I would never suggest that pastors and church leaders work harder than other people … but church work has its unique challenges and pressures.
Here are five of them:
1. Ministry work is never done. It is open ended. There is never full closure. There is always more to do. It just keeps coming at you – day after day, week after week. There are no finish lines. Finish one counselling appointment and there's another one coming. Get through last weekend and there's another one coming. Preach that sermon and you'll need to start preparing the next one – and it needs to be even better (the continual pressure of forced creativity). Today a baby is born. Such joy. Tomorrow, a church member dies, a tense conflict erupts, or a married couple files for divorce. Such sadness and pain. It's an emotional rollercoaster. And it just keep going. Ministry is relentless. Listen to talk-back radio on Friday afternoons and everyone is saying, "Thank God it's Friday!" Listen to pastors and they're probably thinking, "My God, it's Friday!"
2. There are no boundaries. Ministry and church work will fill as much of your life as you allow it too. Most people have a job, a family and a church community they are a part of. There is usually appropriate segmentation between those spheres. Have a problem with someone at work? At least you can head home or to church and put it behind you for a little while. Have a problem at home? At least you can go to work and get it off your mind for a bit. Pastors don't have that privilege. Work is church is family. One big circle. If something isn't going well, it fills all your world.
3. Not everyone likes you and your family. This is really hard to understand – because us pastors are such nice people! But it is a reality of life. Criticism will continually come and often from people who really don't even know you.
4. You can never please everyone all of the time. At any given moment in time, someone is not happy with the way things are. There isn't enough worship, Bible teaching, evangelism, prayer, social justice, mission, or whatever. The sermons are too shallow or too deep, too funny or too serious, too long or too short. The music is too loud or too soft. The lights are too bright or the room is too dark. It goes on and on and on.
5. Much of your life is in the fish bowl. Everyone is watching you and your family … all of the time. I can never forget going to a men's public toilet on my day off while Nicole was shopping. I was standing at the urinal doing what men do, when someone leant over and said,"Excuse me, are you Mark Conner?" They had heard of me and obviously wanted to chat. Can't even pee in peace!
All of this adds up to quite a lot of stress. No wonder there are 13,000 ex-pastors in Australia today and surveys reveal that 50% of those still in church work are emotionally depleted, depressed or clinically burnt out. It's not easy work.
That's why pastors need our support, encouragement, and prayers.
Of course, it is possible to not only survive the pressures of church work but to actually thrive as a pastor or church leader. How? Only through healthy habits.