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Why pastors struggle to ask for help (and how to get past it)

Getty Images/Pyrosky
Getty Images/Pyrosky

“It took me too long, but I finally decided to get the help I needed.” My first coaching call with this pastor was like so many others.

This pastor shouldered the leadership burden without much support for years. Then tensions built in his church, and he could not take the added pressure. Frankly, no one should carry this weight alone.

Far too many pastors do.

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After professional counseling and a few coaching sessions, he was in a better place and ready to tackle the next set of challenges at his church.

Why do so many pastors struggle to ask for help?

  • The fear of vulnerability. Insecurity can cause someone to think receiving help is a sign of weakness. This fear of being perceived as weak will prompt a pastor to keep others at a distance.
  • The veneer of control. When pastors believe they are self-sufficient, asking for help signals they no longer have the strength to be independent.
  • The concern of rejection. When you have anxiety, a negative experience can decimate your self-confidence. Asking for help becomes a potential catalyst for a deep sense of rejection.
  • The excessiveness of empathy. Some pastors find their value in how well they relate with others. However, excessive empathy causes you to assume the emotions of others before they even have a chance to respond. This pastor does not ask for help, believing the request will burden others.
  • The past experiences of being burned. Unfortunately, many pastors have asked for help previously, only to receive poor treatment from their churches. Why risk getting burned again?
  • The discouragement of perceived failure. When you don’t believe your leadership has been successful, asking for help can feel like another thing to pile on the heap of failure.

Any combination of these factors can compound the problem. And many of them are perceptions, not reality. But we must deal with perceived problems as we do real ones. How can pastors get past these hurdles and seek the help they need?

1. Pray specifically. Start here. Talk to God! And give Him your specific concerns. Pastors can be guilty of talking about God far more than we talk to God.

2. Be honest with your spouse. Talk together. And pray together. You can retrain your ability to ask for help by opening a dialogue with the one closest to you.

3. Get an outside perspective. Do not skip this step. Every pastor needs an outside perspective — even more so when you are struggling. Set up a time to talk to a mental health professional. Consider asking your church to help with a coach. Personally, I love our platinum coaching group at Church Answers!

4. Start with a small circle of trust inside the church. Once you have confided in your spouse and gained an outside perspective from coaching and counseling, you are more prepared to build trust with a small group in your church. When you trust someone, you express how you value that person. I believe it’s unwise to use the pulpit as a way for pastors to communicate their struggles. Healing is more likely to occur in a circle of trust and not in the public arena.

5. Guard your time and have some fun. Pastors who struggle also tend to be the ones who do not have much fun. When I observe pastors having fun, there are usually fewer struggles occurring. Is this relationship one of correlation or causation? I do not know. But there is something to the cliché, “a breath of fresh air.” Get out and enjoy something fun outside of ministry.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul wrote about how the church shared in giving and receiving. They supported each other. Even pastors need to receive ministry as they pour into their churches. Asking for help is biblical and good for the soul.

Originally published at Church Answers. 

Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida. 

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