Almost every church is struggling today. No one feels the weight of the struggle more than pastors. Most pastors have truly given their lives to service in the Lord’s work and to see minimal amounts of fruit produced often brings deep sorrow. Further, to see the petty things many church members worry about and how childish adults can act at times only contributes to frustration. The research done by Denise George into these matters is insightful, but it is of little value if only pastors know about it. Five years ago, after reading her book, I realized laymen needed to become aware of the facts George presents in her book What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew.
Allen Raynor Weblog: “What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew”
(Aug. 9, 2012)
The view from the other side of the pulpit is sometimes misunderstood. Pastors have had the privilege of seeing things from the vantage point of both laymen, and as pastors. Unfortunately the way things look from the congregation side is quite different than from the pastor side. Pastors face challenges that can hardly be imagined by most church members. The deeper a person gets into leadership positions in the church, the more they are able to see what the pastor faces; however, even then it is but a glimpse.
Both internal and external pressures are affecting pastors today like never before. In her 2009 book What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew: Helping People Understand and Appreciate Their Leaders, author Denise George writes from the unique position of being a pastor’s wife, a pastor’s mother, a pastor’s daughter, and a pastor’s granddaughter. Seeing and processing pastoral ministry from a variety of perspectives has equipped her to write concerning issues that pastors face. However, rather than merely writing about her own observations and experiences she has, through extensive research, let the pastors tell in their own words what they face. The book is a collection of responses to survey questions gauging the gamut of life and work as a pastor. This book needs to be read by every church-member in America for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the reality their pastors face each day. In so doing congregations can better pray for, encourage, and understand their leaders.
In this current cultural climate pastors feel enormous pressure. George quotes Kevin McGhee who wrote in the December 21, 2007 issue of The Examiner, “Dwindling church attendance is affecting many churches today, and the situation often causes today’s church pastors great spiritual angst. A recent study of 350,000 evangelical churches in America showed that four out of five have either plateaued or are declining and no county in America has a larger church population than it did ten years ago. The study also showed that a ‘significant percentage of those who have attended church in recent years are either ‘stalled’ in their spiritual growth or ‘dissatisfied’ with their current church.’”
Pastors, all around the nation, respond to question after question posed by George. The list covers family life, marriage, parenting, hurt, pain, victory, defeat, success, calling, hopes, dreams, finances, disappointments, etc. Many pastors share the ways they have been hurt by members of the same congregations they love so dearly. They recall blatant lies being spread about them, their motives being questioned, their call being questioned, even their commitments to Christ. They recall times of being attacked for perceived shortcomings only minutes or seconds from stepping into the pulpit to preach. They recall times of being challenged and/or demeaned as they greet people upon exiting the sanctuary after the Sunday sermon. Many pastors fear going on vacation believing they could be fired while away, knowing of other pastors to whom it has actually happened. Many recall feeling pressure knowing that someone is seemingly always trying to get them to bend rules and policies in their favor all the while expecting strict enforcement of the same rules and policies for others. Many pastors shared the hurt their family had experienced because of the way their families were treated. Pastor’s kids, many shared, were assessed differently than the other kids of the church. Many pastors shared how that while most of their congregations lived comfortably they were expected to live on a shoestring and apparently be happy and content doing so along with their wife and kids. Many shared the hurt they had repeatedly experienced as person after person came to them with problems and issues seeking forgiveness and understanding from the pastor and even the church, but when the pastor had any type of perceived failing there was strong reluctance to forgive him or a member of his family. Pastor after pastor lamented the fact they seemed to have so little time for prayer, reading, study, and sermon preparation as other demands of a pastor seemed to always pull them in different directions, yet they are expected to have a fresh Word from God each time they step into the pulpit. Many pastors shared the hurt from feeling they had poured their life into a church only to be thrown under the bus.
Interestingly enough, despite all the hurt and negative aspects to this book, there are many positives as well. Even though many have felt the sharp sting of ministry many times, the vast majority of pastors still felt a great deal of satisfaction in their labor and were quick to appeal to a calling God had placed upon their lives. Near the end of the book, George quotes one pastor who sums up the hopes and dreams of every pastor: “I dream of leading and pastoring a group of people who embrace spiritual gifts, their own calls to ministry, and start taking kingdom-living more seriously than they take their own comforts, likes, and preferences. I also dream of doing team ministry with loyal, loving friends who also love Jesus and his ways more than anything else – people I can really do life with, even when things are hard.” (165)
Truly, pastors would not do what they do for long if they did not sense a much higher calling, but the people of God can come alongside their leaders and make the labor of ministry much more enjoyable and less stressful for the pastor and his family. This book gives tremendous insight to the struggles faced by pastors. It is a much needed read for all Christian laymen.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor