It may be true. But it shouldn’t be true. It certainly doesn’t need to be true. I think it’s time to stop making it true.
There are two reasons people believe that statement to be true.
1. Pastoring is hard work. No doubt about it.
2. The person who is credited with making that assessment was a highly respected writer and author on leadership. He should know, right?
How hard is it?
Here’s the full list of the four hardest jobs in America, from a piece by Philip Wagner at ChurchLeaders.com. This is the post most others have grabbed this quote from. Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are:
- The President of the United States
- A university president
- A CEO of a hospital
- A pastor
In most articles I’ve read on this, the author usually goes on to cite further stats about the abysmal dropout and burnout rates among pastors, and understandably so.
Maybe it’s just me, but in too many of the articles I’ve read on this, there seems to be an underlying masochistic pleasure that pastors take in it. At times, it feels as if we’re saying, “See! I told you! My job is hard! This is why I’m burned out, stressed and overworked. Now, you may pity me.”
Pastoring a church is certainly hard work. And Drucker’s assessment may be right. But it shouldn’t be right.
In recent years, after suffering through my own mostly self-inflicted pastoral grief, I’ve come to this conclusion: If pastoring truly is the fourth hardest job in America, then we’re not doing it right.
It shouldn’t be this hard.
Take a look in the Bible. The New Testament writers never sugar-coated the challenges of ministry, but even in Paul’s list of hardships he endured for the sake of the gospel, he chided himself, saying, “I am out of my mind to talk like this.”
And that’s a man who was under Roman persecution! If a pastor in modern-day America (or Canada, or Europe, or … ) feels we’re under pressure equivalent to the Apostle Paul, a lot of it has to be self-inflicted.
Pastoring shouldn’t be as hard as we make it.
With that in mind, I’ve assembled a short list that has helped me make the task of pastoring less burdensome and far more joyful.
1. Start being a martyr.
Many of us work ridiculous hours in ministry, and not always because we need to, or even because others expect it of us. Many of us just have this desperate need to be everyone’s hero. Much of the reason our task is harder than it should be is that we’re doing a lot of jobs we shouldn’t be doing.
As I said earlier, I’m convinced that many pastors like hearing that our job is hard. We thrive on it.
Yes, martyrdom is sometimes considered one of the spiritual gifts, but I’m pretty sure Paul was talking about the kind of gift you only get to use once—not the gift that keeps on giving.
Much of that martyr syndrome comes from guilt. We feel guilty if we’re not doing everything for everyone. But no church can get healthy, and no pastor can stay healthy, that way.
Instead, we need to let a lot of tasks go. And the best way to do that is . . .
2. Start making disciples
If a church can’t run without the pastor doing everything, it isn’t healthy. And neither is its pastor.
No, it’s not easy to make mature disciples. And you don’t get a church filled with them in a week, a month or a year. It’s likely to take a decade or more of hard work. It took longer than that for me and my church.
I know it often seems like it’s easier just to do certain jobs yourself. And in the short run, it usually is. But in the long run, it will ruin you—and cripple your church.
Jesus sent the 72 disciples out before they were fully prepared. They didn’t even realize that salvation mattered more than signs and wonders.
But going out two-by-two, doing the best they could, then meeting back with Jesus for an assessment of the task was an essential part of learning to do ministry themselves. And it was central to Jesus’ discipleship process.
3. Stop obsessing over growth–or lack of growth.
Do I really need to go over this one again?
If pastoring really is as hard as Drucker says, let’s be grateful to God for a healthy church, without adding the unrealistic burden of continual growth as a completely unnecessary brick to our load.
4. Listen to your own (and Jesus’) advice.
How many sermons have we preached on “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” only to walk out of church with the weight of the world on our own shoulders?
How many times have we taught our church about the value of sabbath while working 24/7 ourselves?
How many times have we told people to put their family first, but have put off our own family evenings for church work?
How often have we encouraged people about the value of daily devotions, then go all week without opening our own Bible—only to scramble through it on a Saturday night looking for sermon material?
How many more pastors have to burn themselves out like this before we realize …
It doesn’t have to be this hard.
So what do you think? Have you put an unnecessary burden on yourself in ministry?