The burden of one – why pastors are struggling in ministry.

Pastors are under a lot of pressure.

In most churches today, we employ one person (or a small team) to do the job of many. The Bible tells us that God “ordained some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors, some to be teachers.” And yet, we position pastors to be all of these things at once – to lead, to minister, to inspire, to challenge, and to teach – all at the same time!

The Bible clearly tells us that God has given each one of us grace to build up the church. There are at least five very different ministry roles God has given us within the church, according to Ephesians 4 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The problem is, churches try to look for one man (or woman) who fits all of these categories at once. That was never God’s design for the church.

The church already has everything it needs. We cannot outsource the work of the combined church to one individual, no matter how talented they may be.

One person (the pastor) is symbolically responsible for the spiritual growth of many. One person is responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of an entire community. One person is standing in front of many, responsible to teach, lead and inspire them, a paid role model under pressure to maintain an appearance of “having it all together”. That is a heavy load for one person to bear.

Church in rows has become the burden of one, instead of the combined power of many. One person stands at the front, symbolically taking responsibility for the spiritual growth and well-being of the entire church, while the rest of the church sit silently in rows, their spiritual gifts unused, their “spiritual” hands tied behind their backs. People who are unable to contribute or respond will shut down and become apathetic. They will lose confidence in themselves and not bother trying. They will start to believe they have nothing of value to contribute. They will never be empowered to discover their spiritual gift or to use it for building up the church.

This imbalance is bad for God’s people. It is bad for the pastor as well.  The statistics reveal how unsustainable the role of a pastor is. According to statistics, 45% of pastors report suffering such severe periods of depression or burnout that they have had to take time out from their job. 50% report that they feel unable to meet the needs of the job. 75% report suffering severe stress causing emotional issues. 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family. Over 20,000 pastors leave the ministry each year in the United States alone, due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. That’s a sign of a seriously stressful career path.

The responsibility of the spiritual growth and well-being of the community should be shared amongst the many, not shouldered by one person. But the congregation are disempowered and not in a position to share the load. We can’t activate them by preaching more powerful sermons. We can’t shake them up by turning up the music, or adding more musicians on stage. We need to give them a voice, give them a value, give them an impact. We need to empower them and involve them in ministering to one another. We need to stop adding to the burden of one, and tap into the power of many.

6 thoughts on “The burden of one – why pastors are struggling in ministry.

  1. Hey Buck
    Ive known a number of pastors, male and female, who burned out, but who probably would have accepted retraining rather than quit or become showmen.
    The retraining is simple.
    Instead of Bible School, it would be Church School: a daily apprencticeship for everyone.
    Graduation is when you are promoted to glory, and otherwise there are no classes, no grades and student fees are free.
    It wouldn’t be hard to print up a 3B manual (Back to Biblical Basics) for Pastors, teaching them how to teach their congregations how to function as ‘one anothers’ rather than antendee’s.
    A truly desperate, burned out, servant hearted pastor would recognize a guidance system that leads to mutuality, which is the missing ingredient in todays broken church culture.
    Blessings
    Greg

    • Hi Greg, thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      I fully agree about retraining. I think there will be a movement away from church in rows towards new models in the future, but don’t think we’re quite there yet.
      I believe pastors need to be retrained to move away from performance and towards facilitation. It’s a big change in direction, but not impossible by any means. Some pastors could never make the shift, but many have the right strengths and personality – they just need a few concrete skills and tools.
      Thanks again,
      Kathleen

  2. This is a very succinct and to the point message. I have read dozens of other blogs, books and articles for several years on this subject.

    Many years ago the pastor of a local and large congregation asked me, “How can I get the people to grow?” Being a teacher for years in the churches I have been a part of and my own desires to equip other believers, the question got my attention. I pulled my punch, so to speak, on my initial reply to him. My own efforts to answer the question has taken me down a path I never imagined I would go.

    The initial problem recognized by his question was that he needed to move past his own ideas of discipleship and the program he created. Everything being done in that church revolves around his passion(s) and ideas. The clear implication that seems to come across, not only with this particular church but in every church I have attended, is that the people are told they need to get on board with the pastors vision and passion of what a believer should be doing. I have also learned that pastors and really each of us, cannot go where we have not gone ourselves in our journey of following Christ. This is why it is imperative that each member of the body be allowed the opportunity to express Christ and share their insights. Together, as a fully functioning body, we can go so much further on to maturity. That is the greatest reason why, I believe, the people do not grow. I will also say that people have to want to grow also.

    I always come back to Hebrews 5:11-6:3
    Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
    6. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.(NASB)

    • Hi Frank, thanks for your comment. Sounds like you’re on a similar journey to the one we’re on.

      I totally agree with what you have said; “it is imperative that each member be allowed the opportunity to express Christ and share their insights.” We’re discovering some great ways for that to happen, which is why we are writing a book and sharing this blog.

      Blessings on you and your ministry,

      Kathleen

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