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The Most Depressing Thing About Being a Pastor—and What to Do About It

“Apart from these external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

When showing his scars and enumerating his sufferings, Paul ends with a mention of the daily care of the Lord’s people. That was a great burden also.

You don’t bleed from caring for the Lord’s flock. But you hurt as much as if you did.

The worst part of pastoring, the burden that keeps hammering you down into the ground, is the perfectionism.

It’s not something the Lord puts on us—well, not any more than on anyone else—because “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). He is under no illusions about any of us. The quickest way to divine frustration, I would think, is for the Father to expect perfection from His children.

He’s smarter than that. Thankfully.

Nor is it something the congregation puts on us. The members know we’re human, even if some do tend to lose sight of that sometimes. 

(Just today I heard of a pastor whose teenage daughter has come up pregnant, and some in the church are calling for the pastor’s resignation. He ministered to them in their crises, but let him go through one and a few are ready to cut him off. What is wrong with such people?! God bless the leadership of this church and help them do the right thing.)

The perfectionism that hounds the pastor and nags at him without letup, he mostly puts on himself.

After all, he reasons, we are doing the work of Almighty God, the Creator of the universe. We are holding in our hands the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, a treasure beyond compare. If we do our work well, people will live forever with Christ in Heaven. And if we do it poorly, many will miss Heaven entirely and spend eternity in what the Bible calls “outer darkness” and hell fire.

That’s enough to keep a fellow awake at night.

In the Spring 2014 issue of Esperanza magazine, ice-skating champion Dorothy Hamill talks about the depression she has fought most of her life. Even as a child, when she was pulling down titles—her first national championship at 13 and first international title at 17—nothing was ever good enough for her mother. 

The writer said, “Carolyn’s inability to praise her daughter’s achievement or share in her happiness diluted Hamill’s joy at winning Olympic gold in 1976.”

It’s a familiar story, unfortunately. However, for the minister of the gospel, the problem tends not to be a frowning mother just off-stage ready to point out the flaws in his service for the Lord. It’s himself.

We are our own nagging mama.

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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.