By Mark A. Taylor
“I feel like I got my husband back.”
This testimony came from the wife of a fellow who had served many years in local church ministry before joining the staff of a Christian publishing house. He does not work at Standard Publishing; you wouldn’t recognize his name. But his situation is unfortunately familiar to many ministers you know.
Several years ago, George Barna said churchgoers “expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks. That’s a recipe for failure.”
And even without such unreasonable expectations, local church ministry can be more demanding than many appreciate. Crises come inconveniently—and serving those caught up in them requires more hours than many church members realize. Add the workload of lesson and sermon preparation, leading and attending meetings, recruiting and then supervising staff members and volunteers, and you have a workweek that far exceeds 40 hours.
Barna’s research this summer showed most ministers believe they lead balanced lives. (It didn’t say what most ministers’ spouses believe.)
But the same survey showed 61 percent of ministers admitting they have few close friends. About a fourth described themselves as introverts. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but these introverted leaders, according to Barna, “are more likely to feel underappreciated in ministry and are more apt to feel relationally isolated.” In fact one-sixth of all those surveyed said they’re underappreciated.
Maybe the minister’s isolation comes from the unique role he’s called to fill: He must lead the whole church and challenge church members to grow while at the same time keeping them happy enough not to demand his ouster. Most of us have only one boss to please; the minister may feel he has hundreds.
Some churches treat their minister like a hireling; he’s not free to lead, only to respond. Other churches make the opposite error, establishing no accountability with their minister and offering him no feedback.
Effective congregations allow the minister to maximize his gifts while providing ways to compensate where he’s weak. But some ministers have no safe place even to admit their weaknesses.
The Barna report this summer suggested how we should view professional ministers: “As simple as it sounds, keep in mind that pastors are normal people, too—with hopes, dreams, families, challenges, insecurities, and idiosyncrasies.” He reminded readers how difficult local church ministry can be and encouraged churchgoers to express gratitude to those who serve.
However else we react to our ministers, we can at least do that.