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4 Reasons Why Pastoring Is So Hard

Over half the pastors in the U.S. find the job overwhelming. Why?

For years while I led a church, I’d meet other pastors who would talk about how hard it was to be a pastor. I remember thinking about jobs I had in the past that seemed far more difficult than what I was doing then. Prior to pastoring, I had a number of, uh, interesting careers. In one, I found myself digging a ditch as long as a football field during a 20-degree winter hard freeze in Cincinnati. It was so cold and windy, I would jump in my very used AMC Pacer (yes, I had one of those) every 15 minutes to try to get warm. Driving home each night I could feel the devil on my back telling me what a loser I was…and this would be my lot in life.

But pastoring? I loved pastoring a church; the creative aspects of crafting a message with the Spirit and having high hopes it could contribute to the transformation of fellow human beings sorting out their lives with God. Of building a church that would change the way people viewed Christians and Christianity. Of corporately worshiping God with other Jesus-freaks. Of developing outward-focused disciples.

But in moments of honesty, there were times of deep despair; interpersonal challenges with board members, tight years of recessional finances, never-ending staffing issues, the numbing routine of feeling like you never finish anything in the “people business.”

Heck, my Theological Hero Apostle Paul wrote,

“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us.”

My Practical Ministry Hero, John Wesley, wrote a depressing letter to his brother Charles:

“… I was saying I do not feel the wrath of God abiding on me; nor can I believe it does. And yet (this is the mystery) [I do not love God. I never did]. Therefore [I never] believed in the Christian sense of the word. Therefore [I am only an] honest heathen, a proselyte of the Temple…” (The bracketed words were written in a shorthand code the brothers used for various reasons, some obvious).

Of course, in the larger context of those writings, both men eventually saw light at the end of their respective tunnels. But one can only imagine the pain in those moments as they reflected on their more difficult inner and outer challenges.

So here are 4 things that make pastoring uniquely hard:

  1. You’re called to be a leader, but you’re not really the leader. Jesus is. He’s the CEO…and you’ve got this terrifically challenging task of leading horizontally while trying to listen vertically. At least a CEO can hear what their boss—the board—is yelling about or what shareholders are blogging. You’ve got a Boss who operates beyond the five senses…and you’re straddling two realms.

  2. Sundays never stop. Writing an “energizing-life-changing-practical-application” message every week is awesome. Except when it’s not. Try writing a profound term paper every week. And it’s not just the message: the church creates an experience every week…and mostly based on volunteers who depend on intrinsic motivation. The church calendar is relentless.

  3. You are expected to have answers for everything. From psychological/counseling best-practice management financial strategic spiritual linguistics/philosophy/science/cosmology issues (evolution, anyone?) the political-cultural impact of current volunteer all things theological (I thought I’d pull my hair out the first time I got an email asking my position on infralapsarianism. Sheesh.). While people appreciate an honest “I-really-don’t-know”-type answer, they still want you to come back with a viewpoint.

  4. The spiritual weight of shepherding a church. There is simply a different kind of burden that comes with that. And the danger is real—check out Israel: as the king went, so did the nation. I didn’t really understand that as a staff pastor until I stepped into the senior role. And yeah, I know Jesus said his burden was light, but that was spoken in the context of toxic religious leaders who were barriers rather than bridges to grace. Paul confessed “the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” We’re not at that level of leadership, but still…

As we say at, over half the pastors in the U.S. find the job overwhelming. Pastors, don’t do it alone. As a leader, find your safe place to be honest…get a mentor/coach/counselor…build teams, not soloists…develop leaders, not worker bees…and nurture your family. On Mondays, turn your phone off, have lunch with your spouse if you’re married, take a real vacation every year, and build in a sabbatical every so many years. I didn’t, and that was a major failure on my part.

After thirty years of pastoring, I absolutely love my job in this new phase of my life: creating tools to make pastors’ jobs easier. Been there. Done it. But I did forget to buy the t-shirt…

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches

Question of the Day: On a scale of 1-to-10, where are you on the “I-Can't-Take-It-Any-Longer!” Scale...and what are you going to do about it?

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