A few months ago a prominent pastor was let go from the church he planted. This past Sunday another prominent pastor stepped down.
Pete Wilson started an amazing church in Tennessee. He has written multiple books, and has seen God do amazing work. He built a church where, “No perfect people are allowed.”
On Sunday he stepped down because in his own words, “I’m tired. I’m broken.”
Reading about it Sunday I felt heartbroken.
I don’t want to see any pastor step down. I hate that he is hurting. I don’t have a lot of answers. I don’t know his full story. I’m sure there are things we will never know about what led to his decision.
Pete did say, “Most of you in this church only experience what I do on Sundays, especially those of you who watch online. You just see me when I kind of come up here on Sundays but the reality is as leader and the pastor of a church, what happens in between those Sundays is just as important and it requires a lot of leadership and it requires a lot of leadership energy. And leaders in any realm of life, leaders who lead on empty don’t lead well and for some time now I’ve been leading on empty. And so I believe that the best thing for me to do is to step aside from Cross Point and so I am officially resigning as the pastor of Cross Point Church,”
I am truly sad.
This came on the heals of another pastor I know who is going through intense personal struggles. It feels like every where I turn pastors who are helping broken people are becoming more broken themselves.
Just like it’s not the pastor’s fault if a church member sins, it is not a church member’s fault if a pastor struggles. With that in mind I don’t think church people are responsible for a pastor’s struggle.
At the same time I do believe there are things church members can do to support their pastor. It won’t mean a pastor won’t struggle. Pastors are imperfect humans. Just like if a pastor does everything he can it does not mean church members won’t struggle. But together I think pastors and church members can help each other.
The main emotion I felt when I read about Pete is fear. I want to retire a pastor. I want to have a ministry where I finish strong. I’m far from perfect. I make mistakes. I want to be able to learn from mistakes, continue to set up accountability, and get to the end of my life finishing strong.
Every job has difficulties. This isn’t meant to compare struggles of other jobs. The pastor has some unique challenges that I don’t think anyone can fully relate to until they have walked in the shoes of a pastor.
Here are some unique challenges pastors go through.
- After spending hours prepping a sermon, memorizing a sermon, studying, and praying being told that you are not deep enough.
- Having people scrutinize your pay. Because it’s “Church work” many believe being a pastor means living as an indentured servant to the church. There are some pastors that live extravagantly or have abused church finances. There are also church boards who make it their job to pinch every penny. If a pastor drives a new car someone will complain, judge, and assume he is in it just for the money. I’ve heard so many complaints against pastors making money it has permanently left a mark. I don’t even mean to, but I feel I have to explain how we can afford to take a vacation, go to the movies, or buy something new. I’ll often start a story with, “Our friend gave us their house in Nags Head for the week. That’s the only way we could afford it.”
- Have close relationships end because of a decision you’ve made. This happens all the time in the church world. I just met with a pastor who ended up leaving his church because some elders were mad he didn’t want to hire one of their granddaughters as the worship leader. She was still in high school and had zero experience in it. The church almost split because he kindly disagreed. This happens all the time. All. The. Time. Best friends become sworn enemies over night in the church world. I have seen more grace being shown towards Pastor Perry Noble after he admitted to struggling with alcohol than I have seen towards a pastor who disagreed with a church member, staff member, or church board. No one can keep all people happy. The pressure is unreal once a pastor realizes every relationship is one decision away from ending. When relationships end it’s never pretty. Many times the pastor learns the relationship is over from a third party source. Other times when the pastor is told a person is leaving a church the message seems to come out of no where.
- Loneliness. Loneliness comes from multiple places. Because relationships can be fragile a pastor has to be incredibly careful who he trusts. When a pastor struggles there aren’t many who he can confide in. Often what is confessed ends up being ammunition against the pastor once church members become upset. According to Lifeway Research 55% of pastors feel lonely. Loneliness often comes because when things go bad pastors tend to try to take the high road. If a pastor posted the things he has seen behind the scenes it wouldn’t do anyone any good. During difficult seasons many pastors take the heat and never share their perspective. This isn’t saying every pastor is perfect. Pastors are imperfect people who can hurt others. But in a lot of instances when someone gets mad they blast the pastor to many people and the pastor is left trying to pick up the pieces with just his family. No one but my wife and counselor knows the full details of what led me to see a counselor. I attempted to blog about some of the struggles without being specific. That post led at least one person leaving the church. The feeling of loneliness during that season still weighs on me.
- Having to deliver a sermon when you are spiritually empty. Every human I know goes through seasons in the proverbial desert. Sunday comes every week. No matter what is going on the church needs the pastor to deliver. Have you ever cried through an entire worship set and then had to get up to preach? Pastors must take care of themselves, but even the healthiest pastors go through seasons. Pete Wilson talked about trying to lead on empty. I don’t know a single pastor who cannot relate to that.
- Temptation. No one asks the pastor about how he is dealing with temptation. It just doesn’t happen. But pastors are human. They struggle just like everyone else. With a lack of accountability it is easy to let things slide. Other times the pressure of the church world is so weighty a pastor literally feels the only way to escape is to sabotage his ministry by giving into temptation.
Please know, this post is not directed at anyone. I am in no way trying to be passive aggressive. I’m posting what I believe is a common struggle in hopes that no matter what church you call home, you’ll have a unique insight into the struggles your pastor may face.
At the end of the day I think there is one major thing all of us can do to help pastors.
Don’t turn a pastor into a saint and don’t turn him into a sinner.
Here’s what I mean. Often people make pastors into saints. It’s as if when they poot it does not stink. Every pastor is imperfect. Do not wait for them to let you down to discover this. No pastor should be put on a pedestal. Sure pastors should have honor showed to them. That’s biblical. But honor doesn’t mean creating them into something they are not…perfect.
At the same time whenever we get upset with a pastor let’s not turn them into the devil. A disagreement doesn’t mean everything about them is pure evil. Disagree. You might even have to leave a church over a disagreement. But unless the disagreement is over sin resist the temptation to turn the pastor into the anti-christ.
If you know a pastor spend time praying for them right now. It is not up to the church to keep a pastor emotionally healthy, but they can help. Show me a pastor who retires at an old age without a scandal and I’ll show you some amazing Christians who have supported him throughout the years. It takes a village to run a church.
What were your thoughts reading this post? What other unique struggles do pastors go through? What else can we do to support pastors without putting them on pedestals?