How Do Pastors Bounce Back from Challenges?
Most people with a genuine glimpse into the experiences of pastors understand that ministry comes with A LOT of challenges. Ministry is difficult on many levels, and pastors must be resilient to continue in their roles.
Looking frankly at the challenges facing pastors paints a fairly painful picture of ministry. The broad categories of challenges include:
- Ministry workload
- Stakeholder expectations
- Personal challenges
Each category contains numerous types of difficulties:
First, ministry workload is challenging due to the time demands, relational conflicts, and the various emotional and spiritual needs of both pastors and their congregants. Ministry workload also requires pastors to fill diverse and complex roles, navigating constant change in ministry.
Stakeholder expectations emerge from numerous sources. Society at large and denominational communities each lobby for their own interests and values. Congregational expectations (including financial factors and ministry philosophies) present stressors ‘closer to home.’ Finally, many pastors have high (at times unrealistic) expectations of themselves partially due to the sacred nature of ministry.
Isolation is a challenging aspect of ministry for pastors involving their geographic location, relocations and shifting communities, ministry schedules, decreased energy, and theological and cultural differences. Isolation for pastors can also arise when their role presents relational distance and complicates friendships in their ministry context. Competition among churches and ministry peers can, too often, further isolate pastors.
At some point, most preachers will ask themselves this penetrating question: “Is anyone paying attention to what I’m saying?” or maybe “Does what I’m saying even matter?” While this can suggest a wounded ego, the bigger question relates to the worth of preaching itself. Does it really matter? Would it be better to try another approach to feed God’s people? – A New Voice for Preaching?
Finally, personal challenges are present for pastors, just as they are for all of us. Loss, illness, family difficulties, financial struggles, and other trials create difficulties independent of existing ministry factors. In some cases, the pastoral position presents additional pressures to conceal or handle personal challenges with more grace than would otherwise be expected.
It is easy to wonder how pastors manage. However, pastors often bounce back from the challenges they face and remain resilient. How do they do it? There are four broad categories of supportive resources that pastors utilize:
Unsurprisingly, spiritual resources are significant to pastors, especially remembrance of calling to ministry, theological meaning-making, and relationship with God. Overarching beliefs influence the meaning pastors make of the challenges and suffering they encounter. Especially prominent among those beliefs is a sense of calling to ministry and the belief that ministry is a partnership between the pastor and God. These perspectives join with resources such as prayer, scripture, worship, sermons, spiritual books, retreats, small groups, and journaling to reinforce pastoral resilience.
Relational support is another central resource. Important relationships occur with spouses and family, friends, peers, mentors, supervisors, congregation members, and professionals. Spouses often share a joint sense of calling to ministry and share the ministry load, acting as a sounding board, problem-solving, and encouraging balance and boundaries. Friends, especially those outside of the local church, are important confidants and support in both joy and challenges. Friendships with those inside of the church are complicated by the dual role and require more thoughtful navigation. Nevertheless, a supportive congregation is incredibly helpful in cultivating pastoral resilience.
Relationships with ministry peers involve shared experiences and understanding. The unique empathy and commiseration in those relationships offer important support for pastors. They also create opportunities to share relevant ideas and resources. Mentors offer wise and crucial ministry guidance and care. Supervisory support from denominational leaders, local lay leaders, or a supervising pastor join and are important resources contributing to pastoral resilience. Certain emotional and mental needs are routinely met by professional supports, such as professional counsellors or spiritual directors. These professionals are able to offer insight into the pastor’s spiritual life and help them reconnect with how God has been at work.
A range of personal tools utilized by pastors also promotes resilience. Prioritizing balanced time for ministry, family, and personal well-being helps pastors. The ability to say 'no' to unreasonable or unwelcome expectations and maintain boundaries protects an appropriate distribution of time and energy rather than being consumed by the ministry workload. Diet, exercise, routines, and rest are similarly critical to pastors remaining resilient.
Self-awareness, processing of one’s own emotional wounds, understanding of one’s unique gifting, and grace for one's imperfections and need for growth are all crucial resources. Lifelong learning through formal education or professional development helps pastors as it enables flexibility, self-reflection, and growth. Cultivating alignment between the pastor and their denomination, congregation, and/or team encourages resilience as it decreases friction and conflict. While not strictly necessary, certain attributes like extroversion, optimism, realism, flexibility, adaptability, compassion, and diplomacy can be helpful to pastors who possess them in adapting to adversity and being resilient.
Integration can be challenging. The diverse pieces of calling can seem more in conflict than in support of each other. Healthy personal lives, Sabbath practices, and family times can be hard to maintain. Burnout and/or quitting are genuine concerns. How can we (as friends and neighbours) step in to make a difference as they figure this out? Don’t forget spouses. They may be struggling even more. – 3 Ways to Better Serve People in Multivocational Ministry
In addition to the spiritual, relational, and personal resources, certain organizational practices support pastoral resilience. In many cases, pastors have less influence over these factors than their denominational or congregational leadership. Helpful organizational practices that support pastoral resilience include financial provision, role flexibility, rigorous pre-service discernment and preparation, early ministry support, skill-specific training and support, and relational opportunities.
Walking in Resilience
This large list of resources offers a hopeful aspect to the ‘painful picture of ministry’ referenced above. Pastors might engage with these supports to reinforce their resilience and better face ministry challenges. The difficulties can become overwhelming, and if supportive resources are restricted, resilience might be lost. It is important that pastors are not seen as impervious to the challenges of ministry or assumed always to bounce back. The interplay of ministry challenges and supportive resources ebbs and flows, and with it, so might resilience. Pastoral resilience must be prioritized by individual pastors, congregations, and denominations, and the resources outlined above offer a proven and hopeful way forward.
Upcoming courses with Margaret Clarke:
- CO 790 Counselling Practicum I
- CO 703 Counselling Problems and Procedures
- CO 720 Approaches in Supporting Clergy Well-Being
- CO 819 Counselling Specialty: Motivational Interviewing
To learn more about the Counselling Program offered through Briercrest Seminary, please visit our Marriage and Family Therapy program page. Register for an individual course today and embark on a transformative learning journey.
Did you know that you can earn a 60-credit-hour MA degree just one year after completing your Briercrest undergraduate degree? The five-year BA/MA Biblical Studies academic pathway will appeal to students who want to pursue further education in Biblical Studies or Theology, as well as students who simply want to develop their knowledge of the biblical languages and their skill in reading the biblical text in preparation for ministry in a lay or vocational capacity. With the completion of this program, you will be able to read the Bible in its original language and gain a deeper understanding of the church’s theology. By enrolling in this program, you can save time and money while continuing your education. To find out more information about this degree pathway, talk to Dr. David Miller (Associate Professor of New Testament & Early Judaism) at email@example.com
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