Pastoral ministry can be pretty brutal. Only yesterday, I was trading stories with a minister about pouring into people only to see them up and leave. Then there were the other people who joined us because they were excited by what we were doing only to find people they poured into leave and so they decided the ministry wasn’t for them and left too.
I am in touch with dozens of other ministers suffering depression, burnout and PTSD because of their experiences in ministry. I know folk who have been bullied by their churches and others who have struggled with their wider networks. There are loads of ministers who have been beaten, bruised and battered.
On top of these things, there are those worrying about their churches. There are the internal issues and pastoral problems. There are the financial concerns and the likelihood of closure because the church cannot sustain its ministry. It is common to hear about people breezily talk about how they have wanted to jack it all in.
You might think this is heading down a ’10 ways to help your struggling pastor’ line. It isn’t because I’m not sure I really have the answers. You might think this is heading down a ‘I’m on the verge of leaving ministry’ line. It’s not because I’m not. Well, not exactly. Things aren’t easy right now, but I’m not on the verge of quitting today.
What I am wondering is why this seems to be such a repeated refrain? Why do we keep hearing story after story of people being battered in ministry? Is it something endemic to our theology? Is it embedded in our culture? Is there something inherent about being a pastor – regardless of what tradition you’re from – that just draws this sort of thing?
I don’t think anybody goes into ministry assuming it’s going to be a doddle. Jesus isn’t silent on what is means to be his disciple. We know we’re going to suffer. But there seems to a be a particular brutality to pastoral ministry that seems to rear its head over and over again. Is that just the way it is? Is it the nature of the job? Or are there things about the way we’re doing it, things about the church in particular, that are causing this to happen again and again?
We are (rightly) asking questions about church culture at the moment. Questions about how we lead the church and how that can lead to abuse. Whilst we discuss culture, we might want to think at the same time about not just how leaders can abuse those given to their care, but how those same structures and cultures can end up battering, bruising and even abusing those who lead as well.