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Confessions of the Unhappy Pastor

We meet a lot of pastors these days; some through offering spiritual direction and others who come for retreats at Fall Creek Abbey. And truth be told, a lot of them are unhappy pastors. Not all, for sure. But many of them—not to mention their spouses.

Why—you ask? Why are so very many burned out, broken-hearted and beat up in their roles? Here are our musings and what we hear often when pastors share with us their experience of pastoring.

I Don't Have any Real Friends

The first thing that comes to mind is the unhappy pastor’s confession that he or she has no real friends. It seems that most pastors don’t feel like they have time to cultivate real friendships and they fear getting too close to folks in their congregation. There’s a concern that if they were really honest, really themselves, their parishioner-friends would not be able to handle it or keep the confidence. And because their jobs are often so demanding and unwieldy, they don’t have time and space to cultivate friendships beyond their congregations.

For this very reason, we often say things like “We wish every pastor we know had a spiritual director!” While spiritual directors aren’t friends, in terms of the relationship being reciprocal, spiritual directors are “anam cara,” a term from the Celtic Christian tradition that means “soul friend,” and recently described by Maria Popova on Brainpickings.

And speaking of anam cara, on this Shout-out Thursday, we’d like to lift-up a friend and fellow spiritual director who has a ministry by that name:Tara Owens and Anam Cara Ministries. Tara is a champion for spiritual direction and undoubtedly echoes our desire that every pastor discover the gift of having a soul friend. Please acquaint yourself with Tara and what she offers through Anam Cara Ministries. And make sure you check out her amazing book, Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone. A big thank you to Tara for such a heartfelt and moving endorsement of When Faith Becomes Sight!

I Spend All My Time Administrating

Most pastors are frustrated by all the administration involved in their roles as pastor. Instead of spending time with people, they spend time in meetings with staff, strategizing and planning for the next big event or putting out the latest fires. Yet if you’d ask them, most pastors became pastors in order to companion people along their spiritual journey and help them grow. Sadly, this is no longer the reality of their roles. We rarely meet a pastor who spends time one on one discipling individuals or leading small discipleship groups. Doesn’t that seem odd, even tragic, given that was Jesus’ strategy for building the church?

I Feel So Much Pressure to Perform!

In case you haven’t noticed, being a church is now a competitive sport! In our city, it seems that a new campus of a multi-site megachurch is popping up every other month. We’ve overheard pastors and staff brainstorming how to market their church to increase membership. And you can bet that if the church isn’t growing numerically, it’s clearly the pastor’s fault! This is incredible pressure and yet the task of numerical growth is only one of the many responsibilities that finds its way onto a pastor’s plate.

It Isn't Safe to be in Process

Of all the confessions of an unhappy pastor, the one that gets us the most is their admission that it just isn’t safe to be in process in terms of their stage of faith. It’s a known fact that over our lifetime of faith, we will experience seasons of doubt, questions, darkness and uncertainty. All these stages are signs of personal, spiritual growth. We would go as far as to say that if you don’t go through these stages, you are likely stalled out in your relationship with God. Yet pastors, who need to be our spiritual leaders, can’t afford to acknowledge that they doubt, or question, or are changing their theology. Why? Because parishioners often feel anxious, even aggressive if their spiritual leaders don’t reassure them that their faith is still as “air-tight” as ever! As a result, pastors often feel like imposters, not because they want to hide their faith struggles, but because they don’t dare share with their flock what they are.

If you are involved in a local church, and these confessions of an unhappy pastor stir compassion in you, do your pastor a favor. Thank her or him. Pray for her or him. And be kind to her or him! Pastoring today is often a thankless job.

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