Pain by numbers

One of the keys to surviving in ministry is being open about your pain.

During the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (my denomination), which met in Houston this past week, I sent out this tweet:

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In no time at all, I got new Twitter followers and a number of retweets and favorites from people I don’t even know. Several pastor friends who had seen my tweet came up and thanked me for it. I’m guessing they just needed someone to tell them they weren’t crazy.

So many ministers of the gospel are carrying the scars of ministry but think they are alone. They are not. According to reputable studies and surveys…

  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure.
  • 23% of pastors have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers.
  • numbers25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue.
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say they have no close friends.
  • 57% of pastors would leave the pastorate if they had some other option.
  • 70% don’t have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel pressured to have a perfect family.
  • “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could” (New York Times, August 1, 2010).

I share this not to create sympathy for pastors nor to give you pastors a reason to boast in your wounds, as though they make you righteous. But we have to admit to ourselves that pastoral ministry is HARD.

The Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) pastored a church in Kidderminster, England, for close to twenty years. He wrote in his journal one day, “…the more I do, the more hatred and trouble I draw upon me.” Marshall Shelley, in his book Leading Your Church through Conflict and Reconciliation, says, “The only pastors who don’t experience regular, character-building periods of conflict, are either bullies who walk all over everyone or cowards afraid to stand up for what God wants to accomplish.”

If there’s one thing I’ve found necessary for my own ministry survival, it is to come out of hiding. Let someone you trust know what you’re going through. Don’t suffer in silence.


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