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Why Pastors Are Struggling in Ministry

Pastors are under a lot of pressure.

In most churches today, we employ one person (or a small team) to do the job of many. The Bible tells us that God “ordained some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors, some to be teachers.” And yet, we position pastors to be all of these things at once—to lead, to minister, to inspire, to challenge and to teach—all at the same time!

The Bible clearly tells us that God has given each one of us grace to build up the church. There are at least five very different ministry roles God has given us within the church, according to Ephesians 4—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The problem is, churches try to look for one man (or woman) who fits all of these categories at once. That was never God’s design for the church.

The church already has everything it needs. We cannot outsource the work of the combined church to one individual, no matter how talented they may be.

One person (the pastor) is symbolically responsible for the spiritual growth of many. One person is responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of an entire community. One person is standing in front of many, responsible to teach, lead and inspire them, a paid role model under pressure to maintain an appearance of “having it all together.” That is a heavy load for one person to bear.

Church in rows has become the burden of one, instead of the combined power of many. One person stands at the front, symbolically taking responsibility for the spiritual growth and wellbeing of the entire church, while the rest of the church sits silently in rows, their spiritual gifts unused, their “spiritual” hands tied behind their backs. People who are unable to contribute or respond will shut down and become apathetic. They will lose confidence in themselves and not bother trying. They will start to believe they have nothing of value to contribute. They will never be empowered to discover their spiritual gift or to use it for building up the church.

This imbalance is bad for God’s people. It is bad for the pastor as well. The statistics reveal how unsustainable the role of a pastor is. According to statistics, 45 percent of pastors report suffering such severe periods of depression or burnout that they have had to take time out from their job. Fifty percent report that they feel unable to meet the needs of the job. Seventy-five percent report suffering severe stress causing emotional issues. Ninety-four percent feel under pressure to have a perfect family. Over 20,000 pastors leave the ministry each year in the United States alone, due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. That’s a sign of a seriously stressful career path. The responsibility of the spiritual growth and wellbeing of the community should be shared amongst the many, not shouldered by one person. But the congregation is disempowered and not in a position to share the load. We can’t activate them by preaching more powerful sermons. We can’t shake them up by turning up the music, or adding more musicians on stage. We need to give them a voice, give them a value, give them an impact. We need to empower them and involve them in ministering to one another. We need to stop adding to the burden of one, and tap into the power of many.  

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kathleenward@churchleaders.com'
Kathleen Ward’s driving passion is welcoming outsiders into community. This involves drinking copious cups of tea and spending time with neighbours and new friends from other cultures and backgrounds. Her secondary interest is encouraging the church to move from performance to empowerment; from audience to community; from passive listening to active learning. She co-writes this blog with her best friend and husband, Kevin-Neil Ward