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Pastors and Stress

“What’s the use of having a pastor, if you can’t torment him 24/7?” A surprise quip from our son a few years ago, which led me to wonder, “Where did that come from?” Of course, our son also observed that my stress level went down when I went from being a pastor to being a Ph.D. student. (!)

I never realized the level of stress in ministry, until a year after I was ordained. I never saw conflict in the four churches I had previously belonged to in high school, college, seminary, and field education. (All four churches erupted into conflict years later.) If I had read Harold Bell Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews before seminary, I would have had second thoughts about becoming a pastor.

What also surprised me is that even when I discovered the reality of stress in ministry, I never thought my stress was any worse than any other job. Others who have been in both sets of shoes have assured me that they would never trade their job’s stress for the stress of being a pastor.

Apparently, the stress is not confined to leaders in historic Christianity. Last year I read the Mormon romance novel The Bishop’s Bride: The Honeymoon’s Over, where I saw a comparable load of stress in the life of a Mormon bishop (= local pastor), who did not have sermons to write (Mormon church services feature several testimonies or “talks” instead of a sermon), but who had to squeeze in a huge pile of leadership demands around a full-time paying job.

(I confess my ignorance: I do not know what burdens Muslim imams may have to contend with. I would not be surprised if Jewish rabbis have demands similar to those of a pastor.)

Why should a pastor’s stress level be anything like that of an air traffic controller? I think we have to factor in the reality of spiritual warfare. Christian leaders become prime targets for the evil one. And apparently, even leaders in other religions are not exempt. So don’t wait till October to express appreciation to your pastor. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5) And far better than either of these is open appreciation.