Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Inside the weird world of the pastor's mind

I saw the following post over at There is a lot of unsettling truth in this post:

I have a friend who is a pastor and his father is a doctor. He told his son “I feel sorry for you. I don’t have to be friends with all of my patients.”

When someone comes to a pastor the pastor can’t say “you’re a jerk, I don’t feel like talking to you today” or “your problems are a result of your sinfulness and stupidity so stop whining and do something about your life…” A pastor can’t say “I realize that you’ve got a lot of pain but I’m increasingly uncomfortable with how you and I are relating so why don’t you go to another church.”

Ken said it well, pastors are isolated and they are often trapped too. Those are two very scary dynamics. Our calling system makes it tough for pastors to leave or to transition for other jobs easily. For most pastors a change of jobs requires a move to a different part of North America. That’s tough on families.

I think pastors (including myself here) often are in a lot of emotional denial. Sometimes we just want to tell people off but pastors can’t do that. Sometimes we’re tired but pastors can’t be that either. As Ken noted pastors are supposed to stand in for God but pastors can’t handle the job and the temptation to play-act the God role is more dangerous still.

You can be a jerk and an engineer and people will still tolerate you. If you’re a jerk and a pastor you’re pretty much going to be without a job. Studies on job stress regularly indicated the highest amount of job stress is with people who have to stifle their natural emotional responses, customer service reps, receptionists, airline employees, etc. You can have someone standing there publically splaying your guts before the congregation and you just stand there and let it all run out onto the floor with a smile. One slip up, one show of anger, and your ministry reputation is never the same. You’ve got a recipe here for a lot of repressed anger and depression, a lot of needs that become opportunities for indulging in deeper brokenness.

My father regularly notes that the job a pastor is called to do is radically different
than it was 40 years ago. The CRC has a majority of churches that are “at risk” and in most cases it is the pastor who is held responsible for the impossible.

I can’t let pastors off the hook here. We’ve let ourselves be put into this box. We’ve got to let ourselves out of it, and be willing to pay the price when we do. There are more resources available for pastors today and there is a greater understanding that pastors need friends besides their spouses. Pastors need safe places to talk, to vent their frustrations, to be encouraged, to be accountable. Pastors need all those things.

For the most part churches don’t really know much about the care and feeding of a pastor. Things are improving but there is more work to be done.

Pastors have to also spend more time in self-leadership. Bill Hybels on the subject said that he thought a pastor should spend 70% of his time on self-leadership. When I heard that number I almost hit the floor!

What is self-leadership? Praying, being in community with those on the journey (again the isolation weighs here), reading, studying Scripture, writing, care for your own soul so you can lead others in the care of theirs.

Christianity is the religion of the wounded healer. Christianity has as a matter of profession Jesus’ revelation to Paul that Jesus’ power is made perfect in weakness. Instead of seeing imperfect pastors as the deviation from the norm, perhaps we should see them as resources in learning how to live by faith, lean into grace, and be emblematic of forgiveness in the face of brokenness.


Mike said...


I like the idea of pastor (really all of us) being the wounded healer. Recently rec'd this quote from a friend of mine...

The main question is not "How can we hide our wounds?" so we don't have to be embarrassed, but "How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?" When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God's wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus' suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

Todd Pruitt said...


Spot on. I really love the phrase: "How can we put our woundedness in the service of other?" Really good.

Jerry F said...


I continue to enjoy your blog, and the sermons on line. I've been an elder, been on search committees, and it seems like the need to please everyone should not necessarily be on the list of qualities that one looks for in a Pastor. There seems to be way too much of that going on.

As a man who has a family, that happens to be a Pastor, I hope that you have four or five friends that you can trust, that you can'go to war" with, and that they will be a blessing to you. I also hope that COS will accept you where you are and be an encouragement to you as you move forward. We all need that, more honesty, and more patience with each other.

I can tell you that your efforts here have been a blessing to me already.

Todd Pruitt said...

Thanks Jerry. COS has been and continues to be a blessing to me. The challenge is and will continue to be how to avoid the pitfalls that are so common to pastoral ministry.

Thanks for the words of encouragement. Those go a long way.