10 Things Pastors Say Only to Other Pastors

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Will Browning, Lead Pastor of a Journey Church, a multi-site church ministering in the Charleston, SC, area. Dr. Browning is husband to Tarah, father to Piper, Ethan, and Jedidiah, a coach to church planters, and an avid South Carolina Gamecock fan. He is a graduate of Georgia Southern University, Southern Seminary, and Southeastern Seminary. To learn more about Will’s ministry, go to www.willbrowning.com and/or www.journeychurchsc.org.

Every pastor needs a healthy place to vent, though choosing that trustworthy ear to bend must be a careful decision. Many pastors feel freer to be most transparent with someone who has walked in their shoes, namely, other pastors. Throughout the last month, I asked dozens of pastors this question: “What are the things you say to other pastors that you would not dare say publically?” With their permission, I want to share their answers.

  1.  I hate people! – I said this once in a sermon. Needless to say, my elders had to sit me down to have a conversation. Many pastors are just overwhelmed by the challenges associated with ministry, causing their mire to be misappropriated.
  2.  Most Mondays I want to quit. – After Sunday’s adrenaline rush, Mondays often feel like a hangover. That, accompanied with the grind of “doing it all again,” can be draining.
  3. I am fighting an ongoing battle with lust built on the sins of my adolescence. – I don’t mean to paint your pastor in a bad light, but he is fighting some of the same battles you are fighting. The difference is he has nearly no one he can safely share his struggles with.
  4. My marriage is so strained I’m not sure we will make it. – The divorce rate for pastors is striking, yet somewhat predictable. People who are unable to admit their struggles and unwilling to seek help are set up to fail.
  5.  I’m scared to go on vacation. A story every pastor has heard (and fears will become his reality) is the one where the pastor goes on vacation, the leaders meet, and he comes home to a pink slip and a notice to be out of the parsonage ASAP.
  6.  My greatest concern is that my kids will leave my home resenting me, hating the church, and rejecting Jesus all because of their experience of being a pastor’s kid. – I heard this from almost 100% of the pastors I spoke with.
  7.  I’m depressed, and I have to manufacture joy to do my job. – From David to Elijah, Augustine to Luther, Spurgeon to Brainerd, many pastors suffer silently through depression behind a well-manicured smile.
  8. My wife begs me to leave the ministry for a more “normal” life. – Many pastors and their wives dream of a different life where their kids are not under a microscope, they are paid a fair wage, and they have a job with a predictable schedule.
  9. Most of the time I have no idea what I am really doing. – What other job description requires a man to be proficient in oratory, marketing, research, computer information systems, management, finance, and human resources, all while having impeccable theological expertise? Oh, yeah, by the way, you are also expected to raise perfect kids and have a perfect marriage.
  10. If everyone knew how insufficient my devotional life was, they would all leave and I wouldn’t blame them. – The emails that await us every morning, the work necessary to develop a quality sermon, and the unpredictable schedule ministry brings—these factors often crush a pastor’s devotional life.

I hope two applications come from this post. First, I hope pastors reading this post will seek out a confidant with whom they can safely vent frustrations, fears, and concerns. Second, I hope church congregants reading this will make it a priority this week to encourage and pray for the pastors of their church.

28 Comments

  • David nies-berger says:

    Thank you for this. I struggle with some of these too as a teacher. Who am I that others listen to anything I say? If only they knew the struggles inside. This post brings hope that men in leadership roles are not alone. Any suggestions on how we can support our pastors once we’ve prayed for them? These are very real and difficult challenges to face especially alone

    • Dana says:

      Very good question. I am a pastor’s wife and can offer this perspective:
      1. My child is just a kid. He doesn’t need to bear the name or expectations of ‘Pastor’. He is growing and makes mistakes just like every other child. Somedays he is very helpful and excited to serve and other days he just wants to have fun and that is ok. In the future he may decide to be a church leader, and be held to higher standards. However, right now he is 9, terrified of public speaking, and wants to be a chemist. We make it a point to never say “You can’t behave that way because you are a preacher’s kid” or “how does that make your dad look?”. Instead his correction needs to be rooted in his sin and has nothing to do with his father’s job. I have no problem with someone appropriately correctly his behavior, just don’t root the correction in his dad’s job. He didn’t choose that position any more than another child chose to be a child of an accountant, lawyer, mechanic, or teacher.
      2. Monday’s can be hard, especially for bi-vocational pastors. Consider sending a positive email on Monday morning to help a pastor start out the day well and on a good note. These emails are saved and re-read on bad days in our household.
      3. If you see a weakness in your pastor / church. Find a solution. For example, you may be a website designer and notice that the church’s website could use updating. Rather than just pointing out the issue, offer to help with the solution.
      4. Give pastors time to be with their family and also to recharge. Most people don’t realize that my husband is a natural introvert. He needs time to recharge by himself – that needs to be ok.
      5. The biggest thing that you can do is to be an encourager. When you see something positive let them know! Yes, things will always need to be improved, but encouraging words can go a long way for everyone, not just pastors.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, David. I would ask your pastors how you can best pray for them. Make your intercession as personal and strategic as possible.

  • Gary says:

    Thank you Dr. Lawless. These are things one would never confess to another person but are very true. It is hard to believe that 7-8 out of 10 men will quit the ministry. The road is often lonely, hard, and difficult to explain to others–so we keep quiet.

  • James Holliday says:

    Great article! I have heard each of these from numerous pastors over 30 years of ministry. I have dealt some of these in my life and ministry. The most important thing we can do for ourselves and each other is to make it a priority to build relationships with each other. The Lord means for us to be part of the body not just leading it. If we can’t love each other and care for each other how can we expect our people to do it. Thanks Will for being real and serving other pastors. You are a blessing to all that know you.

  • Kris J says:

    While I agree with everything said here, it’s kind of disappointing that the pronouns used are all male. Female pastors go through the same struggles.

  • Doc Benson says:

    A window on this issue can be seen in the faith based film “Seven Deadly Words”, which shows with great accuracy a behind the scenes look at the life of a pastor and his family.

  • Ken says:

    If you’ve never faced one of these issues, chances are you just haven’t been in the ministry long enough. I’ve been a pastor for 20 years, so if I may share some suggestions….

    Regarding #1. Yes, it’s very easy to fall into that mentality, especially when a church member has hurt you. I made a decision years ago that I simply would not allow myself to become a cynic. You can’t minister to people if you shut them out of your life or constantly suspect their motives. Besides, I just don’t think that’s a good way to live your life. I’d rather run the risk of getting hurt again than live in constant suspicion of others.

    Regarding #2: Yes, I’ve been there many times. The devil knows how to play on your emotions, especially during times of physical, emotional, or spiritual fatigue. The solution? Don’t make any major ministry decisions during these times. It’s too dangerous. There may be legitimate reasons for you to move to a new field of ministry, but only make that decision after much prayer and soul-searching, and at a time when you’re less vulnerable to the devil’s attacks.

    Regarding #4, 6, and 7, I suggest two simple rules. (1) Your family is more important than your ministry. (2) If your ministry seems more important than your family, see rule 1. If you fail in ministry, you can always try again, but you only get one shot at raising a family.

    Regarding #5: Take your vacation anyway, and if you get fired, you get fired. I know that’s easier said than done, but you won’t do yourself or your family any good by refusing to take a vacation. If the church wants to get rid of you, they’ll probably find a way regardless of whether you take your vacation. Besides, if they’re low enough to pull a stunt like that, they’re not worth your time and effort.

    Regarding #9: Join the club! That may sound flippant, but it’s not intended as such. For me, it was comforting to know I wasn’t the only pastor that struggles with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. It’s much more common than you realize. The solution? Admit your inadequacies to God and seek His wisdom. You’ll be surprised at how He’ll lead you when you confess your need of His leadership.

    Regarding #10: I’ve made this mistake myself many times. Keep your devotional time a priority, and don’t let anything interfere with it. I’ve discovered that if I spend time with God first, I feel much more prepared to deal with those nasty emails and other thankless duties of ministry.

    • Lance says:

      Ken – I haven’t been a senior pastor in a church. I have been a servant in a few churches over the past 22 years. Whenever I have had a disagreement with a friend we have talked it out and remained friends. Every single time I have had even a mild disagreement with a pastor they think it is OK to either stop talking to me altogether or suggest politely that I should go to a different church. Before you “assume” that I am some sort of trouble maker; I served for 12 years at a church I assisted in planting (10 years as the Associate Pastor / Elder), so I can be long suffering. I wanted to have a deeper relationship which involved mutual accountability. The pastor said NO, and then refused to speak to me for months until I finally decided for the sake of my family to leave. MONTHS! My wife and daughter stopped attending before I finally had to leave as well.
      The really sad thing is that over the past 5 years I have not spoken to a single pastor who thinks that this pastor should have been confronted. They all defend him as “God’s anointed” and the “man of God” in that local church. I have found that it’s “natural” for pastors to be arrogant and dismissive of those “under” them. I know that you disagree . . . . your a pastor. Teachers defend the school “system”. Police defend police. Pastors defend pastors. Just the way it is.

  • Chuck Lawless says:

    Thanks, Ken.

  • Todd Benkert says:

    I’m afraid #3 is something pastors do not even admit to other pastors. Many find there really is no “safe” person to admit certain types of struggles.

  • nateelarton says:

    I honestly believe some pastors struggle these things from time to time, but for a pastor to “hate people”, fight lust and depression all the time, life so out of balance and not have much of a devotional time, they must be very unhealthy. This is not an article describing healthy pastors/leaders. This may describe some extreme cases but does not reflect an accurate picture of all of us pastors. My humble opinion. I don’t want people thinking all pastors are just a big emotional, undisciplined, dyfunctional mess.

  • nateelarton says:

    No problem. I know pastoring is difficult, and challenging, but should not break us, with good friends, and God’s help.

  • Maxine says:

    I agree with all of your comments: I have a family full of pastors and I myself taught ladies Bible study for several years as well as weekly musician. I went thru almost all of those myself. I feel that if you are in a true ministry of any kind, those issues will always apply….. just my thoughts.

  • Lance says:

    This is why the Bible teaches that churches should be led by “elders” and not a single pastor. Every single problem listed above nearly vanishes when churches are led by shepherd elders who hold one another accountable and all of whom are jointly held accountable by the congregation. The vast majority of pastors reject being held accountable. Instead they appeal to the counsel of fellow pastors and instead of counseling it turns into a gripe session and “woe is me”. Not blaming the pastors (except that they refuse to change the man made system to a Biblical one). We have had this system since Ignatius of Antioch said, “where the Bishop is that is where the Church is”. We need a Reformation of the Church governmental structure back to Biblical Elders leading the churches making disciples rather than the “senior pastor” looking to build an audience.

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