolly self he asked what was wrong. I told him I wanted to quit. He replied brother we need a man like you on the wall. Don’t quit, we need you. I know that is not the case but still he encouraged me so much. I pray when I encounter a pastor who is discouraged I respond like my friend did and not play macho man and say suck it up.

      • says

        Dean
        I like what you say very much. Even little things mean a lot. I had a pastor whom I respected a great deal, years ago tell me I was a good preacher. I know that I was not but to hear him say that was such an encouragement. It made me want to work hard at actually being a “good” preacher. Now that is not a big thing but it does illustrate the fact that encouragement can be a motivator.

      • tom bryant says

        As a matter of fact, he called himself whinny. He simply said, “it is what it is”. I am not that much different from any of you. I’ve been forced out as a Pastor. But there are pastors who make a living out of the poor me syndrome and enjoy their misery.

        I just listen to pastors who minister in 3rd world countries and have been persecuted for their faith. They aren’t the ones complaining about how hard they have it.

        I guess I am wired differently. Hope you all have a great day and an amazing Easter.

  3. Dave Miller says

    Here’s what i felt when i read this – someone else feels what I feel. That doesn’t make it okay but it makes me feel a little better on the journey.

  4. says

    There are few other jobs in which the results are largely not up to us–unless of course we totally blow it and get bad results. And when it goes good all of the praise is given to another (and this is right).

    I agree with Tom that at times we are just being whiners. But I also agree with Dave that the way to admonish and encourage them is not to tell them to suck it up and get back to work. It’s to encourage them with the Lord.

    Have you guys read The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson and/or Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp?

    As a pastor that occasionally struggles with fits of melancholy and discouragement I’ve found these quite beneficial.

  5. dr. james willingham says

    Recently, a friend of mine passed away. I had the privilege of writing his eulogy which was read by his pastor during the funeral service. Both of us had the experience of pastoring only plateaued and declining churches. We simply seemed unable to reverse the situations. In any case, the fellow who had been raised an Orthodox Jew and was one of the most careful exegetes I ever heard said to me, “We have our reward in Heaven.” And one can never tell what will come of one convert. Everyone remembers D.L. Moody, but who remembers Ed Kimball, the faithful Sunday School teacher who won Moody to Christ.

    Sometimes there are pastors who are the bridges over which the churches move to the people who follow who will reap the blessing that has been sown. During the past 10 years I got hold of the Associational giving records, an association in which I had pastored. At that time, my church was 4th or 5th in giving to support the association, but in the more recent records the records indicated that it was first or second in giving to the association. The associational giving, if memory serves correctly, corresponded with giving to home and foreign missions. Our Lord says by His apostle that one sows and another reaps. Both profit from the efforts put forth. Most of our pastors need encouragement. Today, they are pastoring in a hostile environment; the stress on them and their members is growing daily. Soon, we might face real persecution. The author of a book on the Moslem threat, for example, was sued by a Moslem organization (never mind that he was only addressing the terrorist types). His legal bills already amount to a $500,000 and before the year is out they will likely reach one million dollars. The new interpretation of freedom of religion is freedom from religion. We might well be near the point that if one opens his or her mouth about faith in Christ, he or she will face a law suit – a rather expensive proposition.

  6. Tarheel says

    If I may agree with Tom a little here….as I had similar thoughts when I read the OP.

    Are we as Christians (we’re that first then pastors) called to be happy or are we called to be faithful and holy? At the end if Acts 5 after the apostles hadexperienced some real persecution what did they do? They thanked and to praised God for the glory of being worthy to suffer in the name of Christ.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t share our burdens with trusted brethren in private settings, or that we shouldn’t be appropriately transparent before our people….

    But to act as if we’re the only ones with stress or more of it or the only ones that go to work sometimes not wanting to be there, or come home determined to quit, or think the grass is greener elsewhere I think we’re merely fooling ourselves and – should we do it too much- creating in our people a thinking that we are constantly just a inch away from bailing and it’s all thief fault because they are hard to deal with.

    I also wonder how many church members go home determined not to come back to ‘that church’ or sit under ‘that pastor’ anymore? How many if them, after dealing with their own stressful jobs and families, come to church and ‘endure’ all the stresses there?

    Might we say of a church member who posts an article like this one about their church experience to ‘man up’?

  7. Tarheel says

    “If most of us pastor flat or declining churches, what must be the topic of conversation when we get together?”

    I’m not sure if you’re contending so….but I don’t think it should be about how tough our jobs are and how bad our people are….

    Perhaps exporting one another toward good works and the importance of remainng faithful to The Lord, the word, our people and our calling might be a better and more helpful topics?

    • William Thornton says

      I’m saying that because most SBC pastors are in flat or declining churches (numerically of course, not that such is the proper metric, it’s just the one we use) they are more likely to be sharing negative church issues and anecdotes. That is what I found over the years coming out of interaction with colleagues. At some point this is unhealthy.

  8. Jon says

    Thanks Dave, I needed this. I know other people get discouraged at their jobs and want to quit, but for me the pastorate has a different kind of stress and guilt. If I don’t want mow a lawn, I can still go and mow it without feeling like a hypocrite. I don’t feel guily for not wanting to mow the lawn. But on the days or weeks when I feel like the only reason I don’t quit being a pastor is so I can feed my family and pay my bills, I feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world.

  9. Roxann says

    I am glad that they throw away your resumes. I would really hate to see you leave. I will admit sometimes I don’t like your messages. But it is because I needed to hear it and do something about it. Your telling it like it is, isn’t always easy to listen to, but I prefer it to your favorite tv pastor. Hang in there and know that I love you.

  10. Jeff Johnson says

    Elijah felt alone in his ministry and wanted to die. The Psalms are filled with King David’s laments over being persecuted and forsaken. The apostle Paul grieved over ministry partners who had left him. He had his own thorn in the flesh which he begged to be removed; Paul, too, had to be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient. These are not men we normally would describe as whiny. We can’t bear each other’s burdens (as Galatians 6:2 commands us) unless we share our burdens with one another.

  11. says

    I have an extremely high view of the office of Pastor. Obviously that will taint my feelings on this issue.The fact that some Pastors make an art form out of whining and griping is undeniable. However, I do not think that they are any where in the majority. In fact after 27 years of pastoring and 20 years of DOMing, my observation is that they are in the minority. Those who excel in whining do not last long, again just my observation, exceptions of course.

    There is one definitive factor that is very relevant. Namely, our task has eternal consequences, a lawn mowers does not. When we blow it or do a lousy job it has a Kingdom effect. That will stress any pastor who is serious about his task. That is pressure like no other. I realize that it is the Spirits task to do what only the Spirit can do. However, he uses us may times as an instrument in preaching, ministry etc.

    I undertand the argument, but to tell a “whiner” to “man up”, I just cant’t get there…again IMO

  12. Paulette says

    We are not supposed to know all our Pastor’s struggles and burdens, but we are supposed to pray for him daily. We are not supposed to put him on a pedestal and worship him, but we are supposed to respect him. We don’t need to brag about him because that only belongs to the Lord, but we are not supposed to criticize him, either. We are only called to love and encourage him. The Church does not belong to the Pastor or to the family that was born and raised in it. The Church belongs to Christ. We are His Bride. When we condemn instead of encourage our Pastor, we are injuring the Church, the Bride of Christ. Two months ago our Pastor took his own life. We are all heartbroken and struggling to stay together. Blaming ourselves and others is the Devil’s game. He is the author of the blame game. Instead of offering advice to us, please just pray for us.

    • says

      Dear Father, Bless and comfort this hurting faith family. Give then understanding, grace, and love as they continue onward. In the name of our Savior, Amen

  13. Keith Price says

    I know that people in all vocations get discouraged. Some are legitimate, some are just being whiney. Some need a carrot, some need a stick. People in all vocations get “whiney.” Some so much so that they are like poison and need to go. I have felt all of these in both “secular” and “ministry” (although I loath the distinction) jobs. However, I will admit that the feelings of discouragement seem to be worse in the role of pastor. Maybe it is because the stakes are so high? Maybe it is because I can’t “encourage” them by saying “did I mention that your job is at stake here?”

    I wonder if Jesus felt discouraged that his message of repentance was not being heeded as he wept over Jerusalem?

  14. says

    There is an apparent disparity between the ideal and the real. We can point to the scriptures and see what it’s supposed to be like, but then we observe the way things work and we see that it’s a completely different thing. True ministry bridges the two and tries to make them closer. But there will always be difficult tension that seems likely to tear each of us, pastor and laity, apart. The good news is that we don’t need to worry that our own strength is what is keeping us together for it is the power of God that indwells each of us who are genuine believers.

  15. Mike Bergman says

    When I see discussions like this, especially connected to a pastor’s emotional experience, it doesn’t seem like we too often bring up Hebrews 13:7 or Philippians 2…

    To the first, it’s true a pastor may not have all the same time or physical stressors of some of his congregation, but there is a different nature to part of the stress… It’s the only “job” that talks about giving an account to God for the lives of those he leads. Thus a command, “let them do this with joy, not grief.”

    To the second, Paul rooted the completeness of his joy in the church being Christ-like…

    So there is a sense, that: 1) we pastors must do a better job at finding joy in Christ, and 2) we must not skirt over the very real issues of mental illnesses in some struggles; but 3) if so many pastors are dealing with true discouragement, then the churches must contemplate the question: “Are we doing all we can to grow and live in Christlikeness in order to bring joy to our pastors?”

  16. Christiane says

    Anyone in a caring profession is required to show empathy towards the suffering of one who comes for their help, but because of the nature of empathy, it will take a toll on the caregiver over time.

    Why is this?

    Because unlike ‘sympathy’ which is expressing sorrow for another’s situation, ‘empathy’ goes one step further and ‘comes along side’ the sufferer and is ‘with them’, not just ‘observing’ from one remove.

    The toll ?

    A pastor who is empathic will experience ‘bearing the burdens’ of the person who is suffering, with all that implies. IF a pastor has no one to turn to himself with these cares and burdens, he may grow depressed over time, certainly becoming ‘burned out’ from the sadness of his experience. The more effective the pastor, the more he may be affected by the experiences of BEING empathic towards the suffering of others . . . and since the pastor is human, the more an effective pastor will ALSO need someone or a group to share what he has experienced and been affected by in caring for others.

    I don’t see any other way out for a Christian pastor than to BE empathic, to go through the process of experiencing the sadness and pain of others himself in caring for them, and ALSO to responsibly find help for himself in unburdening these cares by sharing them within a trusted relationship with his own counselor, who likely will be another pastor OR, if he is lucky, a spiritual adviser who knows exactly what is happening with that pastor.

    So, it’s not ‘whining’. It’s a necessity in order to keep emotional balance for a pastor to have someone he can talk to who can help him ‘reset’ so that he doesn’t burn-out. Seeking out his own appropriate counselor(s) IS the responsible thing to do.

  17. says

    Someone once said that it is the fear of failure that drive us to excellence. From that perspective, it may well be that some of the points you express above contribute to your being as good a pastor and preacher as you are.

    Recognize, but don’t lament.

    #3 and #6 … perhaps it is that we desire objective countable things to point to, as evidence that we’re marching in time with the light He gives us. I’d imagine we’d want a different means to analyze our obedience, but maybe that’s all they teach pastoral candidates. I don’t know.

    #7 and #8 are directly related to the previous paragraph.

    I trust you have some solid guys with whom you’re close enough to tell you the truth of what they see you’re doing in your role there. The good and the “not-so-good” (cough cough .. if there IS any).

    This is a really good article and it’s good that you put it up here. People need to know this stuff. And some other stuff I think I’ll send you an email about. Probably. Maybe.

    Be blessed.

  18. says

    To the ten things: yep, yep, yep, yep, yep yep, yep, yep, yep, and in conclusion, YEP. And I somehow feel a little better just saying all that. Thank you.