How to Help Your Pastor Thrive, Not Just Survive

Pastor sitting on stageTrinity’s Center for Transformational Churches uses study to promote pastor wellbeing amid the demands of ministry.

It’s our mission to serve the church by equipping servants for work that furthers the gospel of Christ. At Trinity, we are taking an active role in helping congregations and their pastors succeed. The Center for Transformational Churches is just one way we are working to help Christian leaders, churches, and communities flourish.

Three tensions that impact pastoral wellbeing

A recent report co-authored by the Center for Transformational Churches took a closer look at the challenges facing pastors in hopes of offering them, and those who support them, practical counsel as they seek better health. “Pastoral Wellbeing: PCA Pastors Reflect on the Tensions of Ministry” outlines the results from a nationwide survey of almost 900 pastors and 16 in-depth focus groups. 

“Thankfully, we know with considerable confidence what contributes to and challenges pastoral wellbeing,” said Donald Guthrie, executive director of the Center for Transformational Churches and co-author of the Pastoral Wellbeing report. “What we need to explore further is how these influences affect specific groups of pastors, their families, and the congregations they serve.”

The findings of the Pastoral Wellbeing report pertain to three core tensions inherent to the role of a pastor that pull them between healthy and unhealthy approaches to life and ministry:

Relationships

Pastors view relationships as vital for their spiritual maturity and self-care. “A group of friends can provide the relational safety, vulnerability, and accountability that lead to growth” (Medlock, Moseman, and Guthrie 2021, 12); however, the research from Pastoral Wellbeing found that 38 percent of surveyed pastors struggle to find safe, trusted friends with whom to process life. 

Steps to wellbeing

Churches can promote wellness by encouraging their pastors to develop friendships with people outside the church family and periodically step outside their pastoral roles to engage in other activities. Elder boards can show greater support by encouraging pastors to have a coach or counselor to discuss ministry dynamics and personal issues. By recognizing your pastor’s need to “not be on duty” all the time, churches can build stronger relationships between their pastors and congregants.

Identity

Building an identity based on one’s pastoral position in the church versus building one rooted in Christ can significantly affect wellbeing. As one pastor noted in Pastoral Wellbeing, “We take too much glory in being busy. Sometimes it’s fear. There’s a constant struggle to justify your existence [because of] the expectations projected upon you […]. Pride can take you down that road, but there’s also a component of fear that you’re not doing enough” (Medlock, Moseman, and Guthrie 2021, 28). 

Steps to wellbeing

Churches can help pastors by encouraging them to take regular spiritual retreats to reflect and refresh. Pastors frequently bear the weight of their congregants’ needs and must regularly carve out times to rejuvenate through intentional sabbaticals and time set apart to strengthen their relationship with Christ.

Systems

A systems approach to ministry recognizes that everything and everyone is interconnected. Pastors “—as they think, speak, act, make decisions, and do their work—are emotionally interconnected with other church members and leaders, as well as the whole church” (Medlock, Moseman, and Guthrie 2021, 35). The actions of one person or group will not and cannot remain isolated but will inevitably influence the rest of the system.

A healthy church system recognizes the individuality of its members but also the connectedness of the group. Tension arises when a church functions as fragmented individuals rather than an interrelated system. 

Steps to wellbeing

Elder boards should evaluate how their church system contributes to healthy and unhealthy communication and relational support patterns. Does your church expect the senior pastor to make most of the hospital visits or regularly attend specific ministry meetings? Could other ministry leaders assume those responsibilities? Examining church systems more closely can lead to a healthier culture that promotes the wellbeing of not only pastors but also staff and congregants.

Making meaningful connections

At the heart of the data from Pastoral Wellbeing is the need for meaningful connections to God through Christ and others. The Center for Transformational Churches facilitates such connections by hosting pastoral retreats where a couple’s ongoing ministry experience is explored in light of the wellbeing themes. This exploration occurs in a safe space among like-minded colleagues who recognize the struggles and share in fostering healing and hope.

“We are so grateful to God for the amazing response to the retreats. Pastors and spouses alike have told us the experience has helped them reconnect with Christ as well as renew their strength for service among God’s people,” said Guthrie. 


Pastoral Wellbeing Booklet 2021

The Center for Transformational Churches at Trinity serves as a resource to equip pastors and ministry leaders to help local churches express the transformational power of the gospel through whole-life discipleship, fruitful work, and economic wisdom.

Learn more about the Center and read the full report on Pastoral Wellbeing:

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