Church Leadership
Pastoring Shouldn't Be this Hard (With 4 Steps to Make It Easier)
Our obsession with numerical growth may be the unseen culprit behind a lot of burnt out pastors and unhealthy churches.

Pastoring is hard work. But should it be this hard?

According to a post by Philip Wagner, Peter Drucker said that the four hardest jobs in America are:

  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital
  • A pastor

(UPDATE: Please note the disclaimer about the attribution of this quote at the end of this post.)

In recent years, after suffering through my own mostly self-inflicted pastoral grief, I’ve come to this conclusion:

If pastoring is the fourth hardest job in America, we’re not doing it right.

Pastoring Was Not Intended to Be Like This

The New Testament writers never sugar-coated the challenges of ministry, but even in Paul’s list of hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, he chided himself, saying “I am out of my mind to talk like this.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

And that’s a man who was under Roman persecution! If a pastor in modern-day America feels we’re under pressure equivalent to the Apostle Paul, a lot of it has to be self-inflicted.

Pastoring was never meant to be as hard as we make it.

Pastoring was never meant to be as hard as we make it.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled a short list that has helped me make the task of pastoring less burdensome and far more joyful.

1. Stop Being a Martyr

Many of us work ridiculous hours in ministry, and not always because we need to, or even because others expect it of us. Many of us have a desperate need to be everyone’s hero, so we’re doing tasks that others should be doing.

So why do we keep doing them? Here’s a hard truth. Don’t dismiss it too quickly.

Many pastors like hearing that our job is hard. We thrive on it.

Yes, martyrdom is sometimes considered one of the spiritual gifts, but I’m pretty sure Paul was talking about the kind of gift you only get to use once – not the gift that keeps on giving.

Much of that martyr syndrome comes from guilt. We feel guilty if we’re not doing everything for everyone. But no church can get healthy, and no pastor can stay healthy that way.

2. Start Making Disciples

Any church that requires the pastor to do all the ministry is unhealthy. Whatever its size. And so is its pastor.

It’s not easy to make mature disciples. But it’s the pastor’s primary calling. Make disciples. Prepare God’s people to do ministry. (Matt 28:19 & Eph 4:12)

In the short run it often seems easier to do certain jobs yourself. But in the long run it will ruin you – and cripple your church.

Jesus sent the 72 disciples out before they were fully prepared. They didn’t even realize that salvation mattered more than signs and wonders (Luke 10:20). But he sent them anyway. Then assessed their results.

Discipleship was central to Jesus’ mission. It should be central to ours.

3. Stop Obsessing Over Growth – Or Lack of Growth

I’ve read hundreds of articles on pastoral burnout. They list many valid factors, including financial pressure, motivation by guilt, not taking a Sabbath, and more.

But there’s almost always one factor missing. And it may be the biggest reason of all: We’re obsessed with building bigger churches. And that obsession is burning many good pastors out.

We’re obsessed with building bigger churches. And that obsession is burning many good pastors out.

Wanting the church to grow is appropriate. Especially if it’s driven by leading people to Christ. But obsessing over rising numbers – and the dark side of depression that happens when the numbers don’t materialize – is creating a lot of burnt out pastors and unhealthy churches.

We hear the success stories about churches that grew seemingly overnight. And it’s good to celebrate that. But we seldom hear the shadow side of pastors burning out and leaving ministry – or burning out, but staying on as a shell of their former selves – when they can’t reach the unrealistic expectations of constant numerical growth.

As hard as pastoring is, let’s be grateful to God for a healthy church, without adding the burden of continual numerical growth as a completely unnecessary brick to our load.

4. Listen to Our Own (and Jesus’) Advice

How many sermons have we preached on “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30), only to walk out of church with the weight of the world on our own shoulders?

How many times have we taught our church about the value of Sabbath while working 24/7, ourselves?

How many times have we told people to put their family ahead of their work, but have put off our own family for church work?

How often have we encouraged others about the value of daily devotions while going all week without opening our own Bible – only to scramble through it on a Saturday night looking for sermon material?

How many more pastors have to burn themselves out like this before we realize…

It doesn’t have to be this hard.

Pivot is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters