Eugene Cho

pastoral health redux

I’ve been meaning to post [some repost] much of this statistical information about the ministerial calling and career.  I “work” 2-3 hours/month as a representative of the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence program of my denominational tribe.  This program was funded by about 1.7 million dollars through the Lilly Foundation in response to growing and alarming statistics and stories about the decline of the health of pastors –  emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and physically.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let my picture below speak for itself: I am pooped.  As pastors and church leaders, it helps to understand some of the challenges ahead; to not always be reactive but proactive.  Since many have asked for a summary of my presentation, here it is…

copy-2-of-tired.jpg

There are varying reports from different sources but I believe most will agree that the ministerial profession (life as pastors) is now considered one of the most dangerous or unhealthiest professions.  It’s usually rated last or second to last.  Read this from a local Northwest minister, Mark M., on a comment on an earlier post:

“At the first church I served we had an insurance agent who was a member of the congregation. When I went to see him about some auto insurance needs, he said “Hey, wanna see something that will scare the crap out of you?”…He pulled out a form that had various professions rated for their risk of giving life insurance policies too…Anyway, to make a lengthening story shorter, he showed me that clergy members were in the same category as Deep Sea Welders and Loggers as the second highest risk group to give life insurance policies to. We were behind crab fishermen but ahead of munitions workers. It was a little disturbing to know that statistically I was gonna die due to my profession before someone who builds explosives. This was back in 1994 the statistics may be better (or worse) now.”

If you don’t believe the above comment, read some of these statistics:

48% of them think their work is hazardous to their family’s well being.  Another 45.5% will experience burnout or depression that will make them leave their jobs.  And 70% say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position.  They have the 2nd highest divorce rate among professions. Who are they?  They are pastors.  Here are some more overwhelming statistics from this article.

  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with spouse and that ministry has a negative effect on their family.
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner once a month.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75% report they’ve had significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 58% of pastors indicate that their spouse needs to work either part time or full time to supplement the family income.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say they have no close friends.
  • Pastors who work fewer than 50 hrs/week are 35% more likely to be terminated.
  • 40% of pastors considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months.

Feeling dizzy? Take a breath. Here’s some more statistics:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons. [compiled by Pastor Darrin Patrick via resurgence]

While I love being a pastor and even more, being called to be a pastor, I want folks to know how incredibly difficult it is at times to handle the complexities and stress of being a minister.  Finally, at the of 36, I feel more at peace at how to create boundaries, love my church, better care for my wife and children, support my fellow staff, handle criticism, etc.  but there are times, I feel clueless and overwhelmed.  I’ve been having occasional visitors from a bhog started by and for pastors’ wives [couldn’t find one for pastors’ husbands].  Some of their comments have been difficult to read because they hit so close to home.  I will not post a link to their blog here but here are but two comments:

“Oh, and the financial part is tough. We live on poverty level. I don’t know how we are going to pay all the bills sometimes, much less buy groceries. The Lord always comes through, though, and on a really tough week, someone in the church will anonymously give us a gift. We have no in between at our church. It’s either people trying to help us out, (it’s all there what we make each week- in black and white) or it’s people that have this attitude- ‘Pastors are supposed to suffer and sacrifice. It’s part of the job.’ Has anyone else noticed that mentality? I don’t know where it comes from, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Pastors aren’t supposed to drive nice cars, have nice houses, or buy new clothes. And we are always supposed to be worried about making ends meet I wonder if it is just half of my church that thinks that way.”

“Today my son approached my husband and randomly said “I guess you’re going back to church now.” And he wasn’t going anywhere! During seminary, he would walk around the house saying “Bye bye Daddy. Bye bye daddy!” So sad, but very true.  It’s definitely a calling, isn’t it? I told my husband the other day: “In my classes that I took to prepare me to be a minister’s wife, they told me over and over again ‘it is the loneliest job in the world,’ but I never realized it until we were in the role…

While I feel solid support from my staff, my elder board, and the church as a whole, I know that many of my peers do not feel this way.  Simply, pastors are underpaid, underappreciated, and at times, undermined.  There’s strain on their marriages and families.  Two other incredibly real factors that add complexities to the ministerial calling are: 1) the cultural complexity and dynamic of the 21st century and 2) the nebulous but real nature of the spiritual realm.  The reality is that being a pastor is not just merely a job nor should it be one.  Ministry is a calling.  It’s both amazing and incredibly difficult.  While it isn’t my desire to over dramatize the significance of ministry, I do believe that the Evil One seeks to impede and harm the work that is to take place through ministers and pastors.  As for the “cultural complexity of the 21st century,” I think this quote captures my sentiment:

My viewpoint tends to be more organizational, so my take on being a pastor is that it is an impossible job. Here you are asked to be the lead preacher and teacher, available for counseling sessions, leading a staff of people that can span such responsibilities as missions and janitorial, serving as the public face for your organization in the community, networking with other leaders at Christian conferences and denominational gatherings. That’s a lot of hats! … Let’s finally consider the financial issues. I don’t believe pastors are paid very well, so that’s obviously a downer. And if you are paid well, and sometimes even if you aren’t, that has its own issues, for congregants can quite easily feel they own you, since they’re paying your way. What other organizations is the person at top in such an awkward financial relationship with his or her co-workers and clients?” [h/t Lee H. via DJ]

My point is very simple:  Please care, pray, and love your pastors (and church staff) in your churches.  Seriously, give them a nice pay raise, more time off, regular opportunities to get away for even a day retreat to pray, buy them some dinner certificates, honor their spouses, love their children, pray for them, and regularly share your appreciation and affirmation. 

Now, I know that this can easily be intended to perpetuate the victim language or mentality, but it’s a two way street.  Churches must seek to honor and care for its pastors and staff and build healthy structures to ensure such care.  Similarly, pastors and their families must make choices to be holistically healthy!  We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on your jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here].  We need to lean on God; stop our self-sufficiency and repent of the idolatry to please all those around us.  Easier said than done but it needs to begin somewhere.  Why not now?

Are you healthy?  Do you want to be healthy?

Some good news: Despite the intense nature of pastoral ministry, it is also immensely fulfilling.  Huh?  It makes total sense to me.  According to a recent survey, the top five professions are clergy, physical therapists, firefighters, education administrators, and painters/sculptors:

Clergy ranked by far the most satisfied and the most generally happy of 198 occupations. Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were “very satisfied” with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being “very happy,” compared with an average 33 percent for all workers. Jackson Carroll, Williams professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke Divinity School, found similarly high satisfaction when he studied Protestant and Catholic clergy, despite relatively modest salaries and long hours.

They look at their occupation as a calling,” Carroll said. “A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person’s life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There’s a lot of fulfillment.” [read the entire article]

So, while pastoral ministry is at times exhausting, draining, depressing, and overwhelming, it’s also meaningful and fulfilling.  

God bless you pastors.  God bless your spouses and your children.  May you bless your flock and may you be blessed by them.  And together, may you bless the Lord as you seek to bless His creation.

* copyright Eugene Cho/Quest Church.  This report is free to use or distribute but may not be re-published or sold 

Filed under: church, emerging church, leadership, ministry, pastors

20 Responses

  1. Joey Chen says:

    great post. good sober reading as i step into my first pastoral role in 2 weeks; coming right after bible college and seminary =)

  2. Reyes-Chow says:

    So say we all! Great post and helpful reminders.

  3. Blake says:

    Thank you for your sobering words, P.E.

    I really really really do appreciate everything that you and your staff do for our community. For instance: Encouraging church members who are heading out on missions, appreciating the work that the members of various volunteer ministries do, offering a solid example of unabashed Christ-like life.

    Granted, all these negative statistics have me kind of freaked-out right now, but I know that God provides. Period.

    You are in my prayers.

  4. Ben Choi says:

    Remain strong. I know you lay it all out there and I appreciate and respect you for such reasons.

    I do not take your work or the work of the Church on Sunday and behind-the-scenes for granted.

  5. DS says:

    Thanks for your post on pastoral health — such an important and life-giving message, although your photo is dangerously close to Nick Nolte territory😉

  6. Tomas says:

    PE – You are my pastor and I have spoken to you in many different conversations about my conviction and calling to be a pastor in time. Right now in my life (as you know because you advised me to do so) I am working a non-ministry job and I am learning so much about things in life that will directly benefit ministry in the future. Yet, this issue you bring up about the risk of the profession of pastors is real and needs much thought and preparation.

    PE (or anyone else ready), to help me prepare and attempt to fully consider many of the issues brought up, would you please recommend some books that would get one thinking and preparing for these issues? Thank you.

  7. Blake says:

    I’d like to second Tomas’ comment. I too feel very strongly that I will be in full-time ministry (probably pastorship) in time.

    Any suggested resources to aid preparation will be much appreciated.

  8. Jennifer says:

    PE,

    Do you feel like your seminary education (or seminary education in general) helped in dealing with the reality of the stress pastors face?

    I tend to think Mars Hill Grad School is on to something in the way their do their MDiv program – putting great effort into forcing pastors-to-be to deal with their own issues which would be triggered by the stress that is going to come up. But, I realize I’m biased in the view, and maybe other places are putting a lot of emphasis on that too.

  9. e cho says:

    jennifer: it was talked about but loosely. princeton, for better or worse, has a strong academic bent. i enjoyed that much but wished it was balanced with more practical theology. from what i hear, it does appears that MHGS is on to something.

    tomas/blake: for starters, i would suggest…”We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on your jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here]. We need to lean on God; stop our self-sufficiency and repent of the idolatry to please all those around us.”

    then, i would say, “WE NEED TO DO THIS…”

    for example, it’s not so much that people don’t know that exercise is important for them. we just don’t do it. i haven’t exercised in about 8 months. nada. so, the next logical step would be to place ourselves in accountable situations from folks who have our best intentions to ask and compel us to action.

  10. Rex Hamilton says:

    As a bi-vocational pastor on the Eastside, I thank you for your encouragement! While most days I am driven with passion for my calling, there are as you know, the bad days…and they can be rough. Peace and Love to you Eugene!

  11. e cho says:

    I got this email from another visitor. thought it might be good for a laugh.

    “dude, you look like saddam when they found him.”

  12. lbykim says:

    you also look like Pan (from greek mythology)…so maybe an awkward hybrid of both figures? ; )

  13. gar says:

    Those are some sobering statistics… and I thought public school teachers had it bad.

  14. Tracy says:

    What a blessing to know the difference between life and death…and yet to know God’s grace in both.

  15. m@ says:

    eugene, i was thinking the same thing as el visitor. 🙂

  16. Blake says:

    Thanks, P.E. I appreciate the insight.🙂 Blessings to you today.

  17. Dr.Rafael Rock Amengual says:

    Dears :

    We are pastor, who take of the pastor ? how often the life is very heard and somethimes dark, who pray for pastor?

    Did ever the multimillion TV evangelist help others pastor? I do not think so.
    If benny Him and others read this we will wait there reaction.
    Rafael Rock Amengual

  18. Susan David says:

    Hi,

    I would like to share with you a good ebook that’s free to help pastors and their wives with discouragement and burnout. You can find it at: http://www.stoppastorburnout.com . It’s quite helpful.

    If you have pastor friends or even their wives, we are currently inviting pastors and pastor wives to join charter membership club for free for 2 months,you might want to share this with them. You may visit http://www.susandavidlifecoach.com/index.php/sponsors for more information.

    We would also like to invite you to view our video on this topic at

    Feel free to share this with your friends or people you care for.

    Thanks,

    Susan David

  19. frailb says:

    That made me cry.
    Yet makes me wanna thank you.
    So thanks.

  20. Renee` Horne says:

    Thank you for your honesty. Your sincerity revealed the truth of how so many in the pastorate and in ministry struggle. Hope you will notice this wonderful ministry out of Kansas City called Pastor Serve. They are dedicated to reach the fallen, the broken and the hopeless in ministry and from first hand experience,hope can be restored. http://www.pastorserve.net
    God bless!

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