Andrew Stoecklein and family

Shepherds are an endangered species in North America. The women and men who accepted a call to shepherd congregations through their valleys of the shadow of death have broad shoulders. But even the best are falling prey to deadly burdens.

Burdens they often bear alone.

Jim Howard, lead pastor of the Valencia campus of the more than 6,000 member Real Life Church in California fatally shot himself in the head at home on January 23rd, 2019. His associates didn’t hear his pain.

This post is for Pastors.

And their families.

And the people they pastor and those who lead with them.

Shepherds’ Struggles

Pastor Ted Parker, 42, of Macon, Ga., died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the driveway of his home while his 800-member church and his family waited for him to show up to preach on Sunday morning.

Inland Hills Lead Pastor Andrew Stoecklein tried taking his own life at his megachurch in August 2018. He died three days later. The pastor left behind three young children, and his wife. Weeks earlier he tried to explain his struggles to his congregation.

Most pastors are not suicidal. But most pastors do struggle.

“Pastors shoulder a huge emotional burden, but they’re burning out…alone.” Ainsley Hawthorn a reporter for CBC noted on Jan 20, 2019.

Tragic Expectations

In 2017, Christ the Rock Community Church in Menasha, Wisconsin, announced that its founding pastor, Bill Lenz, took his own life—a tragic event that followed a months-long battle with depression.

There is no lack of statistics about pastors and depression, burnout, health, low pay, spirituality, relationships and longevity—and none of them are good. Three-fourths of them lead churches that are struggling by almost any measure or metric.

In this generation, pastors are expected to be business savvy, Instagram quotable preaching celebrities, fully accessible, deeply spiritual, not too young, not too old, but better young, and if a pastor doesn’t quite measure up to someone’s expectation, they are given a two out of five star rating on Google. Yep. Google ratings.

Inadequacies

The professional demands placed upon pastors are incredibly varied. Team leadership, budgeting, and project administration are often significant demands in a role that requires continual public speaking and individual counseling.

Combine that with being a scholar, an effective evangelist on the cutting edge of cultural relevance, and a leader in the righting of social injustices – even the prepared church leaders are usually left feeling inadequate.

4 Common Causes Of Ministry Pain

1. Emotional Pain: Doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists, and social workers are just some of the professionals who are at risk of compassion fatigue, burnout, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of regularly witnessing the intense suffering of others.

These ailments are caused by what’s called secondary or vicarious trauma. When someone describes a painful life event, an empathetic listener will feel grief, fear or anxiety on a small scale, like an echo of the original pain.

2. High Expectations: Pastors often tolerate and unwittingly collaborate with expectations that they are capable of doing anything and should be perfect in all aspects of life and worship. The clergy profession has been labelled a “holy crosssfire” as the leader and his or her family attempt to juggle competing expectations of self, family, congregation, denomination and God.

3. Deficient Social Support: A pastor spends the bulk of their relational energy engaging intimately and intensely with others, but without reciprocal sharing and support. Deficient levels of social support resulting from these “half-intimacies” contribute to consequences such as marital maladjustment, depression, loneliness, role overload and inappropriate relationships with church members, in addition to burnout.

4. Financial Demands: Working long hours for comparatively low pay is stressful for clergy and their families. It is not just the financial realities themselves, but the guilt that Christian leaders may experience for being concerned about such “materialistic” matters resulting in doubling of the stressor.

Intervention: Managing Ministry Stress

My friends, Dr. Gerry and Sharon Michalski, pastors at Soul Sanctuary, Winnipeg, Manitoba shared the following with lead pastors of large churches at a pastors conference in January 2019.

Their advice is a blueprint for pastors, their families, and church leadership to work together to ensure well being and replenishment.

Pastor Gerry Michalski, 500 Plus Conference

1. Pastor – Stop. Breathe. Pray. Stop what you’re doing. Take a deep breath and gather yourself. Now ask Jesus for peace, wisdom and courage to be vulnerable. Repeat.

2. Do something about it. There can be a tendency for pastors to think, “This problem is just too big. I’m helpless. There is nothing I can do.” One key is to create a sense of personal urgency to do something. Lead yourself well.

3. Talk to a supervisor, physician, counselor, mentor or trusted friend. Seek their support so that together you can generate changes to alter the feeling of helplessness. Vulnerability in a safe space is courageous. Boards – insure help on all levels is provided and promoted – prayer, medication, support, counsel.

4. Be interdependent with God. Target and acting directly on the source of the stress in collaboration with God. Make use of the Sabbath principle. Take off a day a week, a week a year, 3 months sabbatical every seven years – not as holidays – but as rest for your soul.

5. Trade abstract expectations for concrete expectations. Pastor – do you have a job description? Agreed upon work arrangement and hours?

6. Take regular breaks. Walk. Run. Ride. Take a day off every week. Use your vacation days. All of them.

Kerith Retreats is a wonderful resource for pastors and their spouses. Surrounded by the calm of nature, Kerith Retreat centres offer the space to truly find stillness and the retreat schedule enables leaders to experience profound renewal.

APPLICATION

Everything in a pastor’s life isn’t stressful. There is lot’s of joy. And we have amazing experiences, engaging in situations few see in a lifetime. Are you in church leadership? Talk with your pastor about this. Please pass this on to a pastor you know. Be an MVP for your pastor. Leaving a comment or a prayer below would be great. Thank you.


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Bob Jones

Author Bob Jones

Pastor at North Pointe Community Church for 28 years. Happily married to Jocelyn for 39 years. We have two adult sons, Cory and his wife Lynsey and their son Vinnie and daughter Jayda; Jean Marc and his wife Angie and their three daughters, Quinn, Lena and Annora. I love being a pastor and inspiring faith in Jesus through communicating, blogging, counseling and coaching. I enjoy running, reading, writing and ball hockey. Fan of the Esks and Pats. Follow me on Twitter @bobjones49ers

More posts by Bob Jones

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Valerie Cudmore says:

    Important information…a very good post!

  • Carole Holmes Schlachra says:

    Thank you Jesus for Pastor Bob.
    Please bless him abundantly for understanding those who are in ministry and putting forth the words of depth, encouragement, direction and love.
    Lord, reach many in ministry with love from You.
    A pastor’s wife once said to me: “Carole, when your head is above the crowd you must realize that’s when you get slapped with the mud.”
    I was shaken by this, so I would like to say to those of you who are attending a church, please pray for your Pastors. They have put their by the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for them, listen to what the Lord has given them for you, apply the Word of God to your lives and most of all, love them.
    The Lord will bless you. Remember, above all else, “Love one another, as I have loved you.
    God bless you, Pastor Bob and Jocelyn with every good thing for your needs, encouragement, and most of all, Love.

  • Sarah Ball says:

    This article really makes me sad but I am so glad that you are bringing awareness to it. I believe that a lot of churches have a ‘burnout’ culture. This underlining expectation and message that if you are not sacrificing your family, health, finances, etc. then you are not fully committed to Christ and the church. I am not a pastor, though I do minister to a lot of people with mental health issues and am a mom of . I have been in many churches that preach burnout as a badge of honour and that terrifies me. After experiencing my own mental breakdown and burnout, my boundaries are high and to be honest it doesn’t always sit well within the church community. I get a lot of push back for not being “fully committed” but one of the very first roads Jesus took me down when I was recovering was the power of rest and the dangers of striving. I will never go back to that place where I sacrifice my own mental, emotional, physical and dare I say Spiritual health to people please and fit into the box of what others think a strong Christian woman looks like.
    I think the church culture we have in North America is very unhealthy when it comes to what we expect from ‘one person’ aka the pastor to meet ‘all of our needs’. That one person is Jesus. He is the Shepard. He is the way, the truth and the life. Not pastors. I grieve at what we have created, that we devour our pastors with these irresponsible expectations and leave little reward for their sacrifice. Pastors are people, called by God, empowered by God, but flawed, hurting and human. I pray that we begin to create a safe culture within our churches that come from a place of rest and not striving and then perhaps we’d begin to see God move more cause we’re getting out if the way. – Honest thoughts – Thanks for posting such an important topic!

  • John Ginter says:

    Hi Pastor Bob,
    As I read today’s blog my mind turned to you.
    Please follow the advice suggested so that you can stay strong.
    Your friend in Him,
    John Ginter

  • Anita Pearse says:

    I hope you’re taking that advice to heart too Pastor Bob!!! We love you and want you to stay healthy – heart, mind, soul, body and spirit!!

  • Carole Holmes Schlachra says:

    Thank you Jesus for Pastor Bob.
    Please bless him abundantly for understanding those who are in ministry and putting forth the words of depth, encouragement, direction and love.
    Lord, reach many in ministry with love from You.
    A pastor’s wife once said to me: “Carole, when your head is above the crowd you must realize that’s when you get slapped with the mud.”
    I was shaken by this, so I would like to say to those of you who are attending a church, please pray for your Pastors. They have been put their by the Lord Jesus Christ. Pray for them, listen to what the Lord has given
    them for you, apply the Word of God to your lives and most of all, love them.
    The Lord will bless you. Remember, above all else, “Love one another, as I have loved you.
    God bless you, Pastor Bob and Jocelyn with every good thing for your
    needs, encouragement, and most of all, Love.

  • Betty Sveinson says:

    Interestingly, in the last few years, I have thought of my Pastors often. How on earth it is that they can cope with so many stories of death, loss, tragedy and other life struggles, and still continue to do their job effectively and look after their own families. I know that I would not have the stamina to cope with what they are facing every day. It makes me realize how hard it must be for them to try to shrug off the feelings of despair at times and put on a pleasant face and continue on. I pray for them often and that God will find a way to give them peace . In years past, I had a tendency to think that our Pastor’s have all the answers and can cope with anything. I soon realized that we all face struggles and tragedy every day but our Pastors face a hundred times more than we do.

    We have many support systems in our church for the congregants, (depressed, widowed, aged, young adults, addicted etc.). Our Pastors are a part of our congregation and need support as well. Should this be done through each individual church or at a higher level through the Assembly? Either way it will need the support of the congregants.

    This is a topic for further discussion and not to be forgotten about. Without our leaders, our churches will soon fall apart.

    I appreciate all that my Pastors do for me and my church every day.

    You are now and will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Betty Sveinson

  • Bob Jones says:

    Thank you for joining the conversation, Betty. Lots of good thoughts here. For NP’s pastors, we have good support through our District. In fact all of our pastors are together at a Conference this week for replenishment and learning. As well, members of our pastoral and support staff have a benefit plan affording support on many levels. Nothing like the affirmation and prayer of our church family.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Thank you for your prayer and love, Carole.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Thank you, Anita for reading and commenting. It is families like yours that support and care on so many levels and Jocelyn and I have felt that for over 20 years. God bless.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Hey, John. You have always been good as a Board member at North Pointe to walk the talk of caring for our staff. I have felt that personally. Thank you for being an MVP.

  • Bob Jones says:

    Hello my friend. Thank you for joining this conversation and more importantly for leading a conversation around mental health. Your story inspires and your book “Fearless in 21 Days” is a blueprint of help just like your comments are in this post about “the power of rest and the dangers of striving.” You help us as pastors to honor people when they know their limits and wisely say “No” to some of our requests for volunteer hours. All the best to you, Sarah.

  • Jeff says:

    Thank you pastor Bob for this important message. I hope all who read it will realize they are all a part of the body of Christ and that while we can not all be on stage we can all do our part to share the load. Many hands make light the load. Do what you can, delegate as much as possible and disregard the unimportant things.
    My heart goes out to those wonderful leaders and pastors who are struggling. I would hug you if I could and please let others share the burdens. Jeff

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