June 19, 2012

Surviving Church Life

Leading a church is a strenuous undertaking. It is not uncommon, for example, for the pastor to have physical symptoms that correspond to the ills of the church. In our case, my spouse suffered from neck and shoulder pain at one church. (He was literally carrying the church or so his body thought.) At another church he suffered from lower back pain. (That was the church where he was stabbed in the back by staff persons.) At another church he suffered from headaches. (Guess what caused those?)

The church where we currently serve is actually pretty healthy, so what ails him is pretty much normal aches and pains, but he did start having a few heart issues. This church has a real heart for mission and those who are hurting in the community. So perhaps there is a connection.

Serving a church is risky to your health. Pastors and us as families, see the very best people can be but also see the worst. We live in a sin-sick world and serve in a hospital for sinners; i.e., the church. Sickness spreads and a church can sap the pastor dry--leading to depression, which is rampant among clergy. But it can also lead to outbreaks of violence. Pastors and their families are not immune to emotional and physical abuse.

So what do we do? First, be aware. Second, make sure your spouse takes care of themselves with healthy eating, exercise, some down time, and some family fun. But often even those things will not be enough. The sicker the church, the more hours a pastor works and the more draining it in on the soul. So, encourage your spouse (and yourself) to seek out friends (email and Facebook are great for this) but also an area of their life where they can feel successful and appreciated. This may be a hobby or something else. Prayer is helpful too, but I promise God will direct you to take care of yourself. God loves pastors and their families too.

Grace, Kathy


  1. My husband and I are at a fairly new appointment (we've been here one year)and the people are wonderful to us. They are full of energy, mission minded and very open to growth and change. My husband is working quite hard to help grow membership and create opportunities for service and spirit. I do what I can to help him, which is fair amount right now, making that my primary job outside of home life. The thing my husband and I disagree on is that I see him as quite focused on making one or two of the couples our new best friends and I think that's inappropriate. They are lovely folks but they all had their own friends and families before we came along. I worry too about some couples being seen as "pastor's favorites" which might not be fair to any of us. What do you think? Do you have special friends in your congregations?

  2. This is a tough question. There is a danger about having favorites, especially if they are big givers. But we have always found one or two families that we've become friends with and kept in touch over the years. In fact, one couple became the godparents of one of our daughters. And there will always be people who feel closer to the last pastor and/or spouse than you. Then there are your kids' friends in the congregation. Our kids are still in touch with friends they made from many churches. This whole thing is one reason being a pastor is different from other jobs--its the mix of public/private and friends/congregants and professional life/social life. I guess I'd say that as long as you both remain open to meeting others and don't restrict yourselves exclusively to these folks, it's probably ok. But keep your eyes open, some people will try to be your friends and use you to look and feel important.

  3. I think there is no wrong or right answer to the question anonymous posed. However, if one spouse is feeling uncomfortable with the situation, the other spouse should take a closer look at it. They need to talk.

    In the Admin response, the words "big givers" concern me. Why does the minister need to know how much anyone gives? My husband had two long, successful appointments, he never knew how much anyone gave.

    And, "being used to look and feel important?" If the minister and spouse are about the work of God, this is not going to be an issue.

  4. Sorry, I was unclear. My spouse doesn't know who gives what either. Perhaps I should have said "leaders" or folks on the staff parish committee. Likewise, perhaps I was also unclear about this. In my experience, some people try to become your friends, because it gives them a sense of their own self-importance. And it's not just codependent people either.

  5. This is really getting off on another issue than the original post, but my husband does know how much people give. He didn't used to want to know, but that changed within the last year or so, for two reasons: 1) if someone's giving patterns change, either positively or negatively, it likely means something has happened in their lives that could use a pastoral response (job loss, etc.). 2) it is good information to know when choosing leaders. I'm not saying to put the big givers in leadership positions or something like that. But giving is a spiritual issue, and if someone isn't giving anything, you may want to think twice before putting them in a position where they are teaching others. Our DS tells a story about how he was considering a certain person to be the youth leader at one of his old churches, where he didn't know who gave what, and his finance secretary warned him he might want to reconsider. He asked why, and the finance secretary told him to take a look at the person's giving, which was basically non-existent. He decided he didn't want that kind of attitude passed on to the youth. So, to be clear, I'm not saying you have to be a big giver to be in leadership, but giving is part of everyone's discipleship, and church leaders should be trying to grow in all areas of their walk with God, including giving.