First of all, I know some of you clicked on this because it’s a list, and we like lists. And that’s ok, the first step in addressing a problem is admitting you have one. You’ve got a problem, now read my list.
In light of pastor appreciation month, I thought I’d share some things pastors struggle with so you can appreciate yours more. Just a note: I am a student pastor and I work with two of the greatest pastors in the WORLD. So here goes, top 5 things that your pastors struggle with.
Vision is a primary responsibility for most pastors. It is the purpose they were hired for and with good reason. Proverbs 29:18- “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.” (KJV) So we don’t want our churches to perish! So we hire a pastor to lead out in vision.
No matter what kind of pastor you are under or what type of personality he is. Vision is dependent on the Word of the Lord. Note the passage quoted above the lack of vision is contrasted with one who keeps the law, a set of directions given by God to His faithful. This makes for an interesting dilemma when we are placing the responsibilities of vision and direction for a church on the shoulders of one man. You see, God does not always share the details of the vision with the people He calls to follow. Abram was just told to start walking, Jeremiah was told that God would give him words, and the disciples were promised that Jesus would send them help. So vision is not always something crystal clear to pastors and we need to be patient for them to hear from the LORD.
Sometimes it’s the other way around though. Sometimes the pastor has strong vision but has an obstinate congregation that won’t follow, such as when Moses called the people to move camp and Korah saw it as arrogance and rebelled against him. That does not go well for Korah (Num. 16). Sometimes the struggle with vision is simply that people don’t want to follow God, this is equally frustrating and causes a great deal of stress for your pastors.
You can help your pastors by encouraging them to stay in the Word. The more time they spend in prayer and study, the stronger their vision will be. You can also ask them what they are learning about God and genuinely listen to their answer. Focus our conversations and thoughts on Jesus and His mission and we will be encouraged to seek out and communicate His vision for the church. Then listen and get behind the vision. When the vision is unclear, pray and ask the Lord to give it clarity (your pastor cannot bring clarity to a vision he does not see clearly and to expect him to is wrong).
2. The desire to be liked
The desire to be well thought of. Most pastors have a deep desire to love people and to be loved by people. Now, those of you who know me might be surprised that I am including this one. I am one of those rare individuals that can honestly say that it does not bother me if you disagree or like me. I will do what I will do with little regard for what you think about what I should do. But, I know this about myself, so I am in constant touch with wiser men and women who can help to direct my steps and give wise counsel with regard to others. However true this quirk may be within me, this is not the case for most. Most pastors want people to think very highly of them. When you couple that desire with the struggle for vision above, you have a recipe for a pastor who is a nervous bundle of emotions primed to explode at any moment.
Many pastors are swayed by the opinion of others because they have a sincere desire to be liked. Often you can identify the type of people who will sway your pastor. I have noticed that, in general, pastors are swayed by one of four groups of people. 1. Those who look to him as the head and hero (e.g. the guy that tells me I’m awesome). 2. Those who think of him as the enemy (e.g. the one who avoids me at all costs and attempts to undermine my leadership). 3.Those who match some sort of authoritative archetype from their past (e.g. the woman/man who acts like my mom/dad or someone who had a major impact on my life). 4. Those who work really hard at the church and ministries we lead (e.g. the one I can count on to do what I ask). There are some others, but for the most part, those who appeal to your pastor’s desire to be liked are one of these four. The trouble with these four groups swaying your pastor’s resolve is that none of them are the Word of God. If you want a powerful prophet-like pastor who will lead your church to change the world, then you must help him to overcome this desire and focus only on the One Voice that matters.
You can help your pastor by making sure he knows you like him regardless of what he does. Let him know you care about his family, listen to him, and spend time with him and his family. Refrain from giving your opinion. Try to share more scriptural insight than opinion. As a pastor, I can tell you that when someone tells me what they have been learning in Scripture, I am lit up like a Christmas tree! When they tell me their opinions I want to throw rocks at them.
Your pastor knows the numbers issue. He checks rosters, attendance charts, and takes note of low attendance Sundays. However, your pastor is stuck between a rock and a hard place. You see, in the Old Testament the kings are told NEVER COUNT THE PEOPLE!!! When they do count the people, it goes really bad for them, when they don’t count the people things go pretty well. Further, did you ever notice, Jesus seems to be anti-numeric growth in the gospels? He’s constantly trying to get away from the crowd. With this in mind, your pastor also wants to keep his job and knows that smaller numbers typically means less impact and less impact means less influence, less influence means less excitement over our vision, less excitement over our vision means less likely to keep your job. Further, we want to reach millions for Christ! Your pastors are acutely aware that “there were not as many people here today.” Further, even if your pastor is not bothered by small numbers, he knows you are and therefore he is bothered.
The trouble lands in the counting. The Lord urges your pastor to trust Him, but we often urge our pastor to do something about it. In 2 Chronicles 2:7-8, the king of Israel takes a census of the people. As a result, the people of Israel are punished. (I wonder sometimes if our obsession with numbers and counting is why we cannot seem to foster the Spirit in many of our American churches. In other words, perhaps we are being punished?) No one wants their congregation punished.
You can help your pastor by inviting friends. This is not particularly hard to do, but it is something we American Christians are HORRIBLE at doing. Invite your friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to church. You can also commit yourself to aiding the pastor in his work whether or not you agree with his decisions. Don’t bring up the numbers, let him do that. If you are kind and have worked to know your pastor, he will ask for your opinion on the numbers issue eventually. Poorly placed opinions kill souls of pastors. Keep your opinions to yourself, give him Scripture, and you will one day develop the trust necessary to give input.
Time Management! Your pastors feel pulled in so many different directions that we often want to quit. We need to be active in the community apart from the church, we need to be visiting the sick and elderly, we need to be active in every program at the church, we need to be spending significant time studying, we need to organize the people, we need to take this mission or that trip, we need to make sure we provide for the spiritual needs of our own family, we need to, we need to, we need to… all needs. All too little time to accomplish those needs. Then you pile on the wants and there is no time to sleep or eat! The truth is that we need to say no. We need margin, that is the space between the load we put on ourselves and the ability we have to accomplish or address that load. Most pastors are exceptional time managers, what we lack is the ability to say no, or prioritize in the midst of a culture that says we must have every hour full!
This is overtly anti-biblical! The idea that every hour must be full is absurd and defies God’s constant refrain in Scripture to rest in His provision. Your pastors need margin and so do you.
You can help him by giving him space or by taking care of small things for him. You see something needs to be done at church? Go do it. Also, make sure he knows he does not have to be at everything! If he show up to something, great! But if for some reason he cannot or does not, be OK with that. Don’t make him feel like he must be everywhere and as a result you’ll see him more places.
5. Maintaining a relationship with the Lord
A non-professional relationship with God. Pastors live in a privileged position and all pastors know it. They are paid to study and teach about the most Magnificent God of the Universe. Because of this professional relationship with the Word, we have a hard time maintaining a personal relationship with the LORD. We spend a great deal of time studying for Sunday, Wednesdays, prayer meetings, classes, counseling sessions, or small groups and we often forget to make time for our own relationship with the LORD.
Contrary to popular belief, pastors do not have any more of a direct line to God than you do. We are people, just like you. As such, just like you we need the discipline to wake up early or stay up late to know the Lord, just like you.
You can help your pastor by talking about the Lord more than this church. Show him you value the distinction of his professional life from his personal life. Show him you desire for him to love the Lord more. Talk to him about Jesus. You can also help by giving him a retreat. Let them get away from the church for a week, a weekend, a month, or several if that is necessary.
If you’re a pastor or have some idea of something I did not include, post it in comments below.