Pastors are in Crisis Right Now: SEND HELP
We are in a pastoral crisis. Pastors today are experiencing unprecedented rates of burnout and general dissatisfaction amongst their members. What bothers me the most though, is that every few months we receive word of another pastor who has taken his life.
Every pastor I know has talked about experiencing burnout, but it’s not just the ones I know. 91% of pastors have reported feeling some sort of burnout. It is not the primary reason but I do believe there is a direct correlation between pastors feeling run down, worn out, and seeing the option of taking their lives as their only chance at relief.
I believe the reason so many pastors feel this way is because of the model we have created. Everything is centered around “The Guy,” — he chosen one to lead God’s people. We place one man before the congregation and say this is our leader and guide.
Although we see in the Bible that we should have a plurality of Elders, Lead Pastors often look to Paul as the “first amongst equals” to justify their position. Look, I get it, because if someone was coming for my job, I am going to justify why I should have it as well.
We should be able to admit that even if the “first amongst equals” idea is good, right, and true, it’s a bit of a stretch for us to have divided the job of pastor into all of these titles we don’t see in scripture. There are no Executive Pastors, Lead Pastors, Senior Pastors, Women’s Pastor, Groups Pastors, Mercy and Justice Pastors, and Youth Pastors…I could go on.
In these roles, associate pastors are often given specialized jobs to free up The Lead Pastor (often referred to as “The Guy”) to devote himself to prayer, strategy, and vision casting. Placing all of the weight on the shoulders of one person to cast the vision and lead the church is a weight no pastor was meant to bear.
PASTOR, YOU SHOULD NOT BE DOING THIS ALONE.
This is why we believe in a plurality of Elders. Paul did not labor in ministry alone. We often look at Paul at the council of Jerusalem and use this as the model that someone has to step up and take the lead. I don’t think we should look at this one example as prescriptive but instead it as descriptive of a specific moment in time.
One person should not be responsible for the vision of the church alone. One man shouldn’t be preaching 40 out of 52 Sundays only taking off the JV days (the summer, the week after Easter, and between Christmas and New Years). One man shouldn’t be the only person the church looks to for shepherding and guidance. This is an unhealthy model and leads to burnout.
I once went to a church-planting seminar where I talked to a guy who planted a church and failed. He described the depression and anxiety he felt as it was all coming to and end. He talked about the burnout and how tired he was when it was all over. He was bold enough to share about the dark places this experience sent him to. 3 years later, he was in that room with me, talking about how he was getting ready to plant again.
I asked if he was going to do anything differently, perhaps plant with at least one other guy to share the load. He scoffed at me like that was the most foolish question I could possibly ask. Like a Mandalorian, he said “this is the way, this is the only way.” God called him to plant and this is the method by which we plant churches, any other way would be blasphemous.
We know this is a problem and yet we refuse to change. Aren’t the numbers and our own experiences proof enough? There is no reason for us to continue down this destructive path when there is a better way.
The truth is that pride and ego make us hold on to what was never ours to begin with. Every pastor will say Jesus is the head of the church but the way we hold and collect power is indicative of the belief that we’re #2 and it’s only through our execution that Jesus can accomplish his mission. I always say being a pastor is kind of like running for President. It takes a certain level of ego (not necessarily a bad thing) to believe that you’re the one God has chosen to lead these people.
This is the challenge I have for pastors: how can you take your belief and die to yourself? I think the answer is simple: you share the duties and responsibilities with other faithful men who are called to lead Christ’s Church too. Not in a lower level junior pastor position but as equals, sharing the load with you in every way. The obvious push back usually comes down to finances. If you want to hear more about this topic in particular, shoot me an email and I’d be happy to write a post about it.
The Core of the Job
Historically, when people thought of the role of pastor, a shepherd came to mind. Someone whose job was to oversee the flock, care for them, and guide them. Shepherds know their sheep well, even to the point of being able to pick theirs out amongst dozens of others.
Somewhere along the way our pastors became strategists instead of shepherds. Their primary job went from being with people to being their chief executive. They started spending less time with people and more time holed up in the office crafting programs for their people. For many this is time spent alone which undoubtedly can lead to feelings of isolation.
While pastors are responsible for creating and executing the vision of their local church, there is only so much strategizing one can do. The primary weight of the role of a shepherd should be time spent with his people. As pastor, your entire job is centered around them, because if there were no people, there would be no church.
Pastors should be prioritizing time spent with their flock over most other duties of the job. You cannot preach to people you don’t know, cause it won’t be as effective as you would hope. Rather than preaching personal sermons that speak to the heart of your congregation, you end up preaching general sermons that touch the surface but never quite reach the heart.
Outside of preaching, pastors should lead the way in what it means to be a good member of the body. A part of that is by being present. Being an active part of a community or mission group, showing up to church events, socializing with people as friends, etc.
Pastors should also present the humility that allows people to speak into their lives. This does not mean you go deep with everybody, that just isn’t possible but you do need faithful brothers and sisters who can get into your ear and tell it to you straight. For those who are not in that inner circle, you shouldn’t feel like a stranger. Transparency and openness must be displayed.
Pastors often sit on islands by themselves, which is is another reason that a plurality of Elders is so important.Often, no one is pastoring the pastor. A team of equal pastors has the freedom and ability to pastor one another without fear of upsetting the pastor and losing their position. We have heard the stories of the Lead Pastors who filled his Elder board with sycophants and yes men, ruled with an iron fist, and left everyone fearing in his shadow. Equality amidst the pastoral team can help to be a hedge against such things.
My desire is to see the numbers miraculously decline when it comes to pastors and church leaders committing suicide. We have to get away from this broken model that centers one person and puts all the weight on their shoulders. We also have to move away from this model that effectively makes pastors CEOs instead of servant leaders.
The restaurant industry is another arena that had high rates of suicide, divorce, drug abuse, and toxic work environments. There was a point in time where being a chef was one of the worst jobs you could have and almost certainly meant personal doom. Now the industry appears to have woken up. There is a collective movement to make things better. Chefs and their staff are beginning to treat people better, work them less, improve working conditions, and take the steps necessary to guard their mental and emotional health.
While this excites me and I am happy for them, I can’t help but feel a twinge of sadness. This shouldn’t be another example where the world leads the way when the Church should be the one setting the standard. We trust in a Savior who bore our burdens for our good, there is no reason we should now place more on ourselves.