Pastors today face all sorts of challenges. They face the emotional strain of walking with people through the most difficult moments in their lives. They face the challenge of leading volunteers, who often have vastly different opinions on how things should be done. Pastors struggle with the tension of being trained in pastoral ministry, but being expected to operate the church with the savvy of a CEO. And of course, there is managing the multiple expectations of parishioners. No doubt, pastoral ministry comes with its unique set of difficulties and frustrations.
George Barna identified the top stressors pastors face several years ago, and I don’t believe the list has changed much at all. Here is what he discovered:
- Thirty percent of all pastors said the lack of commitment from the laity was their number one stressor in ministry. The number one challenge that pastors say they face is the feeling that they are expected to do it all on their own. Regarding the ministry at the church, they often hear verbally or through innuendo, “that’s what we pay you to do.”
- The handling of financial and administrative duties was listed by 13% as their number one stress in ministry. These are the bible college and seminary graduates who took classes in preaching, counseling, biblical interpretation, but never once took a class on budgets, contracts, project management or human resources.
- Twelve percent of pastors said the number one question they are grappling with is how to do effective outreach. Whether do to limited budgets, not understanding the demographics of their community, or just not being sure what to try first, slightly more than one out of ten pastors said they struggle with how to best reach out to their community.
- One in ten pastors (10%) say that implementing change is their greatest concern. They know the things that need to change in church, but they don’t know how to make it happen. Personally, the first class that I can remember having taken that focused exclusively on implementing change in the church was in my doctoral program. I wonder how many pastors have never had a single class, or even lecture, on how to implement change in their churches?
- Counseling was listed by 9% of pastors as their greatest challenge. This is probably not due to a lack of concern for people, or an unwillingness to counsel. This is likely due to a feeling of ineptitude. Parishioners bring heavy issues to their pastors such as addictions, severe dysfunction in their lives and families, pending divorce, secrets that no one knows about, and personal sin. Often, a pastor, who maybe has only had a few classes in counseling, feels in over their head.
- Developing community within the congregation was listed by 8% of pastors as their greatest challenge. They see people who attend a service for 75 or 90 minutes on a Sunday, but never relationally connect with anyone beyond that. They see people who call themselves “regular attenders” but only attend church once or twice a month, and never forge any real friendships in the church.
- Eight percent said the low level of spiritual maturity found in the people of the church caused them great concern. They see people who have relegated the entire spiritual life to attending on Sunday, and are not praying, studying their Bible, or talking about faith around their dinner table at home throughout the week. Pastors see that their people are not growing but they don’t know what to do to change this.
- How to gain greater leadership involvement by the laity was listed by 7% as something they struggle to answer. Pastors know that their primary calling is not to do the work of the ministry, rather it is to train people to do the work of the ministry, but they struggle to find people who are willing to step up and take the lead. Too many other things are vying for people’s attention and to make a commitment, certainly a commitment to leadership in the church, gets pushed to the side.
- Church politics was listed by 4% as their greatest pastoral challenge in ministry. This could be official politics of boards, deacons, trustees and the like, that don’t let the pastor lead the church as they should. It could also be the unofficial politics of the real power brokers and influencers in the church controlling things from behind the scenes. Whichever direction the influence comes from, politics that control, slow down, and chart a course different than the vision that God has given the pastor for the church was listed by 4% as the number one difficulty they face.
- Relational difficulties was also listed by 4% of pastors as their greatest challenge. This could be quite a few different things. It could be relationships and conflict within the church. It could be a lack of feeling like one has genuine friends in or outside the church. It could be the toll that ministry places on the relationship the pastor has with his family. It could be a number of things, but relationships, or the lack thereof, was listed by nearly 1 in 20 pastors as their number one concern in ministry.
This was Barna’s list, and again I don’t believe it has changed much in recent years. What about you though, do you think there is something missing from this list? If so, what?