Stresses of the “Day to Day Life” of a Pastor

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Just like their secular counterparts, the trauma of transition due to the high rate of mobility for the profession can be tough on a pastor’s marriage, as well as the offspring. The spouse may have to resign a job he or she loves and that supplements the family income as a result of a new church assignment and relocation. In turn, the children have to adjust to new schools and make new friends. For example, my father, a pastor, made three moves during my formative years. That meant I attended three different schools. The last relocation took place between my sophomore and junior years of high school. This represented a loss for me. I was involved in sports and during my sophomore year, our cross country team went undefeated during the regular season and succeeded deep into the post-season meets. The move between my sophomore and junior years meant I missed the opportunity to join my teammates in another successful season and the possibility of competing in the state finals. It also meant moving to a new town, a new school, and trying to crack well-established cliques.

Since many live in church-provided housing as part of their financial package, they neither possess sufficient wealth to purchase a home nor the benefit of home equity. The economic pressures to prepare for retirement, achieve home ownership, and provide a stable material environment for a family can be jeopardized by frequent moves. Since my father was a pastor, we always lived in church-provided housing. This was considered part of the salary package which, in turn, made it difficult for my parents to save enough for a down payment on a house. This was exemplified by an experience my parents never shared until more than twenty years after it occurred. Called to pastor a struggling church of fifty parishioners in the early 1970s, Dad worked side jobs to make ends meet. The church could not afford much in the way of salary, but did provide a nice manse. What I did not learn until nearly two decades later was that when we took a week of vacation, the church required my father to pay the stipend for his replacement speaker. Because of these practices in many small churches across America, pastors must deal with the contrasting expectations of both a family and a congregation. Similar scenarios are far more common for the average pastor than the ephemeral perceptions of wealth and success propagated by some of their television colleagues. My parents were finally able to purchase their first home well into retirement, made possible by a sizable inheritance from my grandparents who were successful farmers.

Some comparisons of role expectations, interpersonal demands of the workplace, and organizational pressures faced by executives may be made to that of clergy. For the workplace, Frost (2003) indicated that the cumulative negative effects of these elements may lead to “organizational toxicity” (p. 14). This is interpreted as “a by-product of organizational life that can have serious negative consequences on individuals and their organizations, unless it is identified and handled in healthy and constructive ways” (p. 14). The malady of suffering from “friendly fire” or criticism as pastors seek to satisfy their approval addiction can be hazardous. A “1991 Survey of Pastors” from Fuller Theological Seminary reported that forty percent of pastors report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

The subtle traps inherent within the milieu may sidetrack or destroy a pastor’s ministry. A minister may have to forgive a board member for direct or indirect caustic remarks. He or she is constantly faced with the dilemma of having to work on a day off. Clergy must deal with the perception, whether real or imagined, that one may counsel an attractive person of the opposite sex without fantasizing about him or her. In some cases, counseling has been a land mine for those in the profession when emotional attachments are formed, and they succumb to temptation. Add to this the feelings of professional jealousy when a colleague is invited to pastor a larger church. A negative vote from the congregation may result in leaving a large church with a good salary to a smaller church with less salary or even removed from the pulpit entirely and forced to look for secular work. In a national survey of 593 clergy, LaRue (1996) found that 23% of pastors had been discharged. Of those, ten percent left the pastoral ministry. Further, ninety-one percent of pastors knew an ousted pastor.

Forced exits have become increasingly a source of stress for clergy especially given some of the innocuous reasons for parish conflict. Wood (2001) reported that more than 1300 pastors each month are forcibly terminated without just cause. In Crowell’s (1992) survey, three pastors were fired because they were not friendly enough, another because of his wife’s attitude, and one because he had children and pets in the parsonage. Other reasons included the pastor stayed too long, congregational politics, sexual sin, doctrine, finances, pastoral staff conflict, and denominational politics.

Along with their secular counterparts, pastors may hyper-focus on work to the neglect of paying attention to a spouse and children. The ministry never has been and never will be an 8-to-5 job. Many pastors routinely register sixty to eighty hour work weeks. When our children were young, I was exhausted from a continual series of events and demands from ministry. Our family decided to have a quiet night at home. We decide both the door and the phone would go unanswered. We even went so far as to place a sign on the doorbell indicating to any interested party that we would not be disturbed. Despite our best efforts, an elderly lady came to the door and ignored both the sign and the doorbell proceeding to ring the bell repeatedly. We outlasted her, though. We had a tablecloth spread on the living room floor and merrily enjoyed our in-home picnic party. Remarkably, we never heard anything remotely negative from that lady for not answering the doorbell. Hers was not an emergency. I have a feeling it was more exasperation that we had a sign on our door and she did not know why.

William Westafer

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