I get to hang out and know many senior pastors. I have a great heart for them and understand, firsthand, some of the pressures, frustrations and joys, which are unique to the role of a senior pastor. In my recent blog survey, over half my readers are in ministry and half that number are senior leaders.
When I first shared the points in this post a few years ago it was at a conference for executive pastors. I was asked to give my perspective as a senior pastor, since each of them reported to one. Specifically, the request was to share some things about senior pastors they may not know. I honestly didn’t realize what I was sharing would be so revealing for some of them. They didn’t know some of these about their senior leader.
And, granted, I can’t speak for every senior pastor in every church. I can only speak in generalities from what I know and personally experience — in my life and among the senior pastors I know. Thankfully, this blog platform and my personal ministry has afforded me access to hundreds of senior pastors.
I share this post simply for the purpose of understanding. I know and have felt the extreme love most of the church has for it’s senior pastor. I’m grateful for that in my own life. Hopefully this helps you love and understand your pastor even more.
Here are 10 “secrets” about many senior pastors:
- Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone is looking to us to have all the answers. And, we know we don’t always have them. (Granted, some senior pastors are more honest about this than others.)
- People tell the senior pastor all kinds of things about what is happening in their life or in the lives of others — many we would rather not know sometimes. And, frankly, some things we don’t need to know — such as gossip, rumors, and information they don’t have permission to share. Many times it’s in the form of a “prayer request”. We don’t always know what to do with this information. (And, again, in total frankness, some senior pastors have abused this information and hurt people in their church.)
- Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty about our abilities to do the work we feel called to do. We intellectually know this is designed by God. It keeps us in prayer and walking by faith. But, we are human and the demands upon us and our insecurities in them can also make us question at times whether we have what it takes to do the work before us.
- Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others — almost to a fault. They can become very insecure. If they aren’t hearing constant positive feedback they can begin irrational questioning how people feel about them.
- A senior pastor’s insecurities can cause them to become overprotective of their reputation and position. At extremes it may even cause them to react with poor leadership, such as playing politics with leaders in the church or using information as power.
- Senior pastors face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.
- The pastor’s spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations. Pastor’s children also feel the weight of expectations from the church. Many have told me they feel everyone is “watching” them.
- The pastor too can experience loneliness — sometimes severely. The encounters through this blog with some senior pastors has revealed that some pastors have no true friends either inside the church or outside.
- Pastors seldom know who we can trust, which is why we become guarded and may appear harder to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted. Many senior pastors have seasons where it feels the staff, church leaders and congregation are talking about us behind our back. I’ve been asked more than once how to respond when they walk in a room and conversations suddenly stop.
- Many senior pastors never really feel off from their work. They struggle — without discipline — to enjoy a Sabbath. Sunday keeps coming and there always seems to be one more person to contact. They feel the expectation to be everywhere they are invited and have a hard time saying no, even when it interferes with their family time.
Granted, not every pastor faces each of these, (that’s why the title says “many”). These type things often come in seasons. And, of course, some churches are harder to pastor than others. When these “secrets” are at an extreme it explains why depression and burnout is common for many senior pastors. And, if you need a Biblical example of this happening in leadership see 1 Kings 19.
I came into ministry later in life and so I know how it feels to be a senior pastor, but also to be a leader in the secular world and a non-vocational church leader. I believe that experience has protected me against some of these. But even still, some of these are real for me at times too.
Other pastors, for reasons on this post, will not want you assuming these things about them. In talking with dozens of senior pastors each year, however, I know this is a representative list for “many”.
Senior pastors find joy in our work and, thankfully, most of us know we are in the center of God’s will vocationally. I don’t intend to take anything away from that in this post. We serve in a called position, so we are doing what we have been asked of God to do.
When I share any post like this I have come to expect three things. First, someone will email to ask me if I’m okay. I am. Thank you. This is a good season in ministry and I’m serving in a healthy church. Second, I’ll receive a lecture on the need to depend on Christ for these issues, which only further demonstrates my points. Third, there will be someone who will say that these “secrets” are no different from any other person in the church. That may be true, but I can’t speak for everyone else.
Senior pastors are to fully rely on Christ’s strength, as is every other believer. This is just a reminder that we happen to also be like Elijah — ”a man just like us”. (James 5:17)
Pastors, anyone honest enough to agree?
Please know I’m praying for you as I post this.