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The Most Depressing Thing about Being a Pastor – and What to Do about It

The Most Depressing Thing about Being a Pastor – and What to Do about It

“Apart from these external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).

When showing his scars and enumerating his sufferings, the Apostle Paul ends with a mention of the daily care of the Lord’s people.  That too was a great burden.

You don’t bleed from caring for the Lord’s flock. But you hurt as much as if you did.

The worst part of pastoring, the burden that keeps hammering you down into the ground, is perfectionism.

Who Puts this Perfectionism on Pastors?

It’s not something the Lord puts on us–well, not any more than on anyone else–because “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). He is under no illusions about any of us. The quickest way to divine frustration, I would think, is for the Father to expect perfection from His children.

He’s smarter than that. Thankfully.

Nor is it something most congregation put on us. Most members know their pastors are human, even if some do tend to lose sight of that sometimes.  (I heard of a pastor whose teenage daughter has come up pregnant, and some in the church are calling for the pastor’s resignation.  He ministered to them in their crises, but let him go through one and a few are ready to cut him off.  What is wrong with such people?! God bless the leadership of this church and help them do the right thing.)

The perfectionism that hounds the pastor and nags at him without let up, he mostly puts on himself.

He expects perfectionism from himself.

After all, he reasons, we are doing the work of Almighty God, the Creator of the universe.  We are holding in our hands the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, a treasure beyond compare.  When we do our work well, people begin to live forever with Christ.  And when we do it poorly, people may miss Heaven entirely and spend eternity in what the Bible calls “outer darkness.”  Hell fire.

That’s enough to keep a fellow awake at night.

Ice-skating champion Dorothy Hamill fought depression most of her life.  Even as a child when she was pulling down titles–her first national championship at 13 and first international title at 17–nothing was ever good enough for her mother.  A commentator said, “(Her mother) Carolyn’s inability to praise her daughter’s achievement or share in her happiness diluted Hamill’s joy at winning Olympic gold in 1976.”

It’s a familiar story, unfortunately.  Half the over-achieving athletes in our world have similar stories to tell.

However, for the minister of the gospel, the problem tends not to be a frowning mother or a demanding father lording it over them, ready to point out the flaws. It’s himself.

We are our own nagging mama. We are our own demanding parent.

After a full day of ministry in the Lord’s service, many a pastor tells himself the very things a harsh parent would say…

“You could have done better.”

“That introduction to the sermon did not work.”

“You forgot to mention Deacon Crenshaw’s upcoming mission trip.”

“That story you told was unclear; people didn’t get it.”

“You left out the very Scripture that makes the point of the sermon.”

The list is endless.  We should all be given PhDs on beating ourselves up. We’re experts. Revelation 12 calls Satan “the accuser of the brethren,” but we preachers often do his work for him.

The Results of Chasing Perfection

As a result of this kind of self-condemnation, many of us…

  • Constantly berate ourselves, second-guess ourselves, and perform autopsies on everything we do in the ministry.
  • Live in fear of our flocks rising up and demanding someone better than us.
  • Admire and envy the Joel Osteen types who seem never to have had a moment of self-doubt but go from success to greater success.
  • Vacillate between an overwhelming gratitude for the Lord’s mercy (“He has not dealt with us according to our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” –Psalm 103:10) and an overpowering guilt over our weaknesses and inadequacies (“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” –Romans 7:24).

How to Remedy Perfectionism

There is a cure for this perfectionism business. It’s dealt with in so many places throughout Scripture that it seems insulting to readers to say that any one reference is “the” remedy.

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4).

Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves; but our adequacy is of God (2 Corinthians 3:5).  And then, one chapter later: We do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake (2 Corinthians 4:5).

This is the victory that overcomes the world, even your faith (1 John 5:4). And on that theme, consider these: It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man (Psalm 118:8) – especially if that “man” is yourself; this is not about us!.  Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock (Isaiah 26:4).  The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted (Proverbs 29:25).

Simple, huh? Quit looking at yourself and start trusting in Him. Start practicing what you preach.

For the servant of God, this means…

I will not look to my feelings or emotions, not to my wife or the deacons or the denomination, for affirmation.  I’m serving Christ.  I’m going forward in faith that God is alive, Jesus Christ is in this place, and to serve Him faithfully is the best thing ever! Let’s do it!

I am not my own master or judge: Whether I approve of today’s sermon or this week’s study is beside the point.  A servant stands or falls only to his own master (Romans 14:4).

I will not wait until what I present to the Lord– my prayer, a song, today’s sermon, my gift–is perfect before presenting it to the Father.  I will give Him my best, imperfect though it may be. And lest I say this is not “my best,” I will say “It’s the best I can do at the moment.”

I will not become a slave to numbers or success as the world judges.  Jesus said we should not rejoice that we’re having great successes but rejoice that our names are recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20).

I will not be my own press agent, my own public relations department, the keeper of my career, or the recorder of my statistics.

What if the football player stopped after every play and totaled up the yards he had gained, then pulled from his back pocket a book where he added them in.  Actually, he gives very little thought to the number of yards gained or lost on one play because he knows “someone up above” is watching the game and recording it, and when the final whistle has sounded, the full report will be in. His job is to play the game as well as he knows how.

Moving Forward

So, let’s get on with it.

Let’s go forward by faith.

Faith that my little bit is precious in His sight.  See the widow give her tiny offering (Mark 12).  Jesus said, "He who is faithful in the small things can be trusted with much" (Luke 16:10).

Faith that He can do miracles with small things. Check out Luke 17:6.

Faith that He called us and sent us and is accompanying us, so we are not limited by our own abilities and our own resources.  Study Hebrews 11 for example after example of this.

Faith that what looks like nothing to the world may be massive in His eyes. The prophet Elisha said, “Lord, open my servant’s eyes” (2 Kings 6:17).

Faith that the faithful “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous!” (Luke 14:14)

Okay. I’ll send this little piece on.  Even though it’s far from perfect.  Oh, one more Scripture? This is a biggie with me. He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).  That should forever drive a nail in the coffin of our perfectionism.

This article originally appeared on Used with permission.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes 

Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at