I am not sure if you know who Ed Stetzer is? I know he doesn’t know me, but I follow him in Twitter. (It is true you can teach an old dog new tricks) Ed is the Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. A short time ago he tweeted about a meeting at Wheaton College that focused on Clergy health and the struggles we all face. Wow! That got my attention. When I went to seminary, we did not talk about struggles. We talked about leadership, planning our day, preaching and theology. Sure, there was the 3-hour class on counseling, and the requisite unit on funerals. However, the idea that we would face challenges that could not be overcome with a day off or prayer was not even on the radar. Now closing on forty years following graduation, I resonate with Stetzer on the challenges we face. Let me tip my hat to the man who is helping surface the challenges we all face regularly, and who is not afraid to shine light on what has been hidden too long. As you read this, I hope you take the time to realize you are not alone. If you are not clergy, take a moment to not just pray for your pastor, but also go and ask how you can support him/her. When they regain consciousness (as most of us have never been asked this question before), offer your support in some tangible way. Once again, we are not alone, the Body of Christ cannot function in isolation, and that is especially true for those in leadership positions.
Stetzer identified six ways pastor’s struggle. The fist is identity. “Pastors generally have three identities they need to balance: their perceived religious identity, their cultural identity, and their own identity.” (Stetzer) Start with the first one, “perceived religious identity”. As the professional holy person, sometimes it is thought that pastors have the answers, and their life is neat and orderly. No, not always. First most of us have more questions than answers and pastors like the rest of us have issues that need to be resolved. What about cultural identity. Years ago, the pastor was among the most educated people in the community. Respected, trusted, above reproach. Last, I heard, pastors are rated less trustworthy than used car salespeople are! Ouch! Then there is the person when the pastor is home alone and no one else is around. The challenge is to remain authentic in each of these places and that is not always easy.
Second pastors struggle with community. Again, the mantra when I was in seminary was do not make close friends with people in your church. However, pastors need someone who knows them well can ask tough questions and with whom they can be very honest. Stetzer noted that someone asked him if there was anyone who knew him well enough to see through the image and know the real man, other than his wife? Fortunately, for him, Stetzer does have that close friend. While many pastors have boards and judicatories looking over their shoulders, not everyone has the kind of accountable transparency that allows them to share the struggles all people face.
Third, pastors struggle with boundaries. This quote from Stetzer should be placed in a visible place in every pastor’s office/study: “As pastors, we must remember that we cannot have a deep personal relationship with everyone in the church. We want to shepherd them to the degree that we can.” There are times when you will have to say no, so that you can focus on what God has called you to do and be. Everyone in the church has an expectation of what the pastor should do and be. The reality is, we are not Jesus and we cannot be all things to all people, so there are times when you will have to say no. If you are part of a community, and not the pastor, here is where you can support your pastor, when you hear complaints about what the pastor is not doing; you can remind them that only God himself is omnipresent!
Fourth pastor struggle with accountability. It would amaze most people to realize how much discretionary time as pastor has. That does not mean “free” time. It means that it is up to the pastor to decide how to spend the day. This means pastors need to remember they are accountable, and that accountability is not to your Twitter feed, or the Facebook community, the pastor is accountable to the elders of the church they serve. Let me borrow another quote from Stetzer: “But here’s the thing: in an unhealthy world, you’re accountable to everyone. In a healthy world, you have true, submitted accountability to the right people. Again, in a church, if you’re a senior pastor, it is probably to a board and maybe ultimately to your church.” Remember you don’t have to account to everyone, but be sure you have accountability in the right people and the right places.
Fifth, pastors struggle psychologically. “According to a Lifeway Research study, 23 percent of pastors indicated that they had struggled psychologically with 12 percent of pastors saying it was diagnosed (the other 11 saying it was undiagnosed).” (Stetzer) Read that again, this translates to 1 out of 4! By the way, that is higher than the general population, which is around one out of five. I wish I had an answer for this reality but I do know this, we live in a fallen world and pastors are a part of that. Then add to this, Satan usually attacks the leadership. I also believe that most pastors are convinced that a little more prayer or greater devotion will resolve the problem, and then many have been taught to distrust the mental health community. Hey, I am part of that mental health world and most of the people I know have a deep and abiding respect for people of faith and would be delighted to support a pastor in the midst of the challenges they face.
Finally, Pastors struggle spiritually. One of the most paradoxical elements of ministry for me is that I spent a lot of time preparing to teach or preach. I had to dedicated and set aside time each day for my own personal relationship with God or the other demands of ministry would crowd out that time. What happened then is that I focused on the “professional side” and I could easily miss the voice of God in my life. Here is where the accountability part comes in; we need others looking over our shoulders to ask, are you maintaining that spiritual life, apart from the professional side.
I hope that as you read this list, you did not hear condemnation, but rather invitation. You see you are not alone, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV84), “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Also, remember that there are others who stand ready to support and assist you, without judgement or condemnation. However, you do need to ask!