As a pastor, every Sunday you stand in front of your congregation, telling funny stories and explaining important principles. As your congregation watches you listening, reassuring, and welcoming, it’s easy for them to assume you have it all together. Some of them see a little behind the scenes, but few of them really know us. And few of us really feel known.
This is partly because the work of a pastor is unlike any other work. It is a vocation, a calling upon our whole life, requiring complete engagement. Even when we’re resting, it has something to do with our work. And while we are working, we do a huge amount of resting in God.
An Impossible Job
The role of a pastor shouldn’t be entered into lightly. David Hansen, author of The Art of Pastoring, knew being a pastor was an “impossible” task for him, so his prayer was, “Lord, being a pastor is impossible, so if you will be with me all the way to help me, I will be a pastor.” But unlike Hansen, many pastors don’t realize how impossible their work is until they’re deep into it.
Even the most transparent pastor knows that it’s inappropriate to share themselves fully. But when they do share in a healthy way, some things still remain theirs alone to carry. As a result, pastors often feel lonely.
In an effort to break through that pastoral loneliness, I’ve asked various pastors to share behind the scenes of their lives and work. Here are some things they said they’re not telling their church members.
1. We Feel Pressure to Live up to Your Expectations
Pastors shared that they often feel the presence of previous pastors hovering over their work. “The greatest challenge was dealing with the church’s expectations for their pastor,” Graham shares. “Churches usually don’t look for the unique gifts and strengths of their current pastor. Instead, they take the top strengths of the last two to three pastors combined and expect the current pastor to excel in those areas.”
2. It’s Hard to Tell You What You Need to Hear
Other pastors feel torn between their perceived obligation to keep people happy and their biblical calling to voice godly challenge: “I think every pastor deals with the balancing act of being both pastoral and prophetic,” Howard says. “We love people with such a whole heart that pointing out things that need to change can be difficult.”
3. We Put a Lot of Pressure on Ourselves
Many churches place high expectations on their pastors, not realizing the many expectations and pressures pastors also have of themselves. “We have an image, or a hope, of what the church could be,” Rob says. “When the church responds with apathy or anxiety, that can feed our own apathy and anxiety. It’s incredibly hard to be a source of stability for your congregation and community without tying your personal identity to it.”
4. We Long to Know We’re Making a Difference
Pastors also have a hard time gauging if they’re getting anywhere. “There are few milestones where you feel you’ve arrived,” Monica acknowledges. “It’s nice when someone says ‘good job’ after a sermon, but what I want to say to them is, ‘If you want to let me know my work is fruitful, open your heart to God.’”
5. Many of Us Struggle Financially
Several pastors commented on the practical realities of providing for a family on a ministry income. “Although we’re a very transparent community, there are still things I wish people knew,” Josh says. “Nobody knows the extreme financial burden my wife and I share. It’s hard on our marriage because we barely make ends meet.”
Financial issues also bring pressures at church: “We can’t dress too nicely or drive a car that’s too nice without feeling like members wonder how much we are paid,” David shares. “And I can’t tell the church that my wife works as much as she does to help us dig out of overwhelming debt.”
6. Church Life Can Be Hard on Our Kids