A new report from LifeWay Research has revealed that the current top concern of Protestant pastors is disunity within their congregations. Other pressure points pastors identified are challenges related to caring for members from a distance, concern over church members’ safety, and feeling isolated and stressed.
“I am aware that people are growing weary of the entire pandemic,” wrote one pastor. “Some are scared to death, while others are convinced it is a hoax. Trying to minister to both ends of the spectrum is exhausting.”
LifeWay Research: Pastors Are Seriously Stressed
LifeWay’s survey was conducted from July 20-22 and consists of responses from 443 American Protestant pastors who are either the sole pastor or the senior pastor of a church. LifeWay weighted the answers according to region, ethnicity, the church’s average attendance, and whether the pastor was from an evangelical or mainline denomination. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus five percentage points.
Under the heading, “Top pressure points mentioned by pastors,” 27 percent of the respondents listed “Maintaining unity/conflict/complaints” as their primary pressure point. This was followed by “Pastoral care from a distance” at 17 percent. The next three concerns were “Safety/well-being of members” (13 percent), “Personally exhausted/stressed/isolated” (12 percent), and “Uncertainty/direction/wisdom/strategy” (12 percent).
The survey revealed that pastoral concern over church conflict has grown as the pandemic has progressed. In a LifeWay survey in April, only eight percent of pastors said they were dealing with disunity in their churches.
One pastor reported feeling “Pressure to violate public health orders. Pressure to pretend the virus isn’t real.” Another said, “No matter what we choose to do for safety, or choose not do [sic], we are told by some group that it is to [sic] much/not enough.” One respondent said,
My people are in very different places regarding the virus. Some are losing patience and want to get on with normal life with little regard for the potential consequences. Others are still practicing extreme social distancing and are having a tough time understanding others who are not taking this as seriously as they are.
The responses indicate that pastoring from a distance is a major source of the stress church leaders reported experiencing. Pastors expressed frustration over not being able to minister to the sick and dying or to hold funerals, as well as frustration with trying to hold a funeral or a wedding while complying with public health guidelines. Connecting with people is another challenge. Said one pastor, “Phone and Zoom ministry is soul-sucking in a way that in-person ministry is not.”
Some said they felt isolated, fatigued, and in serious need of support, while others said they were unable to step away from their responsibilities and get true rest. In addition to their anxiety over how to connect with their church members, pastors are worried about church members staying connected to Jesus and to one another and how being disconnected will impact the future of their churches.
Among the other topics the LifeWay Research survey explored were which congregations had met in person between May 3 and July 19, what safety precautions churches had taken if they had met, and whether the answers were significantly different based on factors such as a pastor’s age, region, or denomination. The survey also examined the impact of the pandemic on congregations, including whether church giving was down, whether members had helped one another with “tangible needs,” and if people had committed their lives to Christ.
“Good pastors feel responsible for maintaining the unity of the church,” said Trevin Wax, Senior Vice President of Theology and Communications at LifeWay. “There’s a sense in which the pastor, in trying to care for the congregation, feels beat up right now.”