According to a recent survey Faithlife compiled with Church Communications, more than one in three pastors (35%) said they felt exhausted. Just under half (45%) of leaders said they found pastoral care exhausting. Almost a third (29%) feel pessimistic about their ministry, are considering leaving their church, or are considering leaving the ministry altogether.
When asked what their greatest unmet need was, the top two responses were support from volunteers, staff or Elders, and friendship. Most importantly, more than one in 10 pastors admitted to considering suicide in the past year.
Being a pastor has never been easy, but the past 18 months have made an already difficult job almost impossible for many people. It’s not just the changes in COVID-19 protocols and national unrest either. Add in changes in donations and attendance – not to mention people leaving their churches for social or political issues – and it’s no wonder pastors report feeling exhausted and lonely.
More than half of American Protestant churches have fewer than 100 weekly worshipers on average, so many pastors have to wear many very different hats. They are not only pastors, they must also be church administrators, graphic designers, and audiovisual or technology experts. And because many solo pastors are the primary shepherds of their flock, they may struggle to figure out how to straddle the line between leadership and membership in the church body.
No one really expects the ministry to be easy (certainly not Paul; see 2 Tim 4: 5), but surely many pastors are wondering, is this supposed to be? this hard?
As we enter Pastors Appreciation Month, I encourage you to think about how you can support and encourage pastors in your life.
To be involved
The main unmet need reported by pastors was for support from volunteers, staff and elders. It’s an invitation – go ahead and start serving, giving, and helping wherever you can.
Paul used the image of a body to describe the Church, a beautiful reminder that a properly functioning body requires every part of the body to do actual work. Maybe you can apply your head to creating a worksheet or a statement of faith, your heart to teaching children or to cry with pain, or your hands to cleaning a supply closet or running slides. Every person who belongs to a church can make a difference by serving.
When your church body serves faithfully, you are testifying to your pastor that the church is greater than one person. This is a united group of men, women and children in the service of Jesus – and it is a liberating reminder that overwhelmed pastors need.
Caring about them as people
Many Christians turn to their pastor when they are going through difficult times. So who can a pastor turn to when he needs help?
Some pastors are reluctant to seek help with their mental, emotional, or marital health. It’s hard for anyone to admit they’re in trouble, but it’s even harder for pastors when so many people expect them to be strong.
It may come as a surprise, but pastors are also human! They have needs and struggles like everyone else, but are often afraid to speak up because they think they might lose their jobs or be labeled as complainers or weak. Even if you may not be able to be your pastor’s best friend, you can still encourage your church leaders to create an open space for authenticity and transparency.
Additionally, ask if your pastor is having a good time away from work, including 2 full days off per week and vacations. We know from the scriptures that it is vital. Even Jesus took time in his ministry to rest. You can ask a group to participate to give your pastor’s family a hotel gift card, babysit the kids for a romantic night out, or get volunteers together to do extra work for a few weeks so that the pastor can take time off.
Give encouragement freely
Every week your pastor probably receives emails and phone calls (even comments on social media) complaining about something at church. What blessing would it be if your pastor felt more encouraged than criticized?
Now don’t give empty compliments, no one likes that. But when you can, share how God is using your pastor’s work in your life. You can mention a few points in a recent sermon that resonated with you or any specific medium that encouraged you. (Cheering loops are the best!)
Finally, the Bible calls Christians to pray for their pastors – and not just during Pastors Appreciation Month. If you don’t know how to pray for them, you can start by praying the scriptures about your pastor, such as John 15: 4-11, Matthew 11: 28-30, or Psalm 121. Then let your pastor know. I prayed certain verses for them. There is something uniquely uplifting about being told “I pray for you” and knowing that it is the truth.
Hope you have some new ideas on how to celebrate Pastor’s Appreciation Month. Remember, however, that God is the one who sustains His Church (Col 1: 17-18). Good pastors are gifts from God to churches – gifts we should enjoy year round.
Jennifer Grisham is a writer at The life of faith, creators of the first integrated ministerial platform. The Faithlife 2021 Pastoral Mental Health Report is available for free download at https://grow.faithlife.com/pastoral-mental-health-report.