According to a recent survey we at Faithlife compiled with Church Communications, over one in three pastors (35%) reported feeling burned out. Just under half (45%) of leaders said they find pastoral care draining. Nearly a third (29%) are feeling pessimistic about their ministry, considering leaving their church, or considering leaving ministry altogether.
When asked about their largest unmet need, the top two responses were support from volunteers, staff, or elders, and friendship. And, most sobering of all, more than 1 in 10 pastors admitted to contemplating suicide in the past year.
Being a pastor has never been easy, but the past 18 months have made an already difficult job nearly impossible for many people. It’s not just the changes in COVID-19 protocols and national unrest either. Throw in giving and attendance shifts — not to mention people leaving their churches over social or political issues — and it’s no wonder pastors report feeling exhausted and alone.
Over half of Protestant US churches have fewer than 100 average weekly attenders, so many pastors have to wear lots of very different hats. They aren’t just pastors, they also have to be church admins, graphic designers, and A/V or tech experts. And because many solo pastors are the primary shepherds of their flock, they can struggle with how to straddle the line between leadership and being part of the church body.
No one really expects ministry to be easy (certainly not Paul; see 2 Tim 4:5), but surely many pastors wonder, is it supposed to be this hard?
As we enter Pastor Appreciation Month, I encourage you to think about how you can support and encourage the pastors in your life.
The No. 1 unmet need pastors reported was support from volunteers, staff, and elders. That’s an invitation — jump in and start serving, giving, and helping anywhere you can.
Paul used the image of a body to describe the Church, a beautiful reminder that a body working properly requires every part of the body to do actual work. Maybe you can apply your head to creating a spreadsheet or statement of faith, your heart to teaching kids or weeping with the suffering, or your hands to cleaning out a supply closet or running slides. Every person who belongs to a church can make a difference by serving.
When your church body is serving faithfully, you testify to your pastor that the church is bigger than one person. It’s about a united group of men, women, and children serving Jesus — and that’s a freeing reminder that overwhelmed pastors need.
Care about them as people
Many Christians turn to their pastor when they’re having a rough time. So who can a pastor turn to when they need help?
Some pastors are hesitant to ask for help with their mental, emotional, or marital health. It’s difficult for anyone to admit when they’re struggling, but it’s that much harder for pastors when so many people expect them to be strong.
Now, this may come as a surprise, but pastors are human, too! They have needs and struggles just like everyone else but often fear speaking up, because they think they could lose their job or get labeled as a complainer or weak. Even if you aren’t in a position to be your pastor’s best friend, you can still encourage your church’s leadership to create an open space for authenticity and transparency.
Further, ask if your pastor is taking good time away from work — including getting a full 2 days off a week and vacation time. We know from Scripture this is vital. Even Jesus took time out of his ministry to rest. You can get a group to chip in to give your pastor’s family a hotel gift card, keep the kids for a date night, or round up volunteers to take on extra work for a few weeks so the pastor can take time off.
Give encouragement freely
Every week, your pastor probably gets emails and phone calls (even social media comments) complaining about something at the church. How much of a blessing would it be if your pastor felt more encouraged than critiqued?
Now, don’t give empty compliments — nobody likes those. But when you can, share how God is using your pastor’s work in your life. You can mention a few points in a recent sermon that are resonating with you or any other specific ways that you have been encouraged. (Encouragement loops are the best!)
Finally, the Bible calls Christians to pray for their pastors — and not just during Pastor Appreciation Month. If you’re not sure how to pray for them, you can start by praying Scriptures over your pastor, such as John 15:4–11, Matthew 11:28–30, or Psalm 121. Then, let your pastor know you’ve been praying certain verses for them. There’s something uniquely uplifting about being told “I’m praying for you” and knowing it’s the truth.
Hopefully you’ve got some fresh ideas about how to celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month. Remember, though, that God is the one who upholds his Church (Col 1:17–18). Good pastors are gifts from God to churches — gifts we ought to appreciate all year long.
Jennifer Grisham is a writer at Faithlife, creators of the first integrated ministry platform. The Faithlife 2021 Pastoral Mental Health Report is available to download for free at https://grow.faithlife.com/pastoral-mental-health-report.