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The Worst Part of Pastoring...
Pastoring can be challenging and while there are some bad church leaders out there, I know a great deal who are serious about loving and serving people. Here's what I find more challenging...
Pastors and church people, let’s have a little conversation. I love being a pastor. Like… it’s my calling, my passion, and what I want to give my life to. I love serving Jesus and I love helping people grow in their love for Jesus. It’s great and most of it is very rewarding. But some of it is really hard and some of it can be… well… ummm… enough to give one pause.
For me, the absolute WORST part of pastoring is this: meeting the expectations of people… and often (most of the time?), those expectations are not communicated. It’s almost like people expect pastors to be mind-readers.
You see, my wife and I have been doing the "church thing" for over twenty years now and though we do our best to help people, we know that there have been times where we’ve failed. I still struggle on Sundays to be present because I often have a lot on my mind and I’m trying my best to not totally blow it with the sermon. Or there are things I’m personally going through that make serving in church challenging, like when my dad was fighting cancer or this past week when my grandfather passed away. It’s hard to focus and be fully present when there are things on the mind and heart, right?
But more often than not, people get upset about things that you simply couldn’t know unless someone… you know… communicated them. And it’s even more challenging now with social media because it seems like people assume that because they posted something somewhere, you’re fully aware of it. Well for those reading this, most pastors that I know don’t sit and scroll Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, making mental note of every single post of every single person they know. Should they? That’s another conversation… it just seems fairly ridiculous to expect a pastor to know everything you are going through because you sent a tweet. Did I mention that I prefer Twitter to all social media, ha ha!
Meanwhile, many pastors and their families are trying their best to love each other and keep their marriages healthy, raise their children to note hate the church(!), and take care of what I'd call *general* church responsibilities (prepare for Sundays, organize & train teams, etc.). Some of these are a full time job in and of themselves. Raising five kids has been crazy challenging for us, though I know my wife and I wouldn’t change a thing and are so grateful for our amazing kids.
In addition to family life and general church responsibilities, we also care deeply about individuals who are facing really challenging times, tragedies, and losses. In the past twenty-five years we have had people close to us and in our churches who have lost their newborn children, parents, siblings, and close friends. We’ve had people show up on our door steps because they had just experienced domestic violence and we’ve had people who have absolutely no one in their life become family as they slowly died from cancer.
Every single funeral, every single death, and every single tragedy has weighed on me, with some events being more significantly impactful than others. I remember a young lady not much older than 21, whom I had pastored since she was 15, came to me and shared how her dad had abused her and I watched as she struggled with drugs and alcohol and after hours of meeting with her, I finally convinced her to get into a program and I spent hours on the phone finding a place that could help her. And I remember how a couple years later, after she had been doing much better, she was tragically killed in a car crash.
Funeral after funeral after funeral. And meeting after meeting after meeting.
And guess what? I don’t regret any of that! It’s my calling and I said “yes” to Jesus, so this type of stuff is what I signed up for.
But it’s not always easy and sometimes it’s more challenging than you could possibly imagine. To be clear, I’m not asking for anyone’s pity and certainly not trying to make anyone feel guilty. “So what are you trying to do here, Luke?” Great question.
I’d really like to encourage you to think about the people who God has placed in your life and who genuinely care about you. Maybe they are pastors or maybe they are just influential people in your life. They likely pray for you more than you know and… if you communicate to them… I’m sure they’d be willing to meet with you. They might not be able to meet up with you immediately, but I’m sure they would in a realistic time frame.
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You see, the stuff they face weighs on them. And some leaders handle the stress better than others and others have developed helpful processes to deal with that stuff and some people are more resilient than others and others struggle to trust people because they have been betrayed time after time after time. For those pastors who have been betrayed (newsflash, all pastors have been betrayed), what I’ve learned is that it's hard to imagine trusting someone to help them deal with their pain and loss because all they have seen is people leave and move on with no communication.
Maybe ghosting the church isn’t healthy? No… it’s not.
My point? Yes, there are a lot of pastors out there that are manipulative, controlling, or self-focused, and that's a tragedy. If you read much of what I write, you know I have no problem calling out what I think is evil, unethical, and abusive in church leadership. But there are also many pastors who serve and love and do their best and people just use them and abuse them, wholly focused on their own challenges and quick to jump to conclusions and quick to ignore what those pastors may or may not be struggling with.
Pastors, you aren’t alone.
Today I had a conversation with a pastor who is struggling. And by struggling, I mean hurting and ready to throw in the towel. I know them well and I’m fairly confident that they have done their best to love and serve and be available to people. I know them and I know they care. So my heart is heavy for the pain they have experienced because of someone else's inability to be considerate beyond themselves and their own challenges.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, please know that I am praying for you and I'd love to encourage you to bravely find some people who can love on you and who you can be vulnerable with. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to me. I'd be happy to lend an ear.
What people often fail to understand about pastoring, and again, I'm talking about the good ones here, is that pastoring can be really emotionally challenging. Not only do you have your own issues, and possibly a family to care for, you have hundreds of people that expect your undivided attention and commitment.
One of my pastor friends pointed out to me what I’m likely getting at. He said:
“People expect pastors to be 100% committed and available to THEM but rarely have the same level of commitment to their pastors.”
In this scenario, people expect their pastors to read minds, be present and available at all times, and to meet every expectation they can imagine. They expect 100% commitment and loyalty from their pastors… but as soon as they don’t feel their needs are met, they leave because they do not offer the same level of commitment.
So pray for your pastors… let them know you care about them… and by all means, don’t assume they know what you need if you don’t communicate to them! Tell us what you need and tell us how we can care for you! We’ll obviously keep our ears and eyes open, but you need to understand that there’s a lot to see and hear! I’m particularly grateful for the people in our church community that will clue me in on situations people are in so I can follow up! Help out… get in the game… do the stuff… ask for help… you know… be the community of Jesus’ beautiful kingdom!
I think I’ll share some helpful resources and suggestions for pastors to be able to manage the stress and pressure later. For now, just pray for pastors and reach out to one if you know one (unless I’m your pastor… this wasn’t written for you, ha ha!).
About the Author
Luke Geraty is a pastor-theologian in northern California. With a few theology degrees and nearly twenty years of pastoral leadership, Luke loves the Bible, theology, fly fishing, coffee, and books. All opinions are his own and not the views of any other organizations he’s affiliated with. You can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and subscribe to his YouTube.