Not all the news about pastors is discouraging. Pastors feel privileged to be called to their places of ministry. They have a deep love for those they shepherd. Most of them could not conceive of doing anything else.
But please hear me: Many pastors are hurting.
LifeWay Research conducted a national survey of Protestant pastors. Among the questions they asked were two related to the hurts I noted above.
The Discouragement Factor
One of the key symptoms of the pain experienced by pastors is discouragement. Over one-half (55%) of pastors are presently discouraged. I suspect that if we surveyed pastors over just a few months, we would find that almost all of them experience deep discouragement.
Some interesting facts we discovered in our study:
- There was no pattern of discouragement related to the geographical location of the church.
- There was no pattern of discouragement related to the size of the church.
- There was no pattern of discouragement related to the educational level of the pastor.
- There was a significant pattern of discouragement related to the age of the pastor. The younger the pastor, the more likely he was to be discouraged.
The Loneliness Factor
Most pastors experience intense loneliness at times. When we conducted our survey, over one-half again (coincidentally the same number, 55%, as noted above) said they were lonely. Again remember that this survey was for a specific point in time.
Which pastors experience the greatest amount of loneliness? Our study noted some discernible patterns:
- There was no pattern of loneliness related to the geographical location of the church.
- Younger pastors were more likely to be lonely than older pastors.
- The larger the church, the greater the likelihood that the pastor was experiencing loneliness.
- The greater the education level of the pastor, the more likely he is to be lonely.
Why the Pervasive Discouragement and Loneliness?
Why are so many pastors struggling today? In an earlier article I wrote on pastoral depression, I noted the following possible reasons:
- Spiritual warfare. The Enemy does not want God’s servants to be effective in ministry. He will do whatever it takes to hurt ministers and their ministries.
- Unrealistic expectations. The expectations and demands upon a pastor are enormous. They are unrealistic. But if one person’s expectations are not met, that person can quickly let the pastor know that he is a failure.
- Greater platforms for critics. In “the good old days,” a critic was typically limited to telephone, mail, and in-person meetings to criticize a minister. Today the critics have the visible and pervasive platforms of email, blogs, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Failure to take time away from the church or place of ministry. Workaholism leads to burnout. Burnout leads to depression.
- Marriage and family problems. Too often the pastor neglects his family as he cares for the larger church family.
- Financial strains. Many pastors simply do not have sufficient income from the churches they serve. That financial stress can lead to depression. Some pastors do not know how to manage the money they do have, leading to further financial strain.
- The problem of comparison. Every pastor will always know of a church that is larger and more effective. Every pastor will always know of another pastor who seems more successful. The comparison game can be debilitating to some pastors.
This one thing I do know. Pastors need our prayers more than ever. They need our support and encouragement. I am committed to pray for my pastor every day, even if it’s only for a minute or so. Will you do the same? Our pastors pour out their lives for us daily. What can you do to help our pastors?
LifeWay Research contacted 1,000 Protestant pastors across the United States by telephone. The calling list was randomly drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Up to six calls were made to reach each sampled phone number. Each interview was conducted with the senior or solo pastor or equivalent position. Responses were weighted to reflect geographical distribution of Protestant churches. The sample provides 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.2%. Margins of error are higher for sub-groups.
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.