Is Pastoring Sustainable These Days?

By Matt Henslee

I’m more of a drive-by social media guy. In fact, sometimes I don’t even drive by, but share posts from a service that doesn’t tempt me to scroll through my Twitter feed endlessly — especially during sermon prep.

I’ll send a verse or quote from my studies to the masses and then move on with my day. As an easily distracted person, I don’t need any help being distracted!

But recently I had extra time in the morning before a meeting and used it to scroll through some tweets. As I did, one stopped me in my tracks. It read:

Prediction: In the next two years, there will be a large exodus of pastors from the pastorate. Every pastor I talk with is exhausted and, to a degree, frustrated. Theological and ideological differences between pastor and parishioners is increasing. It’s not sustainable.

The latest LifeWay Research survey of Protestant pastors doesn’t tell us they want to leave the pulpit, but it does tell us about their struggles born out this challenging era of world history.

Here are some things pastors said about their ministry pain points as it relates to COVID-19:

“I’m aware people are growing weary of the entire pandemic. Some are scared to death, while others are convinced it’s a hoax. Trying to minister to both ends of the spectrum is exhausting.”

“Connecting with people is still a struggle. It’s tough to reach out to folks at the time they want — especially with hospitals still limiting visitors. Phone calls and Zoom meetings are soul-sucking in a way that in-person ministry is not.”

“I desperately need time off, but with having to organize live streams, worship services, and Sunday School, I have no time to get away. I’m a one-person staff, and it’s difficult to find someone willing to fill in for me. I’ve had two days off since Christmas.”

Here are some statistical findings worth noting:

  • More than a quarter of pastors (27%) say they’re struggling with maintaining unity and dealing with conflict or complaints.
  • 17% are struggling to care for their members when they cannot be with them physically.
  • A top-of-mind concern for 13% of pastors: They’re still concerned for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of their congregants.
  • 12% of pastors surveyed say they’re personally exhausted, stressed, and isolated.
  • The top burden for 12% is feeling they lack the wisdom needed to make the right decisions.

And this sampling only speaks to pandemic-related pressures. We also have racial tensions to navigate — along with a deep political divide among our members.

You likely have people in your church who think COVID-19 is a hoax, people who are paralyzed with fear, and everything in between. You probably have mask wearers and mask haters.

You might face criticism for opening up too soon, too late, or in a way with which someone disagrees. Does it feel like you can’t win?

Pastor, hold on. Here’s the good news: Even when you’re barely holding on by a thread, God’s everlasting grasp is holding on to you.

To thrive (not just survive) in this season in our churches, let’s double down on the following four actions.

1. PREACH

It’s an election year, there’s bad news every night, and health/safety orders are changing more than special edition Lay’s potato chips.

There’s enough uncertainty floating around. Let’s preach the unchanging Word!

2. PRAY

Don’t start your day without prayer, don’t enter the study without prayer, and don’t go into a meeting without prayer.

Pray for and with your people, pray for and with your family, but by all means pray!

3. LOVE

Love your people. Don’t dwell on the criticism, but don’t ignore them either. Love the critics in your church.

Spend time with them (within safe boundaries) and give them a regular glimpse of your love and care for them.

4. STAY

This might be out of your hands. In less than a week, I know of four different pastors asked to resign. Bob Bickford wrote a timely article on the issue.

But insofar as it depends on you, stay. Hold on. This season will pass, and I believe we’ll be better off for it if we hold on to Jesus and trust Him in these uncertain times.

This post originally appeared at Facts and Trends.


Published August 25, 2020

Matt Henslee

Matt Henslee (@mhenslee) is the husband of Rebecca, father of four princesses, pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, a D.Min student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of several books, including Text-Driven Invitation.