I have been back to the traveling aspect of my ministry since July. Since then, I have noticed a consistent reality among those who are leading our churches. It affects pastors regardless of ministry title: lead pastor, associate pastor, youth pastor, or children’s pastor. This cloud is hanging over pastors of both small and large churches. I have met pastors from every part of the country – North Carolina, Missouri, California, Texas – who can attest they all feel the same way.
Your pastor is tired.
More than a year ago, your pastor had to become an instant livestream expert so that churchgoers could stream Sunday services from the comfort of their home. They have had to pivot from having face-to-face member care and shepherding to loving people through Zoom and socially distanced meetings. The physical needs of church members grew as many saw their incomes wither because of lockdowns. The needs of the moment often exceeded the hours in the day.
As summer transitioned to fall, the options for gathering as a church began to grow exponentially. Should the church continue to livestream, meet outside, or gather indoors in a socially distanced manner? Then came the choice of requiring masks or not. Every week offered new CDC instructions on how to arrange gatherings in a safe way. The unending choices have brought about decision fatigue in many pastors I know.
Once decisions were made, criticism was not far behind:
“You did not open church soon enough.”
“You opened church too soon.”
“I cannot believe you’re requiring masks.”
“I cannot believe you’re not requiring masks.”
“I cannot understand why you are preaching on race, division, politics, etc.”
“I cannot understand why you are silent on race, division, politics, etc.”
It has all piled up to leave most pastors worn out. Some have left their churches or ministry altogether. There is a large segment of pastors who are seriously considering doing the same. This epidemic of pastoral fatigue does not have to be a malady that continues to be an issue that exists only in the shadows. There are steps we can take to ease the burden on pastors.
A Message for Church Members
To the church members reading this – there are some things that you can be doing to help in easing the burden on your pastor:
Pray for your pastor. Prayer might seem like an innocuous way to encourage your pastor, but pastoral work is a spiritual job that needs supernatural strength. Your pastors and elders need your prayers. (1 Thess 5:25)
Encourage your pastor. One of the difficult aspects of ministry is that there is little visible evidence of a job well done. Many wonder if they are making an impact in their churches. Tell them what God has done through them by writing a note, sending an email, or telling them face-to-face. You have no idea what that may mean to them. (1 Thess 5:11)
Give your pastor a no-excuse chance to rest. The vast majority of pastors I know are type A personalities – they work hard and rest little. Sometimes they need a nudge to take a break from their non-stop ministry to-do lists. Give them a gift card to their favorite restaurant and offer to watch their kids so they can go on a date. If you have a beach or mountain house – offer a week for their family to unplug and recharge. Encourage them with the excuse-free opportunity to be still without ministry expectations.
A Message for Pastors
To those in pastoral ministry who are worn out, I want to offer a few encouragements for you:
Know you are not alone. It can be demoralizing to give every ounce of your energy to your calling only to see worship numbers still hover around 50% of what things were pre-COVID, while church conflict is as high as it has ever been. It leaves you feeling like you just can’t cut it. You feel like you’re not enough. This feeling is not just a “you” problem. Paul felt “perplexed, afflicted and struck down.” (2 Cor 4:8-9) You have brothers in ministry all across the planet that are struggling as you are. You are not broken. You are human.
Find someone you can talk to regularly. The vast majority of pastors (70%) say that do not have a close friend that they can confide in. Amid such a great burden to bear, you need people that you can lean on. There is a multitude of pastors in your city and in your denomination that are going through what you are going through. There are people in your church and in your neighborhood that love you and want to stand with you. This isn’t your burden to bear by yourself. Allow room for the church to bear your burdens just as much as you bear the burdens of others. (Galatians 6:2)
Take a break. I spent 12 years of my ministry life as a student pastor. I know the unrelenting call of a “to-do” list that is not “to-done.” It is hard to take a break when you know that there is so much left to be done. In the past 5 weeks, I have filled the pulpit for 2 different pastors who were taking their first Sunday off in more than a year. That pace of work is a surefire path to burnout. Take a Sunday off and give a young ministry candidate in your church the chance to preach to your people. Make sure that you are taking a day a week to rest before the Lord and love on your family (Heb 4:9-10). You need time to fuel up so you can serve well.
Do not quit. Ministry is difficult in any year, but when you add on a global pandemic, political division, and criticism/discouragement at every turn the result can be complete and total burnout. Before you walk away – reach out for help. There are organizations like GAIN (God’s Anointed in Need) that offer respite for battle-weary pastors.
The Bride of Christ is with you pastor. We see you. We love you. We see Jesus in you. It is OK to be tired and beaten up. Take time to rest from the spiritual war you are in. We know that our kind King will carry you through and show the world more of Him – all by your life spent telling the world about our Great God.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)