The Dark Side of the Ministry Life

I love my calling. I love my job. I love being a pastor. I have fond memories of when I was missionary working overseas and here in America. It's hard to imagine living any other life than the one I have. But I also know there is a danger with that life. I saw a recent post which highlighted the struggles a number of people face while working in ministry. The following stats are courtesy of

  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations.
  • 45% of pastors' wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout.
  • 45% of pastors say that they've experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family's well-being and health.
  • 56% of pastors' wives say that they have no close friends.
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do.
  • 70% don't have any close friends.
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation.
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse.
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry.
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week.
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family.

It's no wonder people I've talked to about working full-time in ministry have reservations. They've seen and/or heard horror stories of what it can be like. (I have my own horror stories!) Why is that? Because the work is crucial.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

When God calls someone, He calls them to fulfill His mission. He calls them to love, serve and reach out to people in need. This kind of work will draw someone into spiritual warfare with the Enemy. If someone doesn't take necessary precaution, they could open themselves, and their family, to unnecessary harm.

One thing I appreciate about working at Christ Community Church is the culture and environment that has been established by Lead Pastor Mark Ashton. Mark has a high standard of excellence he wants the staff to reach. He pushes us to serve and sacrifice. However, he also expects the staff to take Sabbaths. He expects the staff to focus on their marriage and family if they are married and/or have kids. He hopes that staff take time to focus on their own relationship with God, and are plugged into a Journey Group. He schedules times for staff development and has Q&A with the staff. He is leading us in pursuit of God and not in pursuit of keeping the status quo.

When I interact with Mark, or I interact with another leader, like Pastor Steve Walters, those guys are always asking about how I am doing, how my marriage is, and if things are going well with my kids. Of course, they are concerned that I am doing my job and staying on mission with it, but they are more concerned that I, and my family, are mentally/emotionally/physically/spiritually healthy. A few years ago when I backed off some commitments at church, to focus in on my family's health, I received some criticism for doing so. Mark and Steve encouraged me for making that choice. My family is better off, I am better off, and my work is better off for making that decision.

I think this is one reason why the average length of stay, for a CCC staff member, is five years. While that may not seem like a long time, it is twice the average for a staff person at a church of comparable size. Staff enjoy working here and being a part of what God is doing here. The spiritual health of the staff is important. Are their difficulties here? Of course. Are their conflicts between staff at times? Of course. However, I think staff realize how good it is here. CCC is not perfect, but it is good.

The above statistics are something we must be on guard for at all times. It's never obvious, it's a slow drift into depression and burnout. It's a slow drift into a strained marriage and family. It's one reason why my wife and I are always militant to make sure we set boundaries. We set boundaries with our Sabbath. We set boundaries for our family. We make sure to have times of prayer, individually and corporately. We make sure we have healthy friendships. We don't want to fit those things into the rest of our schedule, the rest of our schedule needs to fit around those necessary things.

When we make sure we are centered on Jesus, and we are taking care of our own and family's spiritual health, it is easier to endure the spiritual warfare that will come. And it will come because the mission of reaching, helping and serving the world around us is great. However, it doesn't need to defeat us.

It is also easier when your leadership makes sure your spiritual health is a priority. CCC makes sure this is a priority, and the trickle down effect is the people CCC interacts with, and reaches, will reap the benefits of a spiritually healthy leadership.

I want you to know that from the top down, here at CCC, we do our best to make sure we are healthy so we can lead/serve at our optimum best for Jesus.