This is the second installment of our Pastor Appreciation Month series about caring for our pastors. You can read the first article here.
A decade ago, I was the pastor of a church plant. On one particular Sunday morning, I remember walking down the hallway feeling utterly discouraged and worn out. It wasn’t physical weariness—it was something deeper. At the time, I was juggling what felt like a million responsibilities and, when our tech person didn’t show up for our services, one more thing fell onto my plate. In my mind, it seemed like the more I worked, the less others did. To make matters worse, it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere as a church plant.
Most pastors have been at this point of desperation or fatigue at some point. But right now, most pastors are there together.
Our temptation is to place expectations on pastors that should only be placed on Jesus.
Before 2020, as a district superintendent in the EFCA, if I asked a pastor how they were doing, it took a while to get past the automatic, cliche response of “fine.” Now, however, I’m more likely than ever to hear an honest response. I can often sense the exhaustion and embarrassment before words are spoken. While pastors are experiencing weariness more than ever before, let us consider healthy ways to respond to those feelings.
Given the increased challenges of our day, it’s not surprising that pastors are weary. I would be surprised if pastors weren’t feeling some level of fatigue right now! While the challenges are significant, I think they reveal something deeper about the unrealistic expectations unwittingly placed upon pastors by their churches, and more often, by themselves.
At most pastoral installation services, I preach from 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 about proper pastoral expectations:
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Paul reminds the Corinthian church (and us) that spiritual leaders are servants of God, not saviors of the church. Our temptation is to place expectations on pastors that should only be placed on Jesus. Pastors certainly have a significant role to play in God’s work—Paul said that through the life and teaching of Apollos and Paul, the Corinthians came to believe in Christ—but the church has one Savior, and thank God, it isn’t the pastor!
All of these expectations, whether imposed by self or others, produce a weariness that a day off can’t fix.
Pastors are currently expected to run a flawless digital ministry, have a masterplan for regathering, preach dynamic sermons that lift everyone’s spirits, address racial injustice and politics without stepping on anyone’s toes, grow the church in numbers when many don’t want to gather, develop fresh outreach strategies for unchurched people...the list goes on and on.
All of these expectations, whether imposed by self or others, produce a weariness that a day off can’t fix. It cannot be resolved by taking a break, only through relinquishing the expectations: this is why Jesus welcomes all those who are weary and carry heavy burdens to come to Him. By learning from Jesus, pastors can find rest for their souls (Matt 11:28-30). We need to follow His example.
Responding to weariness
How should we respond to the weariness brought on by improper expectations in ways that lead to rest and renewal? How can pastors and congregations learn from the difficulty of this season and be transformed for the sake of loving and serving the Church? I offer three ideas:
1. Embrace limitation
It is essential for pastors—and church members alike—to embrace the reality that even the most faithful and devoted leaders in vocational ministry are created beings with limited strength and energy. Pastors will grow faint, weary and even exhausted at times. To minimize or deny this reality is one of the fastest paths to burnout because we need to wait on the Lord for His strength in our weakness. Maybe He is helping us realize how limited we are so that we will learn to rely not on ourselves, but on God (2 Cor 1:10). Embracing limitations is the beginning of operating in God’s strength.
2. Double down on the basics
One of my first mentors regularly told me, “Sam, nothing matters more than your relationship with Jesus.” I thought it sounded a little trite. I was focused on learning better methods and strategies to be “successful” in ministry, but he wanted me to prioritize closeness with Jesus. The present season may tempt us to push off basic spiritual practices like Bible reading and prayer—but these very practices are more necessary than ever! Whether we feel it or not, we need our souls to be anchored in God’s truth and renewed in God’s presence.
3. Work on the primary things
There are many things a pastor can do as part of their ministry, but there are only a few things a pastor must do. Pastors must shepherd the church by caring for the souls of people, encourage and equip the church, proclaim the gospel through preaching and develop leaders who will be able to lead others. That’s enough to do! Don’t let secondary tasks that seem urgent distract from the primary. Jesus will multiply these efforts.
Yes, there is a lot of pastoral weariness right now, both from increased challenges and unrealistic expectations. Thankfully, we have a God who is sufficient for both. He invites all those who grow faint and weary to wait on Him and find new strength (Isa 40:30-31). In this month of pastoral appreciation, pastors, may you experience the peace of God in the midst of this storm so that you can be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).