December 15, 1967 was a major moment in American history.
I bet few of you know what happened on that day. I sure didn’t until I began studying the world of microstresses.
Let me explain.
On that fateful day in 1967, the Silver Bridge collapsed, and 46 people died. The bridge connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia to Gallipolis, Ohio over the Ohio River. The collapse was attributed to microstresses, small and almost imperceptible factors that cumulatively caused the catastrophe.
A small fracture formed in a part of the bridge that was one of many components that held the bridge deck in place. The fracture, too small by itself to cause damage, was the result of a design flaw. The flaw allowed salt and water to seep in the component. The salt and water led to corrosion and cracking. Because that one component was not working, the load shifted to similar parts of the bridge. The cumulative shifting led to overload on the working parts of the bridge. That overload led to the ultimate tragedy.
So, December 15, 1967, became a pivotal day when inspection of bridges became commonplace, and when quality standards of new bridges hit a higher and safer level.
One little stress ultimately led to a total collapse.
Pastors are not alone in having stressful jobs. I don’t want to imply that their work is more difficult than other jobs. But pastors are unique in the cumulative number of microstresses in their lives. And, left alone without care, these microstresses can lead to a total collapse.
Here are nine of the most common microstresses pastors experience by the very nature of their jobs and calling. Not all of them are the result of negative circumstances per se.
- The decision-making microstresses. Pastors must make countless decisions every week. One pastor told me his greatest challenge was “decision fatigue.” The decisions can range from making a small church expenditure to counseling a terminally ill patient on important decisions. Some seem insignificant. But they all add up quickly.
- The critical comments microstresses. For most people, pastors included, criticisms sting. Many pastors are subject to a regular litany of criticisms. It wears on them, makes them question their own leadership, and can lead to depression.
- The emotional extremes microstresses. A pastor told me that his ministry was a roller coaster emotionally. Just that week he celebrated the birth of a baby and the new birth of a Christian man. But he also officiated at the funeral of a 16-year-old girl who was killed in an automobile accident
- The theologian-in-residence microstresses. Pastors get bombarded with biblical and theological questions. For most of them, such conversations can be fun. But some pastors get an overabundance of texts, calls, and social media posts with questions about the Bible and theology.
- The pastoral care microstresses. All pastors must do some level of pastoral care. It is a part of their calling. But the marriage failures, sicknesses, depression, anger, and other typical challenges people experience can cumulatively seem overwhelming.
- The deadlines microstresses. Most pastors have to prepare and preach a sermon every week. Every single week with few exceptions. Again, most pastors love preaching. But the constant deadlines can be challenging.
- The not omnicompetent microstresses. Pastors are expected to be competent in many areas. But they aren’t. They wish they could help in every situation, but they are simply not skilled in every discipline under the sun. A Florida pastor was asked to make it snow on Christmas day. Seriously.
- The family failures microstresses. Pastors are rightly concerned about putting their family first in their lives and ministries. But that does not make it easy. It’s been over three decades, but I am still haunted by the look on my nine-year-old son’s face when I canceled our weekly father/son trip to McDonald’s. A church member called me with an “emergency” need for marriage counseling. I let my son down, and the marriage still failed.
- The bill payment microstresses. I admit frustration when I hear people talk about overpaid pastors. Baloney! Most pastors struggle from paycheck to paycheck. Those struggles are yet more microstresses.
This article stated the problem without solutions. I will have a follow-up article shortly. I will address how pastors can better deal with microstresses.
Originally published at Church Answers.