Most churches expect their pastor to do it all. This problem is one of the major contributing factors to pastor burnout and therefore church burnout. One of the reason’s that the apostle Paul wrote so much about church leadership, false teachers, and leadership qualifications is because he understood that churches cannot be healthy unless their leaders are healthy. I believe that one of the reasons there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying churches in our nation is because there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying pastors. And part of the reason there are so many spiritually unhealthy, dying pastors is because of the unrealistic and even dangerous expectations that most churches place upon the shoulders of their pastors. Here are some scary stats (from H.B. London’s book “Pastors at Greater Risk”):
- 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
- 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
- 70% don’t have any close friends.
- 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
- 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
- 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
- 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry.
Having just completed my first 5 years in church ministry, these numbers are especially disturbing and quite personal. Not only have I felt the sting of most of these statistics already, I have also felt and witnessed how unrealistic expectations of pastors has been the leading cause of many of them. Here are a few reasons you shouldn’t expect your pastor to do it all.
1. They aren’t capable of doing it all.
Very few pastors are capable of doing everything that their churches expect of them. Every pastor is gifted differently and to expect a pastor to be excellent at everything is unreasonable. Not every pastor can deliver a killer sermon every week. Not every pastor can visit every single person in the hospital. Not every pastor can be at every single meeting throughout the week. Not every pastor has strong administrative skills. No pastor is capable of doing everything well. Even Moses, who was the spiritual, political, social, and military leader of Israel quickly realized he couldn’t do it all himself. He needed Aaron to speak for him and he needed willing and able men to help him accomplish the tasks before him. In Exodus 18:18, Jethro tells Moses, “You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” This is still true of pastors today. No one is capable of carrying the entire load of your church – so stop expecting your pastor to do so.
2. It isn’t their job to do it all.
Your pastor’s primary job is to preach, teach, pray, exhort, and shepherd the congregation. The early church in Acts 6 quickly realized that the spiritual leaders were not able to do everything so they appointed the first deacons to serve the congregation while the preachers and teachers remained focused on prayer and preaching the gospel. Churches have deacons, trustees, and other lay leaders to help them share the burden. Learn who charge of what and don’t bother your pastor with things that you can take care of yourself or that the other lay leaders can take care of. According to Acts, it isn’t your pastor’s job to do it all, so stop expecting them to.
3. Their job is to lead and train people for ministry, not do all the ministry themselves.
In Ephesians 4, Paul writes that the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers“, in other words the pastors and ministry leaders, were not asked to do all of the ministry themselves, but were asked “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ“. If you’re upset about the lack of discipleship your pastor is doing, the lack of teaching he is doing, the lack of hospital visits he is doing, maybe you should try going to your pastor and instead of berating him, ask him to train and equip YOU to be doing more of those things to build up the church. Your pastor’s job is to lead the charge and set the tone, not to do it all themselves.
4. Overworked, under appreciated pastors are put in a dangerous place.
As the stats above indicate, overworked pastors often end up in dangerous spiritual and emotional places. Though I think many pastors would agree that being supported and appreciated helps lighten the effects of being overworked, it is often not enough if the expectations remain too high. Not only will your pastor and his family be put in danger if they are overworked and under appreciated, but your entire church will be put in danger. There are countless stories of church collapses and downfalls. Many of these begin with the collapse and downfalls of their pastors. And many of these downfalls began because those pastors were overworked, under appreciated, and unable to deal healthily with the burden of unrealistic expectations. As a result, since they are still sinful human beings, they turned to unhealthy avenues for the comfort, rest, support, joy, or satisfaction that they should be receiving from the church. If your church’s expectations of your pastor are too high, it is only a matter of time before something bad happens in your pastor’s life and in your church’s life.
5. There is a finite number of people we can truly know.
This point applies not only to pastors, but to all people – especially in a church context. However you feel about well-known author Malcolm Gladwell, his writing is fascinating and has much to offer church leaders and church members. In his book, “The Tipping Point” Gladwell discusses anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s research on social relationships. He suggests that the average person can only share in deep, intimate relationship with 12 people (p. 176) and that the number of people that the average person can share in normal, social relationship with comes out to 147.8, or about 150 people (p. 179). Whether or not these exact numbers are accurate, the point remains the same – all of us have a finite number of people with whom we can share close, personal relationship. We can have about 12 very close relationships, and about 150 acquaintance-level relationships where we know each other, know about each other, and would consider ourselves friends.
Most churches probably expect their pastors to know everything about everyone. Not only that, they probably expect them to care deeply about every single thing that every single church member and their extended family are going through. Pastors are no exception to the limits of social relationships. While they do care and they try to remember, it is unrealistic to expect your pastor to have 150 close, intimate relationships when is only emotionally able to sustain fraction of that. And it is unrealistic to expect your pastor to know everything and care deeply about your congregation of 400 when he is probably only capable of doing so for less than half that. Cut your pastor some slack – it is unhealthy and unfair of you to expect him to remember and care about every single thing going on in every single person’s life.
Though all of this is true, pastors also have a responsibility to guard themselves and their families, to learn how to say no to things, to rest and rejuvenate, to work hard to know and love their flock, and so on. The fact is most churches have unrealistic expectations for their pastors, but it is the pastor’s job to fight through the tough times and shepherd the congregation through adversity. Churches, please have realistic and fair expectations of your pastors – if you don’t, both your pastor and your church could suffer greatly. Pastors, please stay faithful and true to your congregation no matter the circumstances. Be strong and courageous and lead your people closer to the Lord.
What do you think about this? Have you ever experienced pastor burnout, either as a pastor or a church member? Do you think churches expect too much from their pastors? Please respectfully share your thoughts in the comment section below.