I read a post on Twitter this weekend describing a scene in a church lobby after the 3rd Christmas Eve service of the day. Apparently a church leader cornered the weary pastor and publicly reprimanded him for his decision to have one of his associate pastors preach the Sunday service the next morning instead of preaching it himself. The author of the post observed this scene along with multiple other parishioners.
This post reminded me of the backlash I received years ago after making the decision to cancel our Dec. 25th Sunday morning services after multiple Christmas Eve services the day before. We made this decision before hand and communicated it to the church. One of my best friends and my accountability partner left Bent Tree over that decision. I agonized over that decision even though the logic behind it was easy to see, I lost sleep over it. Remembering the aftermath of that fateful weekend and seeing the post about this poor pastor two days ago has reminded me that people simply don’t know what it is like to be a pastor.
Now, in saying this, I readily admit that many pastors don’t know what it is like to run a business, lead a school, do teeth cleanings for 8 hours a day, write a brief, or walk the beat overnight, either. I do not believe that being a pastor is necessarily harder than those jobs, I just think it comes with unique challenges that few people grasp.
The vast majority of churches are led by solo pastors, and more than half of those pastors have to work a second job to pay the bills (years ago I heard that 67% of pastors in American are by-vocational. I don’t know if this statistic is still accurate, but I assure you that many pastors are stretched thin and under financial stress.) So after doing some marriage counseling, mowing the grass, counting the offering, preparing three messages (Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening), corresponding with people in the church, discipling the lay youth group leader, and stopping by the hospital 3 times to see 3 different ailing flock members, the pastor runs into the house to kiss his wife, hug the kids, and grab a sandwich before heading to the State Farm agency to make some prospecting calls. 52 weeks a year, year after year.
Throw in Covid (one pastor friend of mine buried 23 members of his congregation in one month this past year), conflict (covid measures, racial tensions, Christian Nationalism, women in leadership, etc.) and personal exhaustion and you have a nation full of pastors running on fumes.
They love you, they serve you, they consider it a privilege and a calling to shepherd you. Their spouses sacrifice too. For 28 years, Christmas Eve at our home consisted of me leaving the house early in the morning, preaching between 3, 4 or 5 times and then spending time with the staff and lay team that pulled off amazing creative experiences while missing Christmas Eve with their families. For the vast majority of those years Libby was home alone with three kids… all day long, until arriving for the last service and then going to a friends’ home who graciously invited her and the kids over every Christmas Eve. I would arrive at our friend’s house about the time to go home. Pastors can’t imagine doing anything else, but many can’t imagine continuing to do this either.
Right now, your pastor is most likely vulnerable, exhausted, discouraged, struggling financially, and is trying desperately to make sure his/her spouse is ok.
If you would like to know how to support your pastor, here are some practical ideas:
- When an unpopular decision is made, be the person who pulls the pastor aside and says, “that must have been a hard call, I’m proud of you for leading well through this difficult season. We are here for you, hang in there!”
- When you see your pastor and spouse out for dinner, leave them alone and pick up their tab. (Just ask their server to give you their bill and make sure you tip for them too.)
- If you are a person of means and have a vacation home (or time share), offer it to your pastor free of charge for a get-away.
- After a sermon that moves you, tells the pastor what God said to you and thank them.
If you are a lay leader in your church (elder, deacon, trustee) here are some extremely practical ideas for you. Note, these are things your pastor desperately needs, but most are afraid to ask.
- Use your influence to insure that your pastor is fairly compensated. Ask them each year, around this time, how they are doing financially and if they are making ends meet. Cost of living increases should be the minimum adjustment each year.
- Provide benefits.
- Provide resources for therapy. Most pastor’s need it, few can afford it.
- Make sure your Pastor has at least 3 weeks of vacation each year. The pastor should not preach on either side of that week, so this would mean 6 weeks of pulpit-fill are necessary. Elders, retired pastors, or area pastors can fill the pulpit during those vacation weeks.
- Every 7 years, give your pastor a sabbatical. It should be 2 months minimum if possible.
- If your pastor decides to move on from your church, care for them and be generous with a severance package. Pastors leave with no “equity” to sell, and many have no retirement saved up. The severance package will literally pay the bills until they land on their feet. This is no time to skimp, be extraordinarily generous. As an aside, keep your pastor on benefits until he/she has landed a new job. Libby and I discovered that health insurance is cost prohibitive when we no longer got a check every two weeks.
- Be your pastor’s champion. Look out for your shepherd, their spouse and kids. Keep your ears open, ask good questions, and go to bat for them.
This ended up being much longer than I anticipated but I’ve wanted to write this for some time. Let’s love on our pastors, they are precious and they are people too.