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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.

After sharing these points at a conference for executive pastors I was asked to give my perspective as a senior pastor, since each of them report to one. I have revised some of them and added a couple, so I decided to share it again.

Here are 10 “secrets” about many senior pastors:

1. Leading from this position is overwhelming at times. We know Christ is ultimately in charge, but we also know it often seems everyone looks to us to have all the answers.

2. 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 sometimes rather not know…and sometimes the weight of others problems we carry is enormous.

3. Most pastors walk with a degree of uncertainty, which keeps us in prayer, but also makes us question our abilities at times. It makes depression common for many senior pastors. (Need a Biblical example…see 1 Kings 19.)

4. Many senior pastors fear the possibility of failing in their role, so they thrive on the encouragement and prayers of others.

5. Sometimes we allow insecurity to cause us to become overprotective of our reputation and our position.

6. We face the same temptations and occasional spiritual dryness as everyone else. This means we need accountability, but are often afraid to seek it.

7. Our spouse is sometimes the loneliest person in the church and often feels extreme pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations.

8. Loneliness can exist for all leaders and many pastors suffer from it.

9. We seldom know whom we can trust, which is why we become guarded and appear hard to get to know. Most senior pastors have been burned by someone they once trusted.

10. We suspect the staff, church leaders, and congregation sometimes talk about us behind our back.

Granted, not every pastor faces each of these (that’s why I said “many”) and I happen to be in an extremely healthy church, but even still, some of these are real for me at times. 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, 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, however, I have come to expect a lecture on the need to depend on Christ for these issues, which only further demonstrates my points.

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?

Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years of business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been in full-time ministry for over eight years.  

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Talk about it...

David Buffaloe

commented on Dec 27, 2011

I would agree with all but #10, and I agree with #10 if you change "suspect" to "know". I "know" they talk about me behind my back. One lady in our congregation told me after I came here that "tearing up preachers when they gossip" was one of their favorite pastimes. Another lady nearby overheard and chimed in, grinning and agreeing. I love the pastorate, but I do it for the Lord.

Robert Yount

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Even as the pastor of a very healthy congregation I must agree with what Ron says. Not every issue is present at all times but in 40 years of ministry and 25 as a senior pastor I have dealt with them all. Fortunately I do have 2 parishioners that I can trust and share with as well as my spouse. Just because you may not like what Ron has to say doesn't mean it isn't true.

David Buffaloe

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Who doesn't like what Ron said? There must be an invisible post here.

Betty Johnson

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Read it. Read it again and changed "we" to "I" and "Senior" to "Solo" and I was reading about myself. And I am in a very healthy church and situation, which suggests to me that those in less healthy or difficult situations need our prayers and support all that much more. Thanks for a great article!

Pilar Gateman

commented on Dec 27, 2011

I agree very much. It is, of course, as Ron says with the caveat that we understand God is in control and He is who we serve. However, I often think that I understand a very little bit of how Jesus must have felt when he was criticized, when his disciples left him, when he was tired and when he was tempted to overexplain himself instead of simply speaking truth. I think the reason we are often saddened by this, sometimes lonely vocation, is because we also know that we are meant to live in community with each other. We are meant to live in loving Christian family. When everyone looks to us, it can be overwhelming and feel as though noone else wants to think and pray through an answer. The good news is if we are honest, we have each other as leaders and, of course, we know Jesus understands all the foibles that accompany Christian leadership and the temptations as well. Thanks be to God that my boss is someone who really understands, even when I don't always measure up to the job!! Great article for beginning the process of contemplating this issue!

Mark Walter

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Yep, right on target. I don't think there is a one of those I haven't experienced or am experiencing at this time. I knew other folks feel that way as well. I wonder if Rick Warren or Andy Stanley go through the same thing?

Jeremiah Hembree

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Amen and thank you.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Dec 27, 2011

I think the #1 issue for ministers is someone they can go to who will not hang them out to dry. I remember hearing a question posed to youth pastors: "How many here could go to their pastor if they had a problem with pornography?" Of 50, not one hand went up. Maybe we need to cultivate confidence, as well as seek confidentiality.

Billy Ford

commented on Dec 27, 2011

The point I resonated with the most was about my wife. As a pastor's wife, she really is often lonely and depressed. Any good resources for pastors' wives? Personally, I have benefited greatly from a pastor group that I meet with once per month (four pastors plus a mentor pastor who guides some of our discussion)

John Swain

commented on Dec 27, 2011

20 years at the same church and all have been a part of my life- PRAISE GOD not all at once !!!!

John Swain

commented on Dec 27, 2011

20 years at the same church and all have been a part of my life- PRAISE GOD not all at once !!!!

Esteban Braulio

commented on Dec 27, 2011

What I want to know is how many pastors struggle deeply with doubt and even unbelief regarding the foundations of the Christian faith, and yet go on professing and acting and ministering as if they are just fine. How many doubt or even disbelieve that the Bible is the inspired Word of God even though their churches or denominations would kick them out if they knew? How many, deep down can't honestly say that they buy into the doctrines of their church?

Trevor Payton

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Superb article! I'm going to print it out and share it with my leaders. I'm the senior pastor of a very healthy church right now, but I just left a congregation which could be best described as sick, or even toxic. It has become clear to me that most church members don't have a clue what it's like to be a pastor. And not only that, but they also do not understand that pastors are simple human beings. The result is a high degree of pastoral burnout and depression. This article is a great place to start a healthy and much-needed conversation between pastors and lay-leaders.

Trevor Payton

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Esteban, I hear the pain in your post. To struggle with faith from time to time is to be human. I'll pray for you, brother. God is patient with you (1 Timothy 1:16).

Charles Hargenrader

commented on Dec 27, 2011

amen to everything, you have been reading my mail.

Ron Hoffmann

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Hey Guys! Isn't it just like our role/position that we only feel safe enough to share what really goes on in heart in an environment like this? Aside from using our name, this is an anonymous place for us. I can truly feel your pain, Esteban! I went through a bout of depression that lasted for almost six years. During that time I doubted everything! Everything, except there had to be a Creator. But the rest was up for grabs. I've been a solo "Senior" Pastor since 1976 - with a few years break being a youth pastor while in seminary. I know we all feel the loneliness at times. We feel the isolation that can lead to all sorts of emotional pain. But I also know of the hope that many brothers have mentioned here. We have a Lord who walks with us through this, and He is good. Truly GOOD! We must remember we are his sons BEFORE we are His preachers and under-shepherds. I am beginning! to see how I can trust Him in everything, because He is lovingly in control of the details of my life. I would encourage you, dear brothers, to draw close to our loving and GOOD Father! He has promised to never leave us or forsake us in this mission. And ask Him for a godly friend who can pray with you and be with you without judging/condemning you for your normal struggles.

Kevin Wenker

commented on Dec 27, 2011

As a single pastor of a medium sized congregation, I agree with most of the points - especially # 1 and # 9 - and I have a very healthy congregation. In most - if not all - congregations, Roast Pastor tends to be a favorite Sunday dinner. I am fortunate to have a VERY protective secretary/office manager, so I have little concern about "staff" talking. I like the comment above (and one which Luther emphasized - I am a Lutheran pastor) that what we do, we do for Christ. That gets me through.

Sterling Franklin

commented on Dec 27, 2011

Dead on - 5 stars

Tyler Mitchell

commented on Dec 28, 2011

I do not serve as a senior pastor in the US (I am from Liberia, West Africa), but Bro. Ron must have had a spade handed him by the Holy Spirit. He really dug into the depth of my soul and delt with the issues as though he sat in the fellowship with me in Liberia. The LORD has always been my strenght, and He gave me a faithful wife and surrounded us with Spirit-filled deacons.

Rick Boyne

commented on Dec 28, 2011

Oh, I agree. If there only a tactful way to let the congregation see this (short of printing if off and taping it to the front door of the church building!)

Saul Dela Cruz

commented on Dec 29, 2011

absolutely true. Blessings to all faithful servants.

Charles Wallis

commented on Dec 29, 2011

I do think too many pastors get burned (of course so did Jesus). Some pastors can be rough, but I have seen more churches not good to their pastor. Amen to Rick - how can a pastor help his church with this article without seeming selfish? Amen to Ron H. - we need a good friend that we can go to without fear, and wives do really struggle with feeling alone. How can they tell anything to anyone in the church?

Trevor Payton

commented on Dec 29, 2011

Regarding how to make our congregations aware of this article (and the gold within it), maybe we can share it with our Council/Board/Leaders at some point, perhaps during an annual review. Do we have Support/Accountability/Mentoring groups composed of people within the church? My church does, and WOW, it's a blessing! There are 4 mature (spiritually and emotionally) members of the church, of different ages, who meet with me every other week for breakfast. They are my sermon critics and accountability partners, my co-visioners (ie, we seek together what God wants to do in/through our congregation), as well as my encouragers and defenders (they actively silence the haters). We have a whole document written up, describing every aspect of how it works. The congregation had this in place before I accepted the call to serve here, and it is SO helpful and healthy. I think many pastors could be saved from burnout if more churches had this kind of mechanism. Anyway, that's a tangent, when all I meant to say was that I'm going to show this article to that team.

Michael Pike

commented on Dec 29, 2011

Trevor Payton can I get a copy of that document? (comment # 23) We need help being healthy and effective. I like the sound of what you are doing to make a difference! Revmpike@comcast.net Thank You !

Drew Dabbs

commented on Jan 2, 2012

Trevor Payton, I'd also like a copy of that document, if you don't mind sending it to me. My email address is pastordrewdabbs@gmail.com. I'd also like to say Thanks to everyone who's posted so far. The comments on churchleaders.com tend to come out of left field sometimes and aren't always civil, but these are both civil and helpful. Thanks again.

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