We all know the pressures of the pastorate are straining, considerably on personal relationships. But to what extent do the unique pressures pastors face in their careers affect their personal relationships with their family, friends and peers? This is precisely what the Barna Group wanted to answer with numerical data from their State of Pastors report.
The findings from the study show that while pastors seem to enjoy more marital satisfaction and more positive relationships with their children than the national average, they still struggle mightily with the pressures on their shoulders. Those who are at a higher risk of burnout (another report Barna conducted), and are dissatisfied with their ministries are more likely to be struggling in their personal relationships.
Surprisingly, the marriage front is especially strong for pastors. Ninety-six percent of married pastors are satisfied with their marriage. Seventy percent of those call their marriage “excellent,” and 26 percent say it is “good.” Compared with the broader U.S. population, these statistics are high. Only 46 percent of married Americans call their marriage “excellent,” and 35 percent say it is “good.” Additionally, the divorce rate among pastors is lower, with only 10 percent nof Protestant pastors having experienced divorce. Compared to the general population at 27 percent, this is good news.
Pastors who make less than $40,000 a year don’t seem to be struggling in their marriages, either. Considering finances are usually a stressor point in marriage, this is encouraging. Eighty-three percent of pastors in this financial bracket rate their marriage as “excellent.”
Another relationship the study examined was a pastor’s relationship with his or her children under the age of 18. Sixty percent view these relationships as “excellent,” while 36 percent labeled it “good.” This is higher than the national average, which is 46 percent “excellent” and 32 percent “good.”
Perception of difficulty on the family
Pastors were asked if their position has been difficult on their family, and 40 percent said it was “somewhat true”, 33 percent say “not very,” 19 percent say “not at all true” while 8 percent say “completely true.” That “completely true” response jumps up dramatically if you just look at the the pastors who rank in the “high risk” category for burnout. In this category, 41 percent say it’s “completely true” and 34 percent say “somewhat true.”
These statistics become even more interesting when they are linked to another question: whether or not pastors feel satisfied with their current ministry. Of those pastors that qualify as high-risk, only 30 percent say they are satisfied with their ministry, compared with 65 percent of pastors who are satisfied with their ministries and qualify as low-risk. The report on the findings conclude, “The effect of ministry on a pastor’s family, whether positive or negative, is tied to the pastor’s ministry satisfaction.”
Thirty-four percent of pastors called their friendships “excellent” and 33 percent called them “good.” Compared to the national average (28 percent “excellent” and 33 percent “good”), pastors don’t have such a strong lead in this area as they do in marital satisfaction.
Additionally, the study found pastors 50 and older are more likely to call their friendships “excellent.” Another category of pastors who are more likely to report high friendship satisfaction are those in the lower financial bracket.
First of all, the majority (80 percent) of pastors surveyed report to a board of elders or group of laypeople. Sixty-seven percent say their board is “hugely supportive” of them, 60 percent say their board offers “healthy accountability,” and 57 percent say they share “vision and values” with their boards.
The research found that positive pastor-elder relationships are more often reported in larger congregations. Sixty-four percent of pastors of 250 or more congregants call their relationship with the elders a “powerful partnership,” while only 34 percent of pastors of smaller congregations claim this.
Again, when these statistics are linked with the burn out risk factor, it is evident that those pastors at a lower risk of burning out tend to have better relationships with their elders, while those at higher risk are more likely to express tension discontentment with these relationships.
In conclusion, the Barna report indicates that pastors who express more satisfaction in their relationships are the same ones who rank lower on the burnout risk. Naturally, this research brings up all kinds of questions of causation (for instance, are pastors at a greater risk of burn-out when their relationships are strained, or do their relationships become strained as a result of burn-out?). The only thing the report offers as a definite conclusion is that “allowing time for nurturing these relationships and emotional support (such as through counseling or coaching) to work through challenges is essential to a pastor’s overall well-being and that of their family.”