Ministers toil under a load of heavy demands that shouldn’t be there, and we need to change that
I have read two stats about ministers that chafe at my soul.
The first is that most pastors have no real friends. When you remove the relationships they have with their congregation and denomination, where they must always guard what they say and act in expected ways as a spiritual leader, they have no friends. They have no relationships where they can be themselves. They have no place to relax with those who will accept them for who they are. They have no confidant to share worries and struggles with who will not judge them. Despite all their social interaction, being a minister must be a lonely job.
The second is that of seminary graduates entering the ministry today, only one in forty will retire from it. The other thirty-nine will switch careers. That’s 97.5 percent who will leave the job God called them to do. First, this doesn’t say much about the success rate of seminaries in preparing people for ministry. Second, this hints that a job as minister carries near impossible expectations, which is to our shame as laity, because:
We Expect Our Pastors to Spiritually Feed Us: How many times have you heard someone leave a church because “I’m just not being spiritually fed?” Have you ever said that? I have, and I was wrong to do so. My minister isn’t supposed to give me a week’s worth of spiritual nourishment on Sunday morning. I’m supposed to be mature enough to feed myself throughout the week, eating solid foods and not relying on milk as a baby. Expecting our pastors to do this for us is unfair and unbiblical.
We Expect Our Pastors to Always Be Available: Most congregants assume their pastor is there to meet their needs at any time. This puts ministers on call, 24/7. As someone who was continuously on call for years, I know how draining it is. (My on call was primarily for technical issues; people issues could usually wait until business hours.) I would cringe when the phone rang and eventually drafted my wife to screen calls. It took me years to recover. It’s not healthy to require ministers to be available at all hours, to jump when we call.
We Expect Our Pastors to Align With Our Interests: If we are passionate about a cause, we presume our ministers will share our fervor. But if they did this with everyone in the congregation, they would need to align with every movement and care about every good initiative. We have unique, God-given interests and should allow our pastors to do the same.
We Expect Our Pastors to Solve Our Problems: We assume ministers will provide counseling when we need it, meet with us whenever we want, and answer the phone every time we call. We expect a one-stop solution to whatever ails us, with our pastor as the answer. But there are not enough hours in the day for one person to meet everyone’s needs to their complete satisfaction.
These expectations don’t come from God. They come from society, church culture, and past practices. But instead of expecting our ministers to serve us, we need to serve one another, to become priests to each other (consider the “priesthood of believers”). We start by consulting the Bible and looking at all the verses of how we are to treat one-another: to love, accept, instruct, submit, forgive, teach, admonish, encourage, agree, give, and so on.
If we do this, when we do this, we will place fewer expectations on our clergy. They will have less stress, and we will more fully align with what the Bible says we are supposed to do.
[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s September newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Receive the complete newsletter each month.]