The Five Common Struggles of Pastors

This isn’t a scientific study, or even results from a poll.  These five things are simple reflections of nearly twenty years in vocational ministry (twelve as a student pastor and six as a church planter/pastor).  In my opinion, here are five common struggles of pastors.

1. Stress.

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said the four hardest jobs in the United States are President of the United States, a University president, CEO of a hospital and a local church pastor.

Let that sink in for a moment. If you’re a pastor, the degree of difficulty of your job is up there with the President of the United States. And we’ve all seen those before and after pictures.

Pastors are under an incredible amount of stress. In addition to dealing with their own issues, they often bear the weight of the struggles of other people. They lead their own families and finances, but also feel the weight of the entire congregation. They have the stress that accompanies their own financial issues, but feel the weight of financial situation of the entire church.

Pastors are leaders, public speakers, counselors, community leaders and monks rolled into one. The job descriptions are ridiculous. The requirements of the job are diverse. The schedules easily spin out of control.

2. Marriage.

There’s a ton of pressure on pastors to look like they have it all together, especially with their spouses and children. A Leadership Magazine study found 95% of pastors felt pressured to have an ideal family.

The pastor has preached many sermons on marriage. But what does he do when his own marriage needs work? Pastors struggling in their marriage often don’t know where to turn for help.

But if the pastor went to the deacons about this problem, he might be fired. Getting help takes a back seat to protecting his job.

Many pastors feel like they can’t openly talk about their marriage issues with anyone. Because they are up on a pedestal, admitting their struggles is kin to abdicating leadership of their church.

For several years, my own marriage was struggling. All the while I was preaching sermons – some of them on marriage! On the outside, everything looked great. On the inside, things were falling a part. It wasn’t until something dramatic happened that we sought out a professional counselor.

I’ve got many regrets, but not going to counseling before I HAD to go to counseling is one of them.

3. Depression.

There’s a heavy weight that comes with being a pastor that most people just can’t understand. It’s because a pastor is more than a CEO and a public speaker – he or she is a spiritual shepherd.

You might think depression is something “other people” deal with. After all, with the Word of God, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, why in the world would a pastor struggle with depression? The weight of other people’s struggles make their way to to the heart of pastor. There are incredible expectations, and when those aren’t met, it’s easy to get down.

Stress, marriage problems, finances, burnout, critics, spiritual warfare, unnecessary comparison…I could go on and on. All of these things weigh a person down.

“The likelihood is that one out of every four pastors is depressed,” said Matthew Stanford, a psychology professor at Baylor University.

4. Loneliness.

Pastors are some of the loneliest people on earth. Lifeway Research learned 55% of pastors, in fact, admitted to being lonely. You might think a pastor is the most popular person in the church, but in many cases, he’s one of the most isolated.

This was my story as I planted and led a church for five years. As our church got larger and my stage got bigger, I mistakingly cut myself off from people in order to “go to the next level.”

I was scared to be vulnerable with people because I was afraid their opinion of me would be messed up. I made jokes and excuses and allowed my introverted personality to keep me from developing real friendships.

A lot of pastors are introverts – comfortable in their study but not always the life of the party. But these pastors need friendships, too. They need to be able to hang out with other pastors and not talk about church growth strategies. They need to be able to be open and honest with a group of real friends without the fear of losing their jobs.

Ironically, the larger your church gets, the more lonely leaders can become.

5. Conflict.

From the deacon who doesn’t like the new direction of the church to the staff member who just can’t get it together, a pastors has to deal with more conflict than most people realize. It’s not all praying and reading the BIble – there are tough conversations and difficult circumstances to navigate.

Pastors deal with a lot of conflict, and dealing with conflict often leads to more conflict.  Conflict in the church carries over to conflict at home.

Make no mistake about it, being a pastor is a tough gig.  There are too many many casualties.  In a coming post, I’ll share some ideas on how we can begin to solve this problem.


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