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What Your Pastor Wishes You Knew

Denise George

Discover how to be your pastor's greatest fan -- from brand-new research on the secret worries and wishes of pastors.

A healthy church starts with a healthy pastor. We depend on our pastor to guide us spiritually, keep us encouraged in our ministry, help us solve various church-related problems, and keep our congregation going and growing in the right direction. Many of us view our pastor as a sort of "Spiritual Superbeing," a faith-strong saint with no human weaknesses or personal problems. This Superbeing is able to accomplish miracles on a daily basis. We often forget that our pastor is also a human being who can become physically tired, spiritually dry, over-stressed, and discouraged. When this happens, you have the unique opportunity to minister to your pastor.

How Well Do You Know Your Pastor?

Not long ago, I conducted research for a new book about church pastors. The book, What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew, gave pastors the opportunity to anonymously express their hopes and dreams, as well as their disappointments and concerns for themselves, their families, and their congregations. I asked hundreds of pastors, representing all age groups, from small churches to mega-churches, from 40 different denominations, one basic question: "Pastor, what do you wish your church members and staff knew about you, your family, and your pastoral ministry?"

I expected a few responses, but I didn't expect an avalanche of phone calls, letters, and emails from pastors across the United States and Canada. I was amazed at how pastors openly and honestly shared their hearts and told me exactly what they wished their church members and staff knew. Most of the responses shocked me. I quickly discovered that many of today's pastors are privately hurting and desperately need help.

What did I learn about pastors? What should you know about the person who leads your church? How can you reach out to help, support, and encourage your pastor? The bottom line is, pastors may suffer in many ways.

Physical Exhaustion

Shepherding people requires good physical health. Pastors consistently encounter serious human needs and congregational crises that physically exhaust them. Most pastors work long hours, and unexpected emergencies can constantly interrupt and lengthen their work days.

The average American pastor works about 55 hours a week, according to Kevin Eigelbach in his article "Pastor Gets Chance to Recharge" (Cincinnati Post). Pastors are on call 24/7 and often miss meals, lose sleep, and work during scheduled personal free time. A pastor can never say, "My work for today is finished" because that work involves people. It's no wonder pastors are concerned about physical exhaustion. Pastors admit:

"Because we're a small church, fewer people are available to do physical labor. I need help to avoid overdoing it, but I rarely have that help."

"It's easy for me to get discouraged when I'm physically too busy. There's just simply not enough time to get everything done."

"There's so much to do and so little time to do it. I try to carve out margins, but they get busted quickly quite often."

For many pastors, the physical workload of the church proves overwhelming. But most admit that the role of caring for people demands even greater physical exertion.

Pastors say:

"I wish my congregation understood the concept of 'caretaker fatigue.' "

"Pastors become weary, and we experience the same physical hurts and pains that other people experience."

"It seems like I spend so much time taking care of others that I don't take the time to take care of myself."

[ How You Can Help: Rest and Relaxation ]

1. Volunteer to help your pastor accomplish various tasks in the church. Give your pastor the gift of hands-on practical help with ministry details.

2. Build capacity in your ministry job descriptions so volunteers help with bigger church responsibilities to alleviate some of your pastor's physical stress. Consider enlisting parents' help, too.

3. Talk with your pastor, leaders, and congregation about establishing a pastoral care team. Select a few trusted volunteers who can oversee the welfare of your pastor and family.

Pastors are human beings who get tired, and yours will appreciate your practical help with a heavy church workload.

Spiritual Dryness

Throughout Jesus' demanding ministry, he often sought silent, lonely places-mountains, wildernesses, gardens -- where he could be alone with God to pray, to fellowship, and to replenish himself spiritually. Jesus depended on prayer and time with God.

If Jesus needed time to pray and refresh himself spiritually, how much more do today's pastors need time in prayer and solitude with God to re-energize their spiritual batteries?

I was simply amazed at how many pastors admit they feel spiritually dry and empty. And many more pastors confess that they greatly fear becoming spiritually depleted. A spiritually dry pastor? How can that be? That's like a ship without a rudder. Aren't pastors those whom church members and staff look to for their own faith development and sustenance?

Pastor Lance Witt, founder of Replenish Ministries, says in his article "Confessions of a Driven Pastor" ( "I know what it is to feed others while neglecting to feed myself. It's no longer safe to assume that people in ministry have healthy souls...Ministry, which we would assume would enhance our relationship with God, can actually become a threat to our relationship with God."

Pastors report that they diligently try to monitor and protect their personal faith because they know their own spiritual dryness could hurt their congregations and ministries.

Pastors say:

"As my own spiritual condition goes, so go the ministry and the life of the congregation. If I'm dry, how do I minister to others in my congregation?"

"I worry about maintaining my personal relationship with God as I do ministry."

"I've struggled with spiritual dryness in the past. I have a tendency to get so wrapped up in pastoral work, like visiting, sermon preparation, and counseling, I neglect the most important part of my life as a pastor, my own spiritual health -- prayer and Bible study. As one pastor friend of mine put it about his struggle in the same area, 'I began to see that I loved the work of God more than the God of the work.' "

Many pastors fear losing "intimacy with Christ," and are "very much afraid of becoming so bogged down with the demands of the church that I become spiritually dry."

Other pastors greatly fear spiritual burnout -- becoming so "spiritually tired" they "lose the desire to study God's Word" and "even stop caring about people in my congregation." What brings spiritual dryness to today's pastor?

• Busy schedules can leave no time or energy for the pastor to spend necessary hours in personal prayer and Bible study. Almost two out of three pastors claim an "overloaded pace of life" has gotten in the way of their own personal spiritual growth, according to a recent study profiled in Michael Ireland's article "New Study Finds Even Pastors Are 'Too Busy for God.' "

• Interruptions from church members and staff during scheduled times can interfere with personal prayer and Bible study. ("I have many requirements and too much paperwork, and not nearly enough reflection or meditation time. I need more uninterrupted personal study and prayer time.")

• Spending so much time studying for sermon preparation can rob pastors of Bible study time. ("As much as I have to study and read for sermon preparation, I must often remind myself to study and read for personal interaction with God.")

"We, of all people," says pastor Marcus Yoars in Ireland's article, "must find a way to place the Lord above every urgent need, every pressing appointment, every desperate cry...How can we truly minister without first being ministered to by God and receiving his empowerment? We must place him above all."

[ How You Can Help: Renewal ]

1. Ask God for wisdom and strength to spiritually support your pastor.

2. Spend time interceding for your pastor daily. Ask your teachers and parents to pray, too. Pray that God will give your pastor the spiritual insight, energy, and replenishment needed to lead the church spiritually. One pastor writes: "It's my church's prayers that keep me going." Another says: "I'd hope that my staff and church members know of the absolute need I have for their intercessory prayer." The Apostle Paul asked the Thessalonians to "pray for us" as he and his team ministered to others (2 Thessalonians 3:1).

3. Pray with your pastor. This simple act means more to a weary pastor than you can imagine.

4. Think twice before you call on your pastor for help or advice. First examine your need. Is this a situation you can handle by yourself or with help from other church leaders or staff? Is your need urgent? Remember, many church members and staff may also need your pastor's help. Your pastor's time with God can drain away quickly when he or she tries to meet everyone's urgent needs.

5. Be careful not to interrupt your pastor's scheduled times of personal prayer and Bible study. Remind your teachers and parents to honor these appointed times, too.

6. Encourage your pastor to take spiritual retreats. If possible, as a church, give your pastor the gift of a spiritual renewal getaway.

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