Saturday, 2 May 2015

Please, Pray for your Pastor. Or Don't.

So, I got one of those messages on Social Media the other day… they come around from time to time:  Pray for Your Pastor.

And then it goes on to list some terrible statistics (without attribution).

97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused or hurt by their friends
70% of pastors battle depression
7,000 churches close each year
1,500 pastors quit each month
10% will retire a pastor
80% of pastors feel discouraged
94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of  ministry
78%  of pastor’s have no close friends
90% of pastors report working 55-75 hours per week.

And so apparently, we need your prayers.

Let me begin by commenting on how much I am bothered by statistics without attribution.  Was this survey done in 2014 or 1345? How large was the sample?  Was it across Denominations or were only the leaders of the Latvian Orthodox Church included?  But enough of that... let's assume that the numbers reflect a reality for many pastors/leaders in the mainline churches of North America

Let me also say that there are pastors, ministers, priest and other clergy who have been badly treated by systems that often seem un-caring, congregations that are fickle, and some generally rotten people out there in the world.   

But to claim a special burden because we are pastors only serves to exacerbate the problem of clergy isolation as it encourages us to believe that the world is out to get us.

Look at the numbers closely and wonder how many of  those same numbers might also apply to teachers… betrayed, depressed, under pressure, working 55 hours a week or more… given a degree but no job, made redundant every year because cut backs don’t allow more hiring, shown little respect by the public and targets of the hostility of many a parent who just doesn't understand  that their kid is nasty and not that bright.

Let’s wonder about accountants who get called at home by clients who need answers, audits and forms done right now!!  Never mind dealing with an uncaring CRA that changes rules and regulations at whim.

Nurses who face cuts backs, depression, long hours and unsympathetic work places.

Retail workers whose place of employment folds without warning.  

I have friends with PhDs who can’t get full time appropriately remunerated work – I’ll bet that  leads to discouragement, depression, pressure on the family and makes it hard to keep close friends.

Let’s take almost any profession… and  recognize that there is very little job security in 2015.  Very few people will retire in the job that they started in their thirties; very few people will avoid “betrayal” in life or work; everybody feels discouraged from time to time and the families of nearly all working adults feel the pressure of the work/career of the parent or spouse.

No close friends?  Is that really the churches fault?  Maybe the problem is that you’re working 75 hours a week… Don’t!

You see many of us, in a desire to be everything to everybody; to feel valued and loved ,will bend over backwards to please everybody in our ministry… and that is a formula for burn-out and self-destruction, whether you are in ministry or shoe sales; a cleric or an office worker.  At least pastors get to talk about setting boundaries, even if they don't or find it difficult to apply them. 

Let me suggest a few other things peculiar to pastors that others might wish they could include in their work/call/vocation/contract

1.       People line up every week to tell you what a good job you did – even if you didn’t.
2.      When someone dies, you know what to do… you actually have a role to play while others are stuck in their grief with nothing to do
3.      You get invited to a lot of wedding receptions: Free Food and Bar!
4.      You are invited into fascinating conversations on a regular basis and don’t have continually comment on the performance of the Blue Jays or new season of House of Cards
5.      You can take a break to play the piano during the work day and people respect  that you are being creative.
6.      During the work week you get to help the homeless, visit the sick, support young people and engage in Social Justice… while everybody else has to do those things in whatever time they can spare away from work and family obligations.
7.      People think that you work about 75 hours a week so usually leave you alone the weeks before and after Easter and Christmas (that’s almost a whole month).
8.      You get 7 weeks away from work every year and your employer pays for it.
9.      The church pays your phone bill.
10.   As you remind others, you are reminded daily that God is with you and that you are not in any of this alone.
11.  Every week your efforts are made real in music, word and art.  For me, that sure beats selling cars.
12.  Pension.  Yeah… we may complain about it – but we get one… I know millions who wish that they did, too.

For me, all in all, being a pastor is a pretty good deal.   It is hard at times and I suspect that most people couldn't do what I do on a full time basis – but I knew that when I responded to my sense of call.  I knew that my weekends would be forever ruined, I would not often get to go away to the cottage spontaneously; I knew that I would often see people at their worst and not be protected from pettiness and power mongering; I knew that strangers would occasionally blame me for God and all of the church’s failings; I knew that I would spend a great deal of time with people who are dying and/or grieving;  and I knew that I would change jobs half a dozen times before I got my pension  (apparently the generation just entering the work force now can expect to have no fewer than 15 jobs before they retire… in keeping with the inspiration for this post, I will offer NO attribution.)

I’m not saying that pastors don’t have a right to complain, many of them do, but insecurity, difficulty and struggle are not unique features to the pastors role… they are the realities for many (even most) people.  
So, please, pray for you pastor…
and your  Check Out Clerk
Store Manager
Assistant Manager
Officer Worker
Restaurant server
Police officer
Small business owner
IBM Project Manager
GM Worker
Social worker
Butter and Egg man  (there’s a profession that’s disappearing)

You get the picture:  Pray for us all. 

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