Pastors are like ogres. No, we are not hideous monsters who smell, at least not all of us. We are like ogres because we have layers. My Shrek reference and a poor attempt at humor are to lead into a discussion about the emotions pastors often feel. As I seek to outline a few things pastors feel emotionally as they labor, I want to assure you we are not all emotional misfits. There are incredible moments we experience in pastoring which remind us, while we could do other things with our lives, this is the calling God has given us. However, pastoring is not all smiles, rainbows, and cupcakes. And to be completely honest, sometimes it downright hurts.
I have pastored for more than ten years. Many faithful pastors have much longer tenures than me. But in a decade of pastoring, I have experienced the gamut of emotions and difficulties. I can speak directly about the things I have faced. I can also speak to things I have witnessed in other dear brothers that I am friends with or have mentored/coached.
The following are three things pastors feel and regularly work through emotionally, that most—including their congregations—are not aware of. Following these three things, I give an exhortation to my fellow pastors and for congregants.
You may see us with a smile, but do not let it fool you. Yes, our smiles are genuine, especially if we love the church we have the privilege to lead by serving. But behind those smiles are men who sometimes feel in way over our heads. I regularly say “I feel like I am swimming in the deep end with no floaties.”
We second-guess ourselves. We wonder if we would have said something or done something different if the outcomes would have been different. We constantly wonder “Am I doing a good job?” We see other ministries and wonder why we are not experiencing that kind of fruit. And then we look at another one and pat ourselves on the back because we appear to be doing better. Insecurity.
We often feel the need to justify our compensation. We will rarely verbally justify it. We just work ourselves to death to justify it. And to top off all these things, we know we are dealing with eternities, souls that live forever. Who is sufficient for such things? Certainly not us.
As a pastor who is constantly using words to communicate ideas, plans, and truths, eventually someone will be mischaracterized or misinterpret something we say or do. We often say things people do not like to hear. People like to size us up fairly quickly, often writing us off, or make character judgments, without even knowing us.
Sometimes as pastors we have to make decisions or hard calls. There are situations when we have information that informs our decision and knowledge others do not have, but we are not at liberty to share. In some cases, people are unfair to us and question every motive we have for every decision we make. “He only wants us to give so he can have a raise.” “He only wants us to invite so he can say he has a bigger church.” “He only highlighted that family in his story because they’re his friends.” As a pastor, one of the things I was completely unprepared for was the frequency of being mischaracterized or misunderstood and realizing that the wise thing, more times than not, was not to defend myself.
I do not always feel lonely. But I do at times. The feeling of loneliness can stem from not being included in “outside the church” get-togethers. Many pastors feel lonely because they feel used. People reach out to us when they need something, or to complain about something, but never just to say “hi.”
I have had people complain, get upset, and leave the church because I did not call them when they lost their job. These same people, who I had been there for in countless situations, and personally helped financially, were not there for me or my family when we dealt with serious health issues with our son. Again, people expect us to be there for them, but often feel no responsibility to be there for us. That can be a lonely place.
A Closing Exhortation
My purpose in outlining these three emotions pastors often deal with is two-fold.
First, I want my pastor brothers to know they are not alone. Keep pressing on, friends. Our work is one in which we long to hear the Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We strive to find our peace and security in the King of Kings. This combats our insecurity. We rest in the truth that we will be justified and vindicated of unfair accusations by Him who holds all the scales in His hands. This encourages us when we are misunderstood. We know we are never alone, for Immanuel, God with us, has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age. This overcomes feeling lonely. Stand firm, pastors.
My second purpose in writing was for congregants. Friends, please hold your pastors accountable for faithfulness and cheerlead a high level of expectation. But also show gratitude, grace, and love toward your pastor. I promise you he feels an incredible weight on his shoulder for the work he does. Encourage, honor, and bless your pastor. For he, though imperfect, is an extension of the love and care of Jesus to you. Be aware of what emotions he is constantly working through.
Erik is the pastor of The Journey Church outside of Nashville, TN. Erik has written three novels, multiple Bible studies for Threads, The Gospel Project, & Bible Studies for Life, and served on the Advisory Team for the best-selling Bible study: Explore the Bible. He and his wife, Katrina, have three kids: Kaleb, Kaleigh, and Kyra.