I’ve seen an image floating around on social networks several times, and for some reason I was moved to interact with it’s message today. The text of the message is below. 1.
97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by their trusted friends. 70% of pastors battle depression. 7,000 churches close each year. 1,500 pastors quit each month. 10% will retire a pastor. 80% of pastors feel discouraged. 94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of the ministry. 78% of pastors have no close friends. 90% of pastors report working 55-75 hours per week. Pray for your pastor.
Now I am, in many ways, very grateful to folks who share things like this in an effort to remind people pastors really do need prayer. As a pastor, I can honestly say that without the prayers of people I probably would have left to be a teacher a long time ago. I really do appreciate it.
At the same time, I worry that messages like these are not the most constructive way to call people to pray for pastors. Aside from the fact that the collage of unverified statistics make pastors look like a bunch of hopeless basket cases, the message seems to be, “Being a pastor sucks.” Heck, reading the stats makes me depressed, and I don’t need any help with that, thank you very much 2.
The truth is, being a pastor is difficult. We pastors follow a vocation which has lost most of its societal legitimacy, and pastors currently serving are dealing with many failed attempts to regain it – the most notable being the attempt to make pastors another part of the “professional” class, in vein of doctors and lawyers. As such, we often end up looking like wannabes, begging for a spot as the “big person table.” I also don’t completely discount the statistics. While they are undocumented, and so I have a feeling are exaggerated, from anecdotal observation I can’t say I find them all that shocking.
So what’s my problem? It has to do with the way the point of praying for pastors is made. Too much of American Christianity, along all points of the ideological continuum, is about being against things. It so ingrained in our collective psyche that even when we try to encourage people to do something, we instinctually frame the encouragement in negative language. This call to pray for pastors is no different. The statistics together form a rallying cry against the reality in which these things are permitted to stand. It adds up to, “Pray for your pastors against all these terrible things.” As a pastor I don’t want you to pray against things on my behalf. I want to be prayed for with a vision of positive formation into the image of Christ.
So I say pray for your pastors. Pray they learn to love their charges deeply. Pray they dare to step away from the success trap and be content with whatever Christ gives them. Pray they keep a passion for learning. Pray they strengthen their friendships. Pray they are able to see the good Jesus does through them, despite all the real difficulties they face. Pray they remember they are disciples of Jesus and not a role invented by people.
I have discovered when we pray for someone we become partners with them. When we pray against things on someone’s behalf, we tend to keep them at a distance. Pray for your pastors with a focus on what we are all striving for in Jesus’ name, and truly beautiful things can happen.