Rethinking the pastoral role

September 8th, 2008

This semester I have been doing a unit called Pastoral Care. It has been really good to take this time to reflect on what pastoral care is and also the role a Pastor plays in the church.

In one of our recent lecturers we looked at some statistics from a recent church life survey. Pastors were confidentially asked a number of questions on stress levels, burnout and life as Pastors. The results are very interesting.

  • 1 in 4 was experiencing significant burnout and 1 in 2 said they were in borderline burnout
  • 1 in 2 said they would burnout before retirement, often in the first 5-12 years of ministry
  • 70% said they had lower self esteem than when they became Pastors
  • 38% said they felt overwhelmed by the complexity of daily pastoral demands
  • 90% said they worked more than 46 hours per week
  • many experienced high levels of loneliness and low levels of intimacy in relationships

I find these figures very disappointing and they raise a number of questions for me. Is it time to rethink the Pastor’s role? Do we expect too much from a Pastor? Do we allow them to take on too much work in too many different areas?

One suggestion that a friend had a while back was instead of paying one person say $50,000 per year to be “The Pastor”, why don’t we pay five people $10,000 to undertake the various roles of a Pastor. One could preach and teach, one could do the counselor type role, one could do home visitation etc. In a sense it would be a pastoral team approach that shares the work load.

Another suggestion that fits in with the above approach is bi-vocational Pastors. The Pastor could work part time outside the church three or four days per week and then work for the church a couple of days. This would give them interaction with their local communities and give them time away from the demands of being a full time Pastor. Of course the workload would have to be shared with others.

Now these are only two suggestions, but ones that might need to be considered if we are going to help Pastors stay in the role long term. The figures above suggest that we are going to lose a lot of Pastors over the coming years and I think we need to think outside the box if we are going retain some of them.