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Pastors At Risk

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We've all heard news reports and stories recently about moral and financial disasters affecting well respected high profile pastors. Most of us probably thought, "That could never happen to my pastor." But the possibility that your pastor may be at risk has never been greater. According to the 1991 Survey of Pastors conducted by the Fuller Institute of Church Growth, 90 percent of pastors work more than 46 hours a week. Eighty percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively. Thirty-three percent said that being in ministry was an outright hazard to their families. Fifty percent feel unable to meet the needs of the job. Seventy percent say that they have lower self esteem now than when they started out. Forty percent reported a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month. Thirty percent confessed having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church. And 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend. Pastors are at risk more now than ever due to the pressures placed on them and their families, and knowing these statistics can help to remind churches that their pastors do not walk on water.

Focus on the Family recently conducted a survey of 5,000 pastors, and the results of this survey are sobering. Forty percent of pastors responding said they had considered leaving their pastorates in the past three months. Pastors reported that their foremost difficulty was keeping their family lives and ministry responsibilities in balance. Their second greatest frustration was in motivating people to live consistent lives and help the church fulfill the Great Commission. It's not only pastors who are struggling--the struggle extends to pastors' wives as well. More than half of the pastors' wives responding to the Focus survey reported that they were severely depressed. In his book Pastors at Risk, Rev. H.B. London identifies several hazards faced by pastors today. The first hazard is the "walk on water" syndrome: the assumption on the part of many people that their pastor is somehow superhuman. Unfortunately, some pastors begin to believe this lie as well, and begin to act as if they are superhuman and to resist accountability. A second hazard is disastrous personal problems.

A recent survey conducted by Leadership magazine revealed what pastors think about work, home and lifestyles. Ninety-four percent of pastors feel pressured to have an ideal family. Twenty-four percent have received or are receiving marital counseling. Twenty-two percent seek supplemental income to make ends meet, and 28 percent feel their current compensation is inadequate. Sixty-nine percent of pastors' spouses work outside the home to make ends meet. The top problems in clergy marriages are insufficient time, use of money, income level, communication difficulties, and congregational expectations. Your pastor's family is just like your own; they have money difficulties, problems with time pressures, and intimacy problems between husband and wife. But when you add the problem experienced by many pastoral families of "living in a fishbowl" and constantly being scrutinized by others you can see why so many pastors are at risk of failure. A third hazard experienced by pastors is church migration. It has been estimated that 80 percent of church growth in recent years is a result of people moving from one church to another. This migration works to the advantage of megachurches and to the detriment of the average smaller congregation.

A fourth hazard for pastors today is that electronic technology shapes preferences. Why go to church to hear an average sermon when you can tune in a fantastic pastor on TV? Hazard number five is that people are busier, more distracted, and live more hectic lives; therefore, the church becomes just another item on the calendar rather than a predominant influence. A sixth hazard for pastors is that a consumer mentality saturates the American way of life. Other hazards include suffocating expectations of the congregation, a loss of absolutes in our society, money struggles, dwindling public confidence, dysfunctional people, and infidelity.

How can we support our pastors in the face of such overwhelming forces? The first step is to realize that a pastor is not a goldfish. Respect your pastor's privacy. In addition, the worker deserves his wages. A pastor should be compensated on a par with the people being served and with other ministers in the same community. Many pastors are living below poverty level, and many pastors' wives must work outside the home to supplement their income. What does that say to the neighbors about Christian love and care for one another? The point is not to make anyone rich, but just to provide for the pastor so he is free to minister instead of worry.

In addition to paying your pastor an adequate wage, make sure the pastor has time for restoration and relaxation. All pastors need time away with their families as well as with God. Let pastors choose their own day off, and then respect their privacy. Pray for your pastor. Not only is prayer the greatest show of support, but it is also a catalyst for unity. As H.B. London writes in Pastors at Risk, "It is difficult to pray for someone and be critical of them at the same time." Let your pastor know that you are praying for him, and love and encourage him. Send a note of encouragement. Remember your pastor's birthday and anniversary. Recognize your pastor's employment anniversary each year in some tangible way. Launch a Pastor's Appreciation Sunday each year. It can almost be guaranteed that in return your pastor will give the very best to you and the congregation. Encouragement results in faithful service. Finally, have realistic expectations of your pastor. Don't expect him to be perfect; don't expect his wife to be perfect; don't expect his kids to be perfect. Part of the reason so many pastors are at risk is because of unrealistic expectations on the part of their congregations.

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