“I have never seen a harder time to be a pastor than right now,” is an often-repeated statement at pastor gatherings these days. This statement on the state of pastors today has a strong backing from recent nationwide studies.
ALARMING TRENDS IN THE LIVES OF PASTORS
A recent Barna Group study confirms the difficulty pastors are facing. The study found, “With pastors’ well-being on the line, and many on the brink of burnout, 38 percent indicate they have considered quitting full-time ministry within the past year. This percentage is up 9 full points (from 29%) since Barna asked church leaders this same question at the beginning of 2021.”
“The change that has been accelerating in the last 18 months has left a lot of pastors with their heads spinning and their hearts spinning as well,” said Joe Jensen, Barna’s vice president of church engagement. “All the chaos, all the pressure, the magnifying glass of social media, the pandemic, the politics, the hyperdigital context, it makes sense that you have a lot of pastors saying, ‘Is this really what I signed up for? Is this what I was called into?’” The Barna study also found that, “Only one in three pastors is considered ‘healthy’ in terms of well-being.”
Another nationwide survey also found alarming trends in pastor health. LifeWay Research’s 2022 “Greatest Needs of Pastors” study found, “of all the mental challenges U.S. Protestant pastors face, stress stands out above the rest. Distractions and discouragement are also significant factors for pastors. Almost 2 in 3 pastors say they are facing stress in ministry (63%). Nearly half also point to discouragement (48%) and distraction (48%) as ministry mental challenges.”
So, what can be done to address these problems?
THE PASTOR STRONG INITIATIVE
In 2019, STCH Ministries was included in a partnership with Texas Baptists to address the needs of pastors. With the backing of a grant from the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio, actions were put in place to form a ministry to pastors and their families in San Antonio and the surrounding area called, The Pastor Strong Initiative.
Initially led by Ben Hanna, son of former STCH Ministries leader Homer Hanna, the Pastor Strong Initiative is now being led by a group of San Antonio pastors who early on saw the positive impact the ministry was having on their lives. In the Pastor Strong Initiative, pastors were connected to peer support groups in different geographic areas of the city. There were events and retreats for pastors and wives, even in the pandemic. A strong core of participants found mutual encouragement in these relationships. The efforts are now continuing with leadership coming from veteran Pastor Strong Initiative participants.
One of those leaders is Pastor Joshua Fuentes. According to the Crestview Baptist Church pastor, the Pastor Strong Initiative is meeting some of the key pastor needs that the LifeWay and Barna studies detailed. “What I have seen, and experienced myself, is genuine friendships that are being cultivated among pastors. Usually gatherings like ours are more about “talking shop” and they never go beyond that conversation. Yet, pastors who participate in the Pastor Strong Initiative are moving past the surface conversation, and are having more “friendship” conversations that everyone, especially pastors, so desperately need. There is a difference between a work friend and a friend, and what makes the Pastor Strong Initiative unique is its value on friendships,”
Pastor Joshua went on to say, “Ultimately, the Pastor Strong Initiative has given me a multitude of brothers I can go to when I am dealing with a difficult time. There’s wisdom in numbers, and there are many men who participate that have weathered some mighty storms, and their experiences give hope, encouragement and guidance to guys who are in the middle of their storm.”
Monthly pastor gatherings are now taking place at the San Antonio Baptist Association building where participants have lunch and then a discussion around the individual tables.
Joshua Fuentes’ wife, Melissa, has been a leader in putting together events for pastors’ wives throughout the Pastor Strong Initiative efforts. She recently helped put together the first ever Pastor Strong Family Retreat held at Highland Lakes Camp and Conference Center this past May. Over 80 pastors, wives and children gathered to spend time with God and with each other. Along with regular camp activities – ropes course, archery, rifle range, camp fires and s’mores – there were times of praise and worship with teaching times led by the participants.
One scene captured in a post on Facebook at the retreat, was of a group of elementary aged girls talking about being a pastor’s kid. Those types of encounters are incredibly rare but important in the faith development of children in pastors’ families.
Another Pastor Strong Initiative leader, Pastor Chad Shapiro of Ignite Church in San Antonio, described the retreat this way, “What a weekend at our first Pastor Strong Family Retreat! It was a couple of much needed days of activities, praise and worship and devotionals to help us grow together. Kids and families had a blast and united to move forward in our work for Jesus in our communities!”
As the needs of pastors grow, the Pastor Strong Initiative is also changing to help encourage pastors and families in the calling they seek to answer. STCH Ministries’ Pastor Care Ministry will be there as a partner to help pastors develop sustaining relationships with each other and with the One who called them.
Knowing that the needs of pastors everywhere is growing, STCH Ministries is enabling Director of Church Relations, Tim Williams, to receive training as a certified pastor coach. While STCH Ministries Family Counseling is making it a priority to work pastors and family members into their schedules to counsel them on a personal, couple or family level, pastor coaching seeks to work with pastors on an individual level to discern how to go about what he senses needs to be done.
A pastor coach is a sounding board for pastors to throw out ideas in a non-threatening setting. Pastor coaches are trained to walk with pastors by asking strategic questions that help a pastor determine the next best step towards the place he feels God is leading him to go. Coaching in the pastor world has a lot to do with helping pastors stay on task, especially in the environment that many pastors face today – doubt, discouragement and distractions. Having a coach available to them, with no fee for the ministry, is an idea that several pastors have affirmed enthusiastically. STCH Ministries sees the needs of pastors today and is seeking ways to help them in the calling God has given them in these trying days. Pray for your pastor and pray that STCH Ministries will be able to continue to find ways to help pastors answer God’s call.