People like to joke that pastors only work on Sundays. Let’s face it, everyone has stress and many people experience deep stress in their work. On top of this, many pastors have flexible schedules and freedom to determine their own work. It seems like pastors should have very little stress. However, every pastor carries a heavy burden that most people never see and few understand.
The Heaviness of Leadership
On The Emotionally Healthy Leader podcast, Pete Scazzero said that he never realized what a heavy weight he carried as a pastor until he handed the leadership responsibility to his successor. Pete is still preaching, he is still active in his church, but he no longer bears the weight of pastoral ministry. A pastor’s flexibility and freedom doesn’t make the work any easier. Instead, like most executive leaders, the pastor is constantly aware that the proverbial “buck” stops with him. Freedom and flexibility are necessary to carry the heavy burden of spiritual leadership.
So, what makes pastoral ministry such a heavy burden? Here are six weights every pastor bears.
The Weight of Responsibility
In James 3:1, the apostle says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Every pastor is aware that he will be held accountable for his teaching and his leadership. It’s not the accountability to the church that matters. Pastors know they are accountable to Almighty God for how they teach and lead the church. Hebrews 13:17 suggests that spiritual leaders will have to give account for the souls of the people they lead. Who can bear this kind of weight? (Maybe that’s why the author of Hebrews counsels the church to help their pastor lead with joy.) Pastors know they can’t do this in their own strength. They have to continually humble themselves before Christ in prayer so that they can minister in his strength. Does your church give your pastor enough time in prayer to allow him to learn from Christ how to lighten his heavy burden (Matthew 11:28-30)?
The Weight of Holy Desire
Pastors desire to see their churches grow in maturity and size. Paul describes this desire as a “daily pressure” (weight) and an “anxiety.” Here anxiety can be understood as a holy desire for the churches’ maturity in Christ (not a sinful worrying that God will not supply.)
“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
2 Corinthians 11:28
In his article 5 Realities About the Weight of Pastoring, Eric Geiger explains how Paul describes the weight of ministry as constant, emotional, spiritual, tangible, and intense.
The Weight of Criticism
Criticism is the cost of leadership. Leaders cause change, and change makes people uncomfortable and fearful. When people feel uncomfortable or fearful they criticize the people who caused the change. Even when people can see that the change is good, they will criticize the motives, pace, or method of change. Wise pastors expect criticism, but that doesn’t make it any easier. The more criticism, the harder leadership becomes and the heavier the pastor’s burden. Next time you are tempted to criticize your pastor, consider this question: Are you making his burden heavier or lighter in what you are saying? Constructive criticism seeks to make the pastor’s job easier and lighter.
The Weight of Spiritual Attack
Peter warns the elders of the church to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). There are times in ministry when spiritual attack is heavier than others, but it never really goes away. Satan and his demons are like a pack of wild dogs – constantly biting at the heels of spiritual leaders. Is it any wonder that pastors can get weary of the battle? In your church, who will support your pastor or elders when they grow weary? (Exodus 17:12)
The Weight of Glory
As a pastor I want my work to bring glory to God. John the Baptist’s statement “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) resonates with my heart. I want God to be great. However, there is a very real sense that my church wants me to be greater than I am. People put their pastor on a pedestal. They have high expectations and, in many cases, impossible expectations. This means the pastor is continually facing the disappointment of someone. Sometimes these people leave the church. That’s hard for a pastor to not take personally. What expectations do you have for your pastor? Are you aware of how these expectations affect him?
The Weight of Sin
Perhaps the hardest thing a pastor faces is the weight of sin. Puritan pastor John Flavel said, “Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon vanish before the next.” It can be so discouraging to see that spiritual progress is almost always followed by some regression. Sometimes progress feels impossible. This is just as true in the pastor’s own soul as it is in his congregation. The constant fight against sin can be wearisome. When you are struggling in your fight against sin, your pastor is there to encourage you in Christ. Who encourages your pastor in his fight?
What Can I Do?
Ask your pastor about the burdens of his ministry. It may take some time to get him to reveal the truth; he may not want to let you down. However, when you show that you can be trusted, that you want to support him in his struggles, and that you are serious about investing in his joy, he may let you carry some of the load. The elders of a church should already be helping one another and encouraging one another in Christ – that culture of grace should define the gathering of elders.
Give your pastor the freedom to step down off your pedestal – to be human. Focus on his faith not his flaws (Hebrews 13:7). Recognize that your pastor is there to point beyond himself to Jesus. Like John the Baptist, he is saying “follow him, not me.”
Ask your pastor how you can help shoulder the weight. Read Exodus 17:12 to him and ask, “How can I be your support?” Be willing to carry some of the load from time to time and let your pastor rest.
Pastors, how do you feel the weight of pastoral ministry?
Please, leave a comment below. I personally read all the comments and I try to respond within a day. Or we can interact on Twitter (@PastorsSoul) or on our Facebook page.
© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.