An advertisement from a church looking for a new pastor caught my attention.
It read: “Wanted: Pastor for small church. Must excel in preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administration, leadership, vision setting, missions, ministry, church growth. Also, 10 years experience a must.”
A satirical ad for a pastoral position, similar in tone, added to the above list: “Pastor must know politics, how to dry tearful eyes, handle every major life crisis, and have the answer to life’s hardest questions.”
All kidding aside, I know of churches that expect all of this – and more – from their pastors.
I am convinced that full-time pastoral ministry is one of the last professions in the world in which a person has to be competent, preferably excellent, in multiple skill sets while being paid a salary well below that of other professional occupations.
And I have heard stories from pastors in which they have not lived up to these expectations and experienced depression and anxiety.
For example, according to the Christian Post, a 2013 Duke Divinity School study found clergy were more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the general populous.
So, why do thousands still take this job?
Leading a church is exciting and fulfilling. We preach even if it means having to administrate sometimes, and we like to be present during life’s greatest challenges and celebrations even if we can’t answer all of life’s questions.
Yet, pastors need to be aware when things get out of hand.
I knew a pastor in Atlanta who had his secretary schedule everything for him so that he never had to tell anyone “no” when a request was made.
If there was a death, however, the pastor did everything to be present. He would cut vacations short or fly home, even canceling seminars in which he was keynote speaker.
“The only time you are excused from being with family during a death is if you’re on a cruise in the middle of the ocean,” he said.
Times have changed since that pastor led a church. Now, pastors might not be the first people called during crises.
In fact, many pastors find out about life transitions or hospital stays from second or third parties, or even social media posts.
Gone are the days when the pastor came immediately to the hospital in an emergency because many pastors have to negotiate their time with corearing children or holding another job to make ends meet.
Expectations still linger nevertheless, and I have a personal experience that still bothers me to this day.
Years ago, I received an email from a grandparent whose grandchild was in critical condition.
This was before smartphones, so I didn’t receive the email until mid-afternoon, a few hours after it had been sent.
I had been busy all day caring for my son who had a high fever while my wife was at work, and I happened to check my email right before taking my son to his doctor’s appointment.
My plan was to check in with the family as soon as we got back home, but when I checked my email after the appointment, I found that the grandparent had sent me a second, irate email.
He was hurt. He felt abandoned. He asked where I was in their family’s greatest time of need. The next line read, “Never talk to me or speak to me again. You are no longer my pastor.”
I am persistent when it comes to relationships, so I didn’t give up. I tried to reach the family all week. Despite my efforts, I haven’t heard from them since.
Although many pastors are now trained to set boundaries, give clear expectations and adhere to well-developed human resource handbooks that establish contact protocols, we still try to be all that we can be.
Other times, we simply fail to meet expectations no matter how hard we try to be all things to all people.
When most ministers arrive at a new church, we would be wise to have one of the first initiatives be to find ways to make our church have more realistic expectations.
While this can be a delicate process, it is better for a church to have a pastor that sets boundaries than to be a church who gets stuck with all of the pastor’s therapy bills.
Boundaries benefit all of us.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia. He is the author of “Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey,” a book of articles and homilies. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Baptist Spirituality, and is used with permission.
Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Vero Beach, Florida.