By Joy Allmond
It’s no secret that pastoring is a calling that comes with many demands—pressure to please everyone in the congregation, a burden to keep church finances healthy, and carrying the weight of church growth.
And while pastors work to meet these demands, many of their own needs—namely, emotional needs—go unmet.
A 2016 Lifeway Research study found that nearly half (48%) of current and former pastors said the demands of ministry often felt like more than they could handle.
But a closer look at the disparities between the responses of those who had left the pastorate and those who remained tell a hard-hitting story:
- 21% of current pastors vs. 49% of former pastors believed their church had unrealistic expectations.
- 35% of current pastors vs. 62% of former pastors reported feeling isolated.
- 89% of current pastors vs. 68% of former pastors felt free to say no to unrealistic expectations.
- 92% of current pastors vs. 61% of former pastors believed their congregation provides genuine encouragement to their family.
The pressures of unrealistic expectations, feelings of isolation, and lack of encouragement point to just a few of many pastors’ unmet emotional needs.
We recently reached out to several pastors with the open-ended question, “What are some unmet emotional needs you see in pastors? This could be for yourself or any other pastors you’ve known/observed.”
Here are some of the responses:
“They need to feel confident that their job is more than financial. Many pastors believe that if the tithes don’t increase, they’ll be fired. Most churches see decreasing tithes as a sign of God’s judgment against that pastor. It creates a mountain of stress and fear on the pastor that keeps him from doing outreach or missions or repairing a building at the church. If a pastor felt the emotional security that comes from a trusting congregation, he would have less stress and more confidence to lead as the Lord directs.”
“Having someone to look up to and model yourself after. Someone you can spend time with and not feel like you don’t have to be ‘on’ and potentially mobilize yourself on a moment’s notice to care for them.”
“There is so much ‘Dear pastors …’ advice these days from people who don’t know what it is like to lead. I also think that as much as pastors need empathy in the way they lead, members need empathy for their pastors, who are often having to make hard decisions, to see a lot of humans suffering and sin up close and are in need of their own rest and sabbath and joy. “
4. Assurance of adequacy
“Pastors are expected to live and lead by faith, not fear. While this is a fair expectation, the reality is that we do not always live up to that expectation—even from ourselves. We have bad days, even dark days, but the pressure to perform and produce does not go away on any day.”
“We fear failure in preaching because each Sunday we have an oral exam. We fear failure at home because our expectations are often unrealistic and unbiblical. We fear failure in private because our Boss is always watching us. We fear failure in public because our members are often watching us. We fear failure in front of our peers because we struggle with comparing and competing.”
“Pastors are not merely disciple-makers; we are disciples who need to be discipled and encouraged regularly, otherwise we will fall prey to our own fears.”
Joy is the managing editor of LifewayResearch.com.
Watch a conversation between Lifeway President and CEO Ben Mandrell and The Emotionally Healthy Leader author Pete Scazzero that addressed emotional health issues and the current season that has taken a toll on many leaders.