Causes of Pastor Struggles?

I’ve spoken on this topic for the past several years and have shared thoughts on this blog about the unique stresses of being a pastor or being in a pastor’s family. During the AACC conference I was able to attend Michael and Kari MacKenzie’s presentation (Marble Retreat counselors). Here’s what they had to say…very much mirroring what I had just taught on several days ago.

Michael’s dissertation research on the topic resulted in the following list as the “top 6” most significant struggles in ministry

1. Stress, 2. Burnout, 3. Marital Problems, 4. Sexual Problems (infidelity, porn, etc.), 5. Depression, 6. Conflict (family or ministry). Interestingly, if you are on a missionary team, #6 is really #1.

What are the prime causes, according to their research?

1. Isolation, 2. Unrealistic Expectations, 3. Poor Boundaries.

I would comment here that these are not really causes but deeper layers may need to be discovered. Just why does the ministry leader have unrealistic expectations, poor boundaries, etc.? What is driving these issues? Some of those reasons can be found in the culture as well as in the desires of the pastor/leader. For example, a refusal to be vulnerable may be causal…as well as a congregation’s expectation that pastors never need help.

What helps protect pastors from massive stress? According to Mark McMinn: 1. a Personal Devotion to Christ (outside of sermon prep), 2. Hobbies, 3. Exercise, 4. Regular Time Away, 5. a Good Marriage.

The 64,000 question:

Why don’t pastors (why don’t we all) do the most basic things we know are good for them? Why don’t we exercise and eat well? Why don’t we take time away? Why don’t we get enough sleep? Why don’t we maintain a healthy devotional life? Rarely is it a matter of not knowing how to do these things. If you find yourself not doing basic self-care, ask yourself this: what other motives take priority in my life? Some other goal/motivation is getting in the way. What is it? When you can answer that question then you have a greater chance to decide what you are going to do about it.


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

7 responses to “Causes of Pastor Struggles?

  1. Thomas Roy Mabbatt

    As pastors, even as lay ministers, God’s Word requires us to be in intimate relationship with him at every opportunity; in other words, always. This translates into prayer and worship in all things.This is the one “thing” that ALL Christians must strive for above all else, as it defines our absolute identity in Christ. It is a “first things first” attitude upon answering His call.

  2. Karen

    I wonder if it’s a combination of not doing the things they need to and having to be so consistently passionate about the Christian life. The average person can be not exercising, not getting enough sleep and working too much, but they aren’t confronted on a daily basis with the contradiction of what the Christian life should be and what reality is telling them. It’s harder to just go through the motions of life when you’re in ministry and constantly being bombarded with the deeper questions of life. It would be interesting to know why most pastors go into ministry in the first place. A need to be needed? A desire to help move people from point a to point b? Like you mentioned, so many layers to why they have poor boundaries & unrealistic expectations. Mike & Kari have such a heart for pastors. Glad you had a chance to meet them.

  3. djchuang reblogged this on orange asian man and commented: some good insights about how pastoring could be the hardest job in the world, at least I think it is… very stressful indeed

  4. Pingback: Top 6 Struggles of Pastoral Ministry | HeadHeartHand Blog

  5. Jeff Schultz

    Encouraging, insightful, and convicting. While I am not doing a terrible job in these areas, I see lots of need for improvement.

    And for me, part of the reason I don’t wrestle honestly with these questions is that it’s easier (and less challenging) to stay busy, and then complain about being busy and tired in ministry (Look at how hard I’m working!).

  6. Great recap of the Mackenzies’ workshop. I was there and was touched by their passion to help ministry leaders suffering from burnout and other issues.

    Regarding the 64,000 question, my prevention lies in the support I get from others. When my friends ask how I am doing, then say, “How are you really do?” The Mackenzie’s brought out, social support as the number one in prevention. I would agree with this!

  7. Pingback: Causes of Leader’s Struggles? | Life on Life Coaching

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