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Pastors Coping with Stress

Pastors Coping with Stress

            Over the past 35 years of my involvement in pastoral ministry I have found stress to be the one constant factor that I have had to deal with. I realize that some church members feel that stress should not be a factor in a pastor’s life. However, when you work with people and address their life issues, stress will enter the conversation.

            I was recently asked: In your personal life, what have you seen as the key factors leading to stress in pastoral ministry? I have attempted to answer that question by compiling my list of top five stressors (not in any particular order).

            When we address the stress we fill in our lives, we need to understand that there are two contributing factors: 

The FACT - these are things that are really happening and causing anxiety and stress and,
The PERCEPTION - things that I believe are happening that create stress for me.

Member’s expectation: The expectations that I accomplish or do certain things in the church, either spoken or unspoken. A great example is the requirements to be at the hospital to see a member or member’s family, when I was not informed the individual was in the hospital.  

Financial issues: When the finances of the church are in trouble or their does not seem to be enough money to cover the bills. Especially when many churches have concluded that cutting the pastor’s salary is more important than cutting programing at the church.

Family and Children: For most pastors, the balance between family time and pastoral responsibilities is one that creates a great deal of stress. There is an expectation that pastors will be at meetings, do weddings, and provide for the needs of the church members. However, at the same time there is an expectation that the pastor will be at the children’s school functions, attend the sports game, etc.

Limited time to prepare for Teaching & Preaching: From the other pastor’s I have discussed about ministry, this comes up as a top issue for them.

Pastoral expectation that the individuals will do things in the church: Every pastor has his own personal expectation of what people will do in the church, from helping visit the sick, singing in the choir, helping teach a Sunday school class, and so on. When these expectations are not met, the pastor often feels stress.

Tools for coping with these and other stressors in the church:

Establish a support system of individuals to talk with when feeling the stress:  I have developed a group of three men from various walks of like, a pastor, social worker, and college instructor that I attempt to touch base with at least twice a week and talk about how I am feeling and any stress I am feeling. I allow them to ask the tough questions and search if the stress is fact or perception, and then look at solutions to resolve it.

Set priorities and state each priority from the pulpit clearly. This means discussing and defining the priorities within the family, and coming up with a plan to accomplish them in a safe and appropriate way.  I have been blessed with a great wife, and have two kids in college. I have learned the hard way, that before I accept any speaking engagement or plan to attend a conference, I check with all three to see if they have something on the calendar that they would be upset with if I missed. This is also essential in the church, that folks know what your priority is, and that you do certain things first for the church members.

Plan your personal devotional time and prayer: To me the apostles set the ground work for this very thing, when they appointed deacons so they could focus on the word.  Having been an Associate Pastor for many years, this is the one major stressor I see pastors’ having that is self-created.  Find men in your church that can do what you need them to do, and be willing to use them.  I recently talked with a pastor that was extremely stressed and asked him if he allowed the men in his church to help. He made excuses and said they didn’t know how. My question to him was, “did you ask?” and then my follow up question was “did you offer to teach them.” If we want help as a pastor we have to help people learn to minister, and give them to tools and opportunity to do so.

I have noticed for many pastors that having more than one service on a Sunday Morning or the weekend is a very stressful time.  My experience is that this can be eliminated if we are willing to plan ahead and work the plan.  Finding volunteers, training them, and encouraging them to accomplish their task relieves a lot of the stress during the service. 

Pastor’s, it is important to understand stress can be avoided and overcome if we are willing to work at it, and take precautions. My prayer is that you will find peace within your relationship with Christ to help you accomplish the goals HE has set before you and be stress free.

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