I remember being told that while the pain of childbirth is profound, it’ll soon become a distant memory. It’ll be hard to recall the intensity of it. The joy of new life will be the memory that you’ll keep coming back to—not the pain. That’s been true for me and many mothers. The short-lived suffering drifts away.
I’m sure there are many other examples of difficult situations people find themselves in that lose the sharpness of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual pain over time. While this isn’t true for every challenging situation in life, it is for many. That’s how God has designed things—to allow us to heal, recover, and carry on. To be resilient.
A key aspect of a pastor’s wellbeing is how resilient they are. According to research done by Notre Dame University's Flourishing in Ministry study, for every “bad day” a person has, it takes three “good days” to get back on track. You can do the math. If a person has a couple of bad days in a row, it becomes really difficult to get enough good days in the bank to be able to get back to an even keel. Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches; pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going; to hang in there. The study says that resilience leads to thriving, thriving leads to self-integrity, which leads to everyday happiness, which increases resilience.
In 2016, over 300 CRC pastors participated in a survey on pastoral health/wellbeing. One of the report’s findings was that CRC pastors had a higher rate of burnout than the rest of the pastors who had taken the survey—over 10,000 pastors. It’s true that this data is now four years old. But think about this. We’re currently in a time unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. COVID is impacting everyone in one way or another. I want to focus on what it’s doing to pastors.
If burnout was a concern back in 2016 when things were “fine”, what’s it like for pastors in the fall of 2020? If you can’t answer that question, here are two articles that will help you. A Pastor’s Struggle in 2020, and Six Reasons Your Pastor is About to Quit. And here’s a handy diagram that gives you a glimpse into the many “COVID voices” a pastor is listening to, needs to pastorally acknowledge, and yet find a way forward for the congregation.
Add in the current racial and political unrest—both of which are monumental and impacting congregations, and therefore pastors, in hugely significant ways.
Recently a pastor shared this with me. “My prediction is that within six months there will be a HUGE surplus of pastors who will begin looking for new congregations.”
Pastors are doing the best they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves. And if they’re not doing their best, few among us feel we’re doing our best right now, it makes it all the more important to be thankful our faith is founded upon grace. Grace that God lavishes upon us which frees us to offer grace to one another.
At a minimum, grace should abound for pastors during this season—possibly the most difficult time in their ministry. They’re called by God to shepherd a flock of believers and they’re committed to it. If they weren’t, many would be putting in their two weeks’ notice. Some are finding the task more than they can bear and are choosing to step away from ministry for a time. There isn’t any shame in that. A person can only take so much. Remember the formula of needing three good days to counteract one bad day. There comes a point when there are so many bad days a person just can’t get back on top.
October is pastor appreciation month. While it’s important for us to appreciate our pastors every month—really on a daily basis—perhaps now more than ever they need to feel appreciated. Do something that clearly expresses that you appreciate and value your pastor, even if you don’t see eye-to-eye on something or on many things. Your action just might result in the pastor having a good day.
And for the pastors, hang in there. You’re a gift to us all. So often you go above and beyond. We know things are super difficult right now. One day at a time. We’re praying for you. Perhaps this article will help just a bit. Pastors Don’t Lose Heart!