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What Is It Like To
Be A Pastor
Of A Church?
by Dale A. Robbins
- To preface my answer to this question, I've been privileged to serve as a pastor of
several congregations over the course of many years. For another decade before that, I was
a guest in the homes of scores of pastors and their families as an itinerant evangelist.
My opinions here come from first hand observation and personal experience.
- In today's society, all too often the demands upon a pastor exceed what they really
should. The pastor is traditionally considered a church's head "everything."
He's the spiritual and administrative head, the sole minister, the legal corporation
president and basically the know-it-all, do-it-all, "chief cook and bottle
washer." In many small churches, the pastor will conduct all the services, lead the
singing, do all the preaching, handle all the visiting, counseling and spiritual matters,
while he may also have to take care of the office work, bookkeeping, or even the
janitorial, maintenance or building repair.
- In my years of traveling to hundreds of churches, I found many pastors to be some of
hardest working, most versatile, multi-skilled people I have ever met. And for the main
part, they pick up all these skills out of the necessity of their circumstances
having no hired staff or few willing volunteers to do these things for them. In too many
cases, the pastor has to do far more than he was ever called for or even trained to do.
- This really isn't the way it should be. Ideally the pastor should be the spiritual
overseer, devoting his attention to the higher priorities of prayer and ministering the
word, while delegating the load of administrative tasks, details and responsibilities to
other ministers, elders and deacons.
- The early Apostles faced this same dilemma. They received complaints that some of the
widows of the church were not being cared for as they should. So they selected qualified
persons to delegate these tasks (believed to be the first deacons), so they would not be
distracted away from what God had really called them to do to be men of prayer and
of the Word. "...It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve
tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of
the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give
ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:2-4).
- The rewards of being a pastor are many. Without question, there is no other position in
the world that has a higher honor, than to be called of God to be a pastor. However, it is
a vocation of extreme contrasts. It can be sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible in
the same package. Despite potential blessings of leading souls to Christ, the job of
pastor is one of the most difficult, agonizing tasks there is.
- Some of the greatest challenges of a Pastor are:
- (1) Being Misunderstood.
- For the most part, the life and ministry of a pastor is not understood by the average
layman. A policeman once told me the same thing about law enforcement officers. He said,
"The only one that really understands what a cop does is another one." I could
relate to what he was trying to say. Sheep really don't have any idea what it's like to be
a shepherd only other shepherds. The average layman has little concept what a
pastor is, what he really does, the hassles he deals with and so forth.
- Being a pastor isn't a job, it's what a person is. When God calls a person to be a
pastor, He places in him a shepherd's nature and characteristics to love and care
for his flock. He is a pastor all the time. It's what he thinks about, what he lives for,
his purpose on the earth. It's not possible for him to go home at the end of a day and
leave his job behind the way that most people can. His, is an all consuming task. The
pastor is on duty twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. He frequently receives phone
calls at home from morning to evening, and often in the middle of the night. Most of his
home activities are related to the church. Most social calls or relationships are church
related. A large percentage of his conversations with his family involve the church. His
home should probably be a refuge to rest or to have a life of his own, but it's usually
the only place he can hide himself long enough from interruptions, to pray for the church
or to study for the sermons he must preach there.
- (2) Coping with Criticism.
- Like most other public figures, a pastor and his family live in the public eye, like a
"fish bowl" where people watch them constantly, frequently viewing them with
criticism and cynicism. People who enter the ministry must be prepared to face much
criticism, sometimes of a brutal and cruel nature. However, all those who have risen in
leadership or accomplishment know well the sting of their critics. It has been said that
"the only way to avoid criticism is to 'Say nothing, Do nothing, and Be
- People frequently find disappointment with pastors, largely due a lack of understanding
of what pastors do. Rarely does a church ever have a written job description for their
senior pastor, and if they do, it's usually too vague to help much. And it seems that so
many have a different opinion of what they think the pastor should do. They usually hand
him the keys to the church and assume that he'll take care of everything that needs to be
done without realizing the hundreds of details that it all may require.
- (3) Faced with an Overwhelming Task.
- It's been said that 80% of the work of the church is done by 20% of the people. But when
we realize that the majority of American churches have fewer than 100 people, you can
imagine that the pastor and his family often make up a great portion of that 20%. As we
have mentioned, in many of those churches, the pastor is often faced with having to do
jobs he was never trained for everything from plumbing to desktop publishing... and
besides this, he also must be the well studied preacher and teacher. Beyond these demands,
his life will be one of constant distractions, receiving dozens of calls and letters each
day, and expected always to drop anything he's doing to sympathize, counsel, or encourage
those who ask his help. The pastor seldom has enough time to do everything time is
always one of his greatest needs.
- I can remember being in many a pastor's home, joining with him in tearful prayers for
God to send helpers, workers and finances to lift the heavy load on him and his family.
Ironically, I would think back to one of my college textbooks on church administration
it was written on the lofty example of a congregation numbering 1,000 in
attendance, with a staff of dozens, though to my knowledge not one of those students went
on to pastor a church of that size. Many pastors will never know what it is to have a paid
staff, and must pray for volunteers to train and delegate responsibilities. Unfortunately,
for most churches, the pastor wears more hats than he should endure, physically and
emotionally. According to researcher George Barna, among the most discouraging aspects for
pastors is the extensive range of duties they must fulfill that exceed their mix of gifts
- Author James Rutz says that the average pastor often feels overwhelmed and lonely in his
task. "He beats out his brains in the pulpit week after week to make a difference in
people's lives. But sometimes he feels like he's been condemned to a lifetime of futility,
trying in vain to motivate a sullen pack of foot dragging spiritual adolescents who never
quite seem to see the big picture, never get excited enough to shoulder responsibilities,
and never come anywhere close to a full 10% tithe."²
- (4) Resisting Manipulation .
- For many, this will sound unbelievable. But the pastor is a frequent target of
manipulation and control. Sometimes people unintentionally take advantage of a pastor's
willing heart, and make requests and demands that begin to dominate his personal life. And
then there are others who view the pastor like a politician, trying to lobby his favor or
influence to attain a position, to favor their opinion, etc. But there are those who have
a definite personality profile that feeds on being in control, and if they can't get the
pastor to do what they want, they'll often turn on him and try to run him out. A prominent
pastor once said, "There's an old saying about pastors: If they can't run God's man,
they'll try to ruin him."
- Because of this or other sour experiences with people, pastors will sometimes
distance themselves from close personal relationships. They may even refuse favors or monetary
gifts directly from persons, unless they are given anonymously, since such gifts often
have strings attached perhaps unintentionally, the giver will often expect
preferred treatment, recognition, or to have a "special influence" in the
- (5) Coping with Emotional Conflict.
- During the ministry of a pastor he will face challenges and strange conflicts in his
emotions that he was never prepared for. This unique man most likely entered the ministry
out of his divine calling, and his love for people. But he was probably surprised to learn
that shepherding people was a life filled with wounds, hurts, and disappointment.
- As the pastor faces his daily tasks, he will begin a ride an emotional roller-coaster.
With each person he counsels or prays with, he will experience a momentary bond with their
circumstances or burdens. During the course of a day he may console someone with a
terminal illness, listen to trivial complaints, meet with a couple to discuss their
marriage plans, or find it necessary to correct someone for their sinful lifestyle. He
will go from one contrasting situation to another, and then within a short period, he will
have to find a way to restore his composure from all these concerns to preach an
encouraging, heartfelt sermon to the congregation.
- Most others who deal with repeated crisis or trauma eventually learn how to develop a
callousness in order to cope with the emotional upheaval of their jobs. Paramedics, police
officers, or emergency room workers understand this all too well. However, when a pastor
deals with a daily assortment of similar urgencies, unlike other emergency workers, he
cannot distance his feelings from crisis. He cannot allow himself to become callous to
protect his emotions from becoming involved. Its the nature of his calling and his
job to care. His flock expects him to be sensitive, a person of genuine compassion, to
feel their hurts and to share their burdens.
- (6) Coping with Disappointment.
- Furthermore, during his ministry, he will experience many disappointments and heartaches
with people. Many will fail to do what they promised and disappoint him. Others will
criticize, judge, speak against him, betray him or even seek to ruin him or his family.
Some will try to gain his friendship for ulterior motives to manipulate his
influence for their own agenda. Many he loves will eventually leave the church for some
reason... some will move away, others may backslide, become offended, or simply reject his
ministry. Dozens of times, he will experience the loss of beloved members of the flock
through death. Many, many are the wounds of a shepherd, that the flock never really
- (7) Dealing with Satanic Attack.
- The pastor and his family are targets of Satans greatest attacks. The enemys
strategy is highly intelligent. If he can overturn the shepherd with temptations or
trials, he can likely scatter the sheep. According to insurance statistics, ministers
experience an unusually high rate of stress related illnesses (such as ulcers and nervous
conditions), depression, marital difficulties, conflict with their children or family,
financial problems, and so on. To complicate matters further, if he does face such
challenges, some will criticize him as a spiritual failure.
- (8) Perseverance.
- There will be numerous temptations for the pastor to simply quit. He must be a person of
tremendous faith and prayer to overcome the many challenges to set his face as a
stone, with unflinching determination and steadfastness. The average layman will never
realize the price his pastor must pay to be his shepherd the heartaches he will
endure to minister to mens souls. Jesus, the Great Shepherd was a man acquainted
with grief and sorrow, despised and rejected, and His under-shepherds and pastors also
identify with these characteristics. How necessary it is that we pray for him, encourage
him, show him love and not add to his list of wounds.
- ¹ Today's Pastors, George Barna
² The Open Church, James H. Rutz
From The Book, What
People Ask About The Church, #30
This article is reprinted by permission
of Dale A Robbins and is copyrighted © by Dale A. Robbins, 1995, and is a publication of
Victorious Publications, 13010 State Hwy 49, Grass Valley, CA 95949. You may download for
personal use as long as you retain credit to the author. Obtain permission before
reproducing for any reason, by calling (916) 273-8475, or e-mail us at Victorious@comports.com. Unless otherwise
stated, all scripture references were taken from The New King James Bible, © Thomas
Nelson Inc., 1982.
Victorious Publications Web Site: http://www.victorious.org/
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:04:07 PM