Survey: Pastors of Larger Churches Feel Lonely

Although a majority of Protestant pastors consider themselves privileged to be in ministry, many also feel then can be prone to discouragement and loneliness, according to a study released by LifeWay Research earlier this week.

More than half (55 percent) of the 1,000 U.S. Protestant pastors surveyed by the faith-based research group said they agreed with the statement, “I find it easy to get discouraged.” The same percentage of pastors also said that being in pastoral ministry makes them feel lonely at times.

However, a full 98 percent agree with the statement, “I feel privileged to be a pastor,” with 93 percent strongly agreeing. Only about a half-percent of the pastors disagree with the statement, according to the survey.

“Many oft-quoted statistics speak of miserable and unhappy pastors, but that’s not what we see when we actually ask them,” said Ed Stetzer, vice president of research and ministry development at LifeWay Christian Resources. “There is discouragement and loneliness, but when 98 percent agree it is a privilege to be a pastor, we also know there is a great honor to being a pastor.”

The study also reveals that pastors 65 and older are the least discouraged. While 30 percent of those 65 and older strongly disagree that it is easy to get discouraged in ministry, only 19 percent ages 55-64 strongly disagree along with 13 percent ages 45-54 and 11 percent ages 18-44.

Pastors 65 and older are also most likely to strongly disagree (39 percent) with the statement, “Pastoral ministry makes me feel lonely at times.” Twenty-nine percent of those ages 55-64 strongly disagree, as well as 21 percent ages 45-54 and 19 percent ages 18-44.

LifeWay officials said, “Ironically, pastors of larger churches are lonelier. Of those in congregations with average attendance of 250 or more, 17 percent strongly disagree that pastoral ministry makes them feel lonely at times. In comparison, 32 percent with churches of 0-49 and 27 percent with churches of 100-249 strongly disagree.”

A main reason for discouragement can come from unrealistic expectations, Stetzer explained. “Leading volunteers influenced by a consumerist Christian mindset hurts everyone involved. We need a lot less customers and a lot more co-laborers,” he said.

“Pastors feel privileged, but clearly the reality of constant service can take its toll. There is discouragement and loneliness in ministry. It appears that the larger the church the more present the loneliness,” Stetzer said.

Despite the high work load for many pastors, the survey showed that a majority did not feel their ministry had a negative effect on their family.

“Pastoring can be stressful on a family, but contrary to some hyped statistics, most do not believe that being a pastor has hurt their family,” said Stetzer, who has also served as a pastor. “Pastoring is difficult, and family life is a fishbowl, but overstating the challenge and dangers of pastoring can discourage pastors and create an expectation of family disruption – leading to that very problem,” he said.

“Relationships matter and it appears that pastors value those friendships – particularly as they get older,” he further explained. “Older pastors (and I would add, younger pastors with wisdom) have developed more close friendships within their church and are less likely to be discouraged or lonely. This combination mirrors workplace studies that have shown that more friendships at work correspond with higher satisfaction with a person’s job and life.”

Methodology: LifeWay Research conducted a phone survey that sampled randomly selected Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches. The completed sample of 1,000 phone interviews provides a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed ±3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.

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