Tag Archives: pastors and pastoring

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

Book for pastors at risk

Over the last couple of years I have gotten to know Dr. Charles Wickman. He is the founder of Pastor-in-Residence, a ministry to exited and at-risk pastors. He has a huge desire to see pastors flourish in their called locations. Currently, Rev. Ed Lochmoeller is PIR’s national director. This is a wonderful ministry for pastors who may have been forced out of their churches or are about to leave. The ministry places these pastor families in churches where they are “in residence” and being cared for while regaining their ministry footing.

What are the two main reasons for being “at risk” of being forced out? Vision conflict with leadership and burnout.

I tell you all this because Dr. Wickman has just published Pastors At Risk: Protecting Your Future, Guarding Your Present (Peoria, AZ: Intermedia Publishing Group, 2011).

This is a perfect, simple book. It is a simple read for those who are confused. And most pastors I know who meet the definition of being burned out are easily confused by complex details. They get bogged down into rights/wrongs, second-guessing their calling, angry, depressed, embittered. Dr. Wickman puts the issues on the table and then gives some good directions for both the pastor and spouse. I think most will find this small book clear and to the point on the main issues. Interspersed among the chapters are small vignettes of pastors and pastor’s spouses in their own words.

If you are a pastor, it is worth the 13 dollars for a read and hopefully some new directions for preventing a crash and burn. If you are an elder or deacon, I recommend you read it as you can learn much about the special pressures of pastoring. Don’t assume that somehow you or your church is different. That would be like knowing there is an epidemic of the flu and thinking that your constitution is somehow stronger than the rest thus negating your need for a flu shot.

Get the book. Read the book. Take the survey (p. 135). Talk to someone about the results. Make a plan for prevention.

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

Ministry leader discouragers

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with three pastor couples on retreat in idyllic New Albany, PA. The retreat house, The Haft, is the kind of place that has little to no cell service and your GPS unit won’t find. While it was Spring mud season, the weather was warm and we had a good amount of time for walking in the woods.

I led the first discussion of the retreat on the topic of discouragers. There are common things that can discourage a ministry couple: chronic criticism, ministry with no boundaries, endless needs and no support leading to burnout, vision conflict, family struggles and no place to talk about them, unmet expectations/desires, poor finances, and much more.

Family struggles can be incredibly discouraging for ministry leaders. When kids act up, ministry leaders often feel they should be able to handle–and fix–these problems. the same goes for marital conflict. Sex can be a significant discourager in one of two ways. You serve others (in church or family) and then when you are emotionally and physically tired, you discover your spouse wants intimacy while you just want to be left alone. Or, you work hard all day and you want intimacy only to discover your spouse does not. The one little desire you held to throughout your day comes to naught and you find you are completely defeated or angry about not getting your one little pleasure. Actually, this can be very true about other kinds of pleasures. Wanting to watch TV without the kids, wanting to have just a bit a down time, etc.

After we discussed the many kinds of discouragers (especially un-evaluated expectations), I reminded the participants that Heb 12:3 reminds us that spiritual rest comes with mental activity, the activity of meditating on Christ. While we need sleep to deal with physical tiredness, spiritual tiredness needs activity.

As a final activity, I had each person recall and write down 2 “stones of remembrance.” These were things that happened to them that they clearly remembered God’s handiwork in their lives. It recalls the stories in the OT where Israel was asked to set up piles of stones to remind them of God’s rescue (e.g., crossing the Jordan river). When we are spiritually tired, we gain perspective by remembering what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do. This activity prepares us to better reflect on changes we might need to make, expectations that need altering, or boundaries that need re-drawing.

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Are congregants at fault for pastor burnout?

I’ve written here several times on the topic of pastoral burnout and the need for prevention and renewal for ministry leaders. I came across this opinion piece in the NY Times suggesting that congregants may be a big part of the problem. Consider some of the following quotes by the author (a pastor who may have had problems in his own congregation that bias him a bit). Emphases are mine.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.

Ouch. His words about the demand for experiential highs are pointed, especially the ones about missions trips as sightseeing events.

The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else.

I suspect this is one part of the pie. But let us not blame the congregants too much. They want to be part of something great and most pastors want to be something great. The two sides mutually support this kind of problem.

If you read the full-text you will see a link for another recently published editorial about clergy burnout. You can read that one here. There are a number of other resources you can find as hot links embedded in that essay. One factoid is a recent study of North Carolinian Methodist pastors are found to be significantly more obese than the general population of the state. Makes you go hmmm.


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

Life as a preacher’s wife? book notes

I received a free copy of You Can Still Wear Cute Shoes: And Other Unlikely Great Advice from An Unlikely Preacher’s Wife from the publisher (David C Cook, 2010). The author is Lisa McKay. You can find her at http://www.apreacherswife.com.

Since there are few books out there for pastor’s wives, I decide to check it out. Right out of the starting blocks, Lisa addresses two common concerns:

1. Is his calling my calling too? I’ve heard a number of pastor’s wives who appreciate their husband’s ministry calling but do not own it for themselves. Others do. Is this essential?

2. Appearances. What are the pressures for appearing as a pastor’s wife? Can I be me?

To the first issue, she says one of the reasons is this (quoting another pastor’s wife): “The hardest thing for me is everyone wanting a piece of my husband and not acknowledging me in the least…I feel like the person in the background who is here only to take care of the kids so he can be free to take care of everyone else.” (p. 24). Lisa goes on to articulate through story and verse that the wife is called too. Don’t get hung up in the how but that the calling, at a minimum includes trust, obedience to Christ, and hope. To the second issue, no you don’t have to wear doilies. Be more concerned with cultivating Godly character.

The books won’t knock your socks off with new ideas. However, Lisa does a great job identifying the key challenges pastor’s wives face, pointing them to Scripture, focusing on simple truthes and being wary of the stuff that can build up inside her heart. She covers everything from parenting to having friends in the church to not defending pastor husbands (not having hissy fits in the church). This is an easy read and a good reminder for all on how to live under pressure.

Her final chapter is written for the pastor. My only disappointment in this book is that she didn’t triple the length of this chapter and really speak boldly to pastors about their care of their wives.

One great aspect of the book is that she includes so many quotes from other wives and application questions at the end of each chapter for the reader to consider.  On top of that, she’s quite humorous. No bitter pastor’s wife here!


Filed under Christianity, church and culture, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, Uncategorized

Pastors and burnout

Just returned from a wonderful time with a group of pastors on retreat in the Poconos. I was invited to speak to them about burnout, the stress of ministry, and the need to be preventive in caring for their own souls (and their family as well). What makes for a good retreat? Competitive volleyball, good meals, laughter, singing, and open sharing of struggles as well as ideas for maintaining one’s emotional and spiritual health.

Singing. My first experience at Westminster Seminary (as a student) was in a chapel. I thoroughly enjoyed the hearty singing of hymns and songs in a male dominated environment. No weak and lame sounds. It was the same at this retreat. What good treatment for the soul. They sang before meals as well as at each session.

One of the challenges they addressed was the finding of regular and frequent support/accountability/discipleship. While they like each other they are all too busy to be regularly connected to each other in a deep way (beyond retreats and other business meetings).

What if churches and their boards really took seriously the need to care for (directly or indirectly) the spiritual needs of the pastor family? How might that change the dynamics of church life?

I have to say the highlight for me was the surprise laying on of hands to pray for myself and my family. Utterly moving.

And if there are those of you who have grown suspicious that pastors refuse to be human, and are frauds…I can tell you this bunch is a healthy, albeit worn out, set of pastors. And they love Jesus to boot 🙂


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership

Prevention services for pastors?

Ran across a new set of stats about pastor health in the last few weeks. Nothing surprising, just more confirmation of the same story. A Cheryl Shireman reports on data from over a thousand pastors who attended 2 conferences. Some of her stats…

  • 57% of pastors would leave if they had a better place to go–including secular work
  • 77% report not having a good marriage
  • 72% felt they were unqualified or poorly trained by seminaries to lead the church or counsel others
  • Only 38% report personal devotions outside of sermon prep
  • 38% are divorced or going through one
  • 30% admitted a sexual encounter with a parishioner

Let’s assume that most pastors enter the ministry fit (false assumption!) for the trials and tribulations and spiritually mature. What can a church do to maintain that pastor’s health (and his/her family as well)? We surely don’t give them combat pay. While most get vacation and health benefits, few report getting ongoing discipleship or training beyond the annual preaching conference.

Here’s an idea I’ve surfaced here before. What if pastors were required to have a mentor? What if churches provided $1000 a year for use in preventative counseling or confidential spiritual direction? What if pastors had to complete a confidential “check-up” each year? On this last item, I suspect that I could provide an assessment (cheap, easy to complete questionnaires for pastor and spouse plus 3 hours of follow-up interview and goal setting) for under $400.

If these recommendations came before your congregation, what would the reaction be? Would there be resistance? Worry about expenses? Openness? I’m curious…


Filed under christian counseling, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, counseling, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Temptations of pastors?

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has a recent post on the topic. He askes the questions about the most common temptations of pastors (non-sexual). Past readers of McKnight will notice that his blog is now on beliefnet. I’m not sure I like that move, but I’m sure it is because his blog is so successful.

What do you think are the most common temptations of pastors?


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

The secret life of a pastor

No, not that secret life…I’m talking about the private worship life of the pastor. Diane Langberg lent me a book by one of her favorite dead pastors: Rev. Handley C.G. Moule, Bishop of Durham. The book, To my Younger Brethren: Chapters on Pastoral Life and Work, considers three arenas of the young pastors life: their “inner and secret life and walk with God,” their “daily and hourly intercourse with men,” and their “official ministrations of the Word and ordinances of the Gospel.”

Here’s what he has to say in the first chapter about the hindrances to private worship (I removed some archaic language):

My…reader…knows as well as I do, on the one hand, that a close secret walk with God is unspeakably important in pastoral life, and, on the other hand, that pastoral life…is often allowed to hinder or minimize the real, diligent work (for it is a work indeed in its way) of that close secret walk [with God].

Moule makes it clear that the primary work of the pastor starts with their relationship with God–not their beliefs, exhortations, or activities. Moule goes on to identify some of the hindrances:

The new [pastorate], the new duties, and opportunities, if the man has his heart in his ministry, will prove intensely interesting, and at first, very possibly, encouragement and acceptance may predominate over experiences of difficulty and trial. Services, sermons, visits to homes and to schools, with all the miscellanies that attend an active and well-ordered parochial organization–these things are sure to have a special and exciting interest for most young men who have taken Orders in earnest. And it will be almost inevitable that the [pastor]…should find “work” threatening rapidly to absorb so much, not of time only but thought and heart, that the temptation is to abridge and relax very seriously indeed secret devotion, secret study of Scripture, and generally secret discipline of habits, that all-important thing.

Like Chambers, Moule sees “spiritual success” as dangerous (My Utmost, April 24). But he doesn’t stop with this danger. He points to another: loneliness. The young pastor leaves University and its social life to comparative aloneness. Yes, he may have friends and elder brothers in the Lord. But ministry brothers are busy and congregants, though friends, are one of many needing ministry. He says,

So the sens of change, of solitude, in such part of his life as is spent indoors, may be, and, as I know, very often is, real and deep, sad and sorrowful, and in itself not wholesome….Solitude will not by itself, If I judge rightly, help him to secret intercourse with God. A feeling of solitude, under most circumstances…drive a man unhealthily inward, in unprofitable questionings and broodings, or in still less happy exercises of thought. Or it drives him unhealthily outward, quickening the wish for mere stimulants and excitements of mind and interest.  (he goes on to broach the subject of masturbation, I think)

Moule exhorts his reader to watch for the dangers of pastoral activity and the dangers of pastoral loneliness and not to avoid his private, intentional devotional life. He says, even 10 minutes of deliberate devotions are better than long and mismanaged time. He provides this warning

Your life and work will, in the Lord’s sight, be a failure, yes, I repeat it, a failure, be the outside and the reputation what they may, if you do not walk with God in secret.


Filed under book reviews, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Great Quotes, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring

Pastoral epistles as letter???

In talking to pastors, I’ve been taking the angle that we should look again to the pastoral epistles to see how a senior mentor talks to a junior pastor. What is important? What are the dangers? What kind of encouragement is given to these folk who labor in difficult venues?

I am afraid we have used these letters to create doctrinal positions (e.g., who should lead the church, the nature of Scripture, etc.) but have forgotten the pastoral flavor of these little books.

Take a look at 1 Timothy. Here’s my brief summation of Paul’s letter to Timothy:

1. Remember. (ch. 1) Keep at your work in loving prideful and misguided people (who probably all think they should be the leader). Remember our humble origins and calling (v. 12). The goal here? Don’t shipwreck your faith.

2. Act (ch. 2-3) Your first act? Pray for everyone and pray for peace. Your second act? Live a holy life in keeping with the position. Out of this instruct your congregation to…

3. Be Wary (ch. 4-6) Deception is happening to other teachers. It can happen to you. So, live in truth and focus on godliness. There are 2 deceptions (financial gain (and fame) and knowledge). Some see both as a path to godliness but they are not. There is an antidote: Contentment! Seek only the glory of God and not your own.


You might ask yourself (and your pastor) these two questions.

1. If Paul were writing to you, what would he put in your letter for you to remember, act, and be wary of?

2. Who knows you and your situation well enough to write this kind of letter to you? If no one exists, why not? And what should you do about it?

Okay, that was more than 2 questions…go ask your pastor!


Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, pastoral renewal, pastors and pastoring, self-deception