Do Churches Want Happy Pastors?

The Flourishing in Ministry Project from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business is a must-read for every church personnel committee and pastor.  Matt Bloom, Associate Professor of Management, reminds us that, “The traditional business model says you get people to perform well by giving them the right rewards and aligning those with what you expect them to do.”

Sadly, too many pastors are consistently paid minimum salaries, expected to serve at a level that no parishioner (whom the Bible also identifies as a minister) would ever serve, with dated tools and limited resources.  And then these pastors are expected to transform their congregations, “bring in new members,” choose their congregations over their families, and be grateful.

Happy pastors = happy churches.  For that matter, happy church staffs in general, whether they are paid or volunteer, make for happy congregations. And happy pastors and congregations tend to be flourishing pastors and congregations.  For the purpose of this post, I’m concentrating on professional ministers.

How do we promote well-being for our pastors?

  • Are our pastors spending the majority of their days dealing with minor annoyances and grievances?  Why? Jesus did not die, nor was your pastor called by Jesus, for these things.
  • Do our pastors feel appreciated and are acts of gratitude towards our pastors’ service heart-felt or contrived?
  • Do our pastors have lives apart from the church?  Do we encourage them to have non-church friends, to spend time with family away from Church World, to have interests that have nothing to do with their professional ministry?  Do we love it when we hear that our pastor is taking a Thai cooking class or learning how to play golf?  Or do we wonder where he/she is finding the time to do this when there is so much work to do for the church?
  • Are we quick to remind our pastors of their strengths so that when we talk about their growing areas, they do not feel devastated?  Or do we assume that “they know what they are good at” and go directly to constructive, or not-so-constructive, criticism?
  • Are we aware that we don’t and actually can’t know what our pastors do all day, but we trust them to lead, make decisions, pray, think, and care for the community?
  • Are they growing professionally, spiritually, emotionally?  Do we encourage them to take classes, attend conferences, stretch outside their comfort zones?
  • Do we expect the pastor to conform to the congregation’s expectations rather what God might be leading him/her to be?  Or do we encourage our pastor to be her authentic self?  Do we allow him to be his own person?
  • Are we as engaged with the mission of our spiritual community as we expect the pastor to be engaged?  Do we consider our pastor to be the sole purveyor of religious goods and services?  The lone professional pray-er and servant?
  • Do we encourage our pastor to “recover” after particularly busy and/or emotionally taxing times?  Do we encourage an extra day off after a week with two funerals?  Do we grant an extra week’s vacation after the pastor’s own father dies?  Do we appreciate the pastor’s request to close the office the Monday after Easter to rest from the labors of a very full Holy Week?

There is a troubling tendency among many churches I visit to drain every ounce of energy, every moment of time, and every spark of individuality from the pastors “whose salaries they pay” as if pastors are hired hands rather than spiritual mentors called to equip them to be ministers too.  According to The Flourishing in Ministry Report, the pastors studied rated themselves a 4.9 on the Happiness Scale in which 1 = extremely unhappy and 7 = extremely happy.  4.9 is not terrible, but it could be better.

The Flourishing in Ministry Report was shared with me by the extraordinary Carol McDonald, Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails.

8 responses to “Do Churches Want Happy Pastors?

  1. The longer I’m in parish ministry, the calmer and happier I am – learning how to be at peace with what I do and do not bring to this congregation, and separating out *some* crabby folks’ expectations from the majority who are excited to be discovering God’s invitation in this time and place with me. I am honored to serve with fantastic lay leaders. I am so thankful I am paid to help people go deeper and live more fully into discipleship. However, this time of year makes me question the whole model: The few who use their purses to express their dissatisfaction with me or the church; the majority who seem blind to just how much it costs and that it’s up to them to step up. No matter how much we “theologize” it, the money part of church is just awful. The yoga studio where I practice doesn’t negotiate; they just say: This is how much it is. So right now, I’m not too thrilled with this time of year’s financial worries as a minister!


  2. I’m a pastor, but I’m trying to see this from the other side. Particularly point 1. I constantly hear pastors complain about how much minutiae they are forced to deal with, and how they didn’t go to seminary to deal with it all. I just wonder — who do they think can or will deal with it? I’m hard pressed to think of a parishoner who is sitting home watching tv all day. They are working fulltime jobs, (many more than 40 hours/week) volunteering at their kids’ schools, the food pantry and at the church. They too are trained to do other things than handle details. But somebody has to do it. We think our jobs are hard –do we have a clue how hard the lives of our people are? And honestly, I have flexibility many people don’t have in their work lives. I can often work around a kids’ soccer game, I can eat at my desk!

    And honestly, I don’t expect people to encourage me to rest or take study leave. I do those things, and I tell people about them. I don’t actually think they spend that much time thinking about my life– they are rather busy with their own. But that doesn’t mean they don’t support me.

    Maybe there are terrible congregations out there who need to read this. But there are many good-hearted congregations, and some of them aren’t served by people who are constantly looking to grow. I feel sorry for them too.


    • Hi Tracy – Your points are really excellent. T

      Nevertheless, the minutiae that is most frustrating is not about the real things of ministry (the baby squirrel running loose in the fellowship hall or the dripping faucet.) It’s the person with Too Much Time On Her Hands who calls to complain that worship started 3 minutes early last Sunday (this was an actual complaint I personally heard two Sundays ago) or “Pastor, can you please tell the Fellowship Committee that we are tired of shortbread at Coffee Hour.” (another real “complaint”)

      I’m talking more about the elders who will not approve sabbatical after their pastor has served even more than 7 years or the ones who hold it against their pastor when he didn’t leave vacation to come back for a member’s sudden death. Yes, there are many good-hearted congregations, but, sadly, I visit with many who are in such a survival mode that they have forgotten that their pastor has personal needs and a personal life apart from them.


    Jan – did you want to share report, or the 2011 LEAD F&L article? I found the report and look forward to reading – thanks for the heads up.


  4. From a very young age our grandson would ask “Grandpa/ma, what did you do today?” In the family, a great conversation start between the generations.


  5. What? No obligatory “quit yer whining” post from some pastor who has been in ministry for (insert number of decades) and never complained about any of these issues “cause that’s not why I went into ministry?” Or “Jesus, Peter, Paul, etc. had it worse, so we have no right to complain?” Come on … I know you’re out there. You respond to just about every other well-written article on the struggles of vocational ministry.


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