Pastoring Shouldn’t Be This Hard (And 4 Ways to Make It Easier)

Digital oil on canvas done in Corel Painter.Being a pastor is the fourth hardest job in America. That’s been the common wisdom floating around the internet for a couple years now.

It may be true. But it shouldn’t be true. It certainly doesn’t need to be true. I think it’s time to stop making it true.

There are two reasons people believe that statement to be true.

1. Pastoring is hard work. No doubt about it.

2. The person who is credited with making that assessment was a highly respected writer and author on leadership. He should know, right?

 

How Hard Is It?

Here’s the full list of the four hardest jobs in America, from a piece by Philip Wagner at ChurchLeaders.com. This is the post most others have grabbed this quote from. Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:

  • The President of the United States
  • A university president
  • A CEO of a hospital
  • A pastor

In most articles I’ve read on this, the author usually goes on to cite further stats about the abysmal dropout and burnout rates among pastors, and understandably so.

Maybe it’s just me, but in too many of the articles I’ve read on this, there seems to be an underlying masochistic pleasure that pastors take in it. At times it feels as if we’re saying “See! I told you! My job is hard! This is why I’m burned out, stressed and overworked. Now, you may pity me.” 

Pastoring a church is certainly hard work. And Drucker’s assessment may be right. But it shouldn’t be right. In recent years, after suffering through my own mostly self-inflicted pastoral grief, I’ve come to this conclusion: If pastoring truly is the fourth hardest job in America, then we’re not doing it right.

 

It Shouldn’t Be This Hard

Take a look in the Bible. The New Testament writers never sugar-coated the challenges of ministry, but even in Paul’s list of hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, he chided himself, saying “I am out of my mind to talk like this.”

And that’s a man who was under Roman persecution! If a pastor in modern-day America (or Canada, or Europe, or…) feels we’re under pressure equivalent to the Apostle Paul, a lot of it has to be self-inflicted.

Pastoring shouldn’t be as hard as we make it.

With that in mind, I’ve assembled a short list that has helped me make the task of pastoring less burdensome and far more joyful.

 

1. Stop Being a Martyr

Many of us work ridiculous hours in ministry, and not always because we need to, or even because others expect it of us. Many of us just have this desperate need to be everyone’s hero. Much of the reason our task is harder than it should be is that we’re doing a lot of jobs we shouldn’t be doing.

As I said earlier, I’m convinced many pastors like hearing that our job is hard. We thrive on it.

Yes, martyrdom is sometimes considered one of the spiritual gifts, but I’m pretty sure Paul was talking about the kind of gift you only get to use once – not the gift that keeps on giving.

Much of that martyr syndrome comes from guilt. We feel guilty if we’re not doing everything for everyone. But no church can get healthy, and no pastor can stay healthy that way. Instead, we need to let a lot of tasks go. And the best way to do that is…

 

2. Start Making Disciples

If a church can’t run without the pastor doing everything, it isn’t healthy. And neither is its pastor. No, it’s not easy to make mature disciples. And you don’t get a church filled with them in a week, a month or a year. It’s likely to take a decade or more of hard work. It took longer than that for me and my church.

But it will never happen if we don’t do the primary job Jesus gave us to do as pastors. Make disciples. Prepare God’s people to do ministry.

I know it often seems like it’s easier just to do certain jobs yourself. And in the short run, it usually is. But in the long run it will ruin you – and cripple your church.

Jesus sent the 72 disciples out before they were fully prepared. They didn’t even realize that salvation mattered more than signs and wonders. But going out two-by-two, doing the best they could, then meeting back with Jesus for an assessment of the task was an essential part of learning to do ministry themselves. And it was central to Jesus’ discipleship process.

 

3. Stop Obsessing Over Growth – Or Lack of Growth

Do I really need to go over this one again?

If you haven’t read any of my posts on this subject, here are a few that will give you a starting point.

If pastoring really is as hard as Drucker says, let’s be grateful to God for a healthy church, without adding the unrealistic burden of continual growth as a completely unnecessary brick to our load.

 

4. Listen to Our Own (and Jesus’) Advice

How many sermons have we preached on “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, only to walk out of church with the weight of the world on our own shoulders?

How many times have we taught our church about the value of sabbath while working 24/7, ourselves?

How many times have we told people to put their family first, but have put off our own family evenings for church work?

How often have we encouraged people about the value of daily devotions, then go all week without opening our own bible – only to scramble through it on a Saturday night looking for sermon material?

How many more pastors have to burn themselves out like this before we realize…

It doesn’t have to be this hard.

 

So what do you think? Have you put an unnecessary burden on yourself in ministry?

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(Weary Pilgrim photo from chefranden • Flickr • Creative Commons)

15 thoughts on “Pastoring Shouldn’t Be This Hard (And 4 Ways to Make It Easier)”

  1. I’ve been in ministry since I was 21 and now I am 41. I have a B.A., an M.Div., and a D.Min. and no one ever taught me the things in your book. Please pray for me and my church that I’ll be able to release them to be who they are and not try to conform them to someone else’s artificial standards. Thank you for the book and your ministry. I can’t tell you how much I needed it.

    1. Paul, I’m touched by your comment. I was in the same boat as you. No one told me these things either. I had to learn them the hard way. If my book can help you and your church when you need it, I will consider myself very blessed – and very grateful to God.

  2. I’ve been in ministry since I was 21 and now I am 41. I have a B.A., an M.Div., and a D.Min. and no one ever taught me the things in your book. Please pray for me and my church that I’ll be able to release them to be who they are and not try to conform them to someone else’s artificial standards. Thank you for the book and your ministry. I can’t tell you how much I needed it.

    1. Paul, I’m touched by your comment. I was in the same boat as you. No one told me these things either. I had to learn them the hard way. If my book can help you and your church when you need it, I will consider myself very blessed – and very grateful to God.

  3. Thanks for the reminder. So easy to be a workaholic in ministry. My family needs me and I need to have fun with my family and take care of them. Sometimes, we get so concerned about the church, that our own family goes without the same attention. Help us all Lord!

  4. Thanks for the reminder. So easy to be a workaholic in ministry. My family needs me and I need to have fun with my family and take care of them. Sometimes, we get so concerned about the church, that our own family goes without the same attention. Help us all Lord!

  5. I’m not so sure I agree fully with this article. Yes, there are pastors that make their jobs harder than it has to be. However, ministry can still be quite stressful even if you’re doing it right. Paul is a good example of that as he was writing 2 Corinthians 4:8-18. And Paul had to write two letters to Timothy to encourage him. In the first letter it appears Timothy wants to leave church Ephesus but Paul wants him to hang in there (1 Timothy 1:3). By the time the second letter is written there is good evidence that Timothy may be considering leaving the ministry ( 2 Timothy 1:6-8).

    I came across the statement below some time ago and cannot remember who wrote it, but the context has to do with 2 Corinthians chapter 4, emphasis on verse 1 and 16. My wife has to continually remind me of the statement as well. It gives me hope.

    Ministry is never easy. Without a reformation mind set like Paul’s, it is virtually impossible for a pastor committed to this kind of ministry to stay the course. The opposition is too strong; the heart-aches too deep; and often the progress too slow. In short, spiritual, doctrinal and ethical problems which plague many churches are so severe that one is tempted to judge them not worth a serious effort. Yet, as Paul recognized, that which makes the work difficult is precisely what makes it necessary.

    1. Hi Ernie. Obviously pastoring is very hard. Much harder than most people realize. My only point in this post is that we sometimes add burdens to it that we don’t need to add. Too many pastors that I’ve known tend to do things that they’re not called to do, operate out of guilt, don’t take a regular sabbath, obsess over growth, etc.

      As a pastor for over 30 years, I’m as aware as anyone that the normal work of pastoring is extraordinarily hard. But we need to find the joy in it, too.

  6. I’m not so sure I agree fully with this article. Yes, there are pastors that make their jobs harder than it has to be. However, ministry can still be quite stressful even if you’re doing it right. Paul is a good example of that as he was writing 2 Corinthians 4:8-18. And Paul had to write two letters to Timothy to encourage him. In the first letter it appears Timothy wants to leave church Ephesus but Paul wants him to hang in there (1 Timothy 1:3). By the time the second letter is written there is good evidence that Timothy may be considering leaving the ministry ( 2 Timothy 1:6-8).

    I came across the statement below some time ago and cannot remember who wrote it, but the context has to do with 2 Corinthians chapter 4, emphasis on verse 1 and 16. My wife has to continually remind me of the statement as well. It gives me hope.

    Ministry is never easy. Without a reformation mind set like Paul’s, it is virtually impossible for a pastor committed to this kind of ministry to stay the course. The opposition is too strong; the heart-aches too deep; and often the progress too slow. In short, spiritual, doctrinal and ethical problems which plague many churches are so severe that one is tempted to judge them not worth a serious effort. Yet, as Paul recognized, that which makes the work difficult is precisely what makes it necessary.

  7. Pingback: Here's an Idea, What If We Left "Church Growth" to God?

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