1. You expect every single aspect of the church experience to be catered to your unique needs, taste, and preferences. Of course we all see the world, and our churches, from our unique perspective of taste, past experience, and desires. Yet a church is made up of all kinds of people, and is also poised to engage with those who haven’t even shown up yet. Your church isn’t, and should be, catered to YOU specifically—and when each of us has this expectation, it becomes impossible for a pastor to ‘win’ or make anyone happy. What’s the big deal, you say? The phrase “death by a thousand paper cuts” comes to mind.
Try This: When you encounter something “wrong” at church, ask yourself, “Is this wrong? Or simply not suited to me and my preferences?” Before complaining, pause and remind yourself of the mission of the church, and that it doesn’t exist to make you, personally, happy and comfortable.
2. Your pastor feels pressured to be available around the clock, and present at church functions 24/7. “It’s part of the job!” Right? Wrong. While the career does usually include non-traditional hours, there still needs to be a balance of work/rest, ministering/rejuvenating, congregation time/family time/alone time. And just as important: a pastor needs space to be in the local community, to have relationships and an identity outside of the leadership spotlight. And no, not just for outreach—but for a true break from being “on.”
Try This: Offer to head up an event or function, and encourage your pastor to take the evening off. Don’t expect or ask your pastor to make an appearance at every function, or to be involved in every ministry. Encourage your church family to lighten the after-hours expectations, and to resist complaining when the pastor doesn’t show up to every single gathering.
3. You befriend your pastor, or his/her spouse and children, in order to be a part of the “in crowd.” Does this sound crazy? It is. Yet it happens all the time. So often in fact, that many pastors and their families don’t feel that they can be open and at ease with anyone—because it can be impossible to sift the sincere friendships from the ones with an agenda.
Try This: Be a sincere friend. Or, be a kind acquaintance. Or, be a loving supporter. Never, ever try to worm your way to the inside for social gain or an inside scoop.
4. Too many quadrants of your pastor’s life overlap. What happens when your work life, spiritual life, family life, social life, and financial security are all wrapped up into one? An insane amount of pressure. For most of us these different aspects of life are generally separated out. But for a pastor, stress in any one of these areas directly adds stress in the others. An upset church member likely contributes to your financial stability, is socially connected to your friends, has children in class with your own… and all of this is intertwined with your faith. When things go sour, it doesn’t just affect one area of life, it infiltrates the core.
Try This: As a congregation, cultivate a culture that makes it possible for your pastor to be involved in life outside of the church and its social circles (see #2). Don’t expect your pastor or his/her family to put their whole life on display for your consumption. Do make room for them to be “normal people” in the broader community.
5. Your pastor lacks support and understanding. Just like many unique life experiences, leading a church can be a lonely endeavor. There is a reason why those experiencing divorce, addiction, or serious medical complications often seek support groups—because we need others who truly understand our struggles and our journey. Pastor’s need this kind of support and understanding, yet most don’t have it.
Try This: Connect with your church leadership and be sure your pastor has access to professional counseling (meaning both the financial coverage and the space in his/her schedule). If YOU YOURSELF are a pastor, find a kindred spirit with whom you can share the ups and downs. Email a pastor from another area church and meet for coffee—look up an old friend from seminary. If you’re truly stuck, email or comment to us here and we’ll help you connect. Don’t try to make it alone.