The word 'Pastor' is derived from the idea of 'shepherding.' A worthy shepherd understands that the role involves leading, feeding and protecting those placed under their charge. Christ Himself gave the gift of Pastors to His Church. It is one of five gifts enumerated in Ephesians 4:11. Those who are thus chosen are blessed with empathic, tender, and generous personalities. While these qualities are essential to shepherding well, they are the very traits that can create compassion fatigue and burnout.
Below I have listed six pitfalls of pastoring that almost always end in some type of derailment. These are issues that each of us must resolve to remain effective, productive, and fulfilled.
Attempting to embody all five of the Ephesians 4:11 gifts personally. There is a reason why Jesus gave multiple gifts to the church to help equip the saints for the work of ministry. He understood that no one person could effectively execute the multiple responsibilities necessary to bring the Body of Christ to the place of maturity. Unfortunately, congregations often expect their Pastor to embody all five of these expressions of leadership. It is even more unfortunate that many Pastors accept that untenable role. When this happens, the person assumes duties for which he/she has no aptitude or anointing. This is a formula for frustration and failure. Essential to the Pastor's long-term well-being is the ability to discover, train, and bring alongside in leadership-partnership those individuals whose giftings' 'round out' the Ephesians 4:11 compendium. I believe that Christ provides those gifts to every congregation. They are there waiting to be discovered and released. No one person can effectively minister in all five gifts. The recognition and release of the gifts of others is the key to ensuring that all the offices are functioning as intended and that the sum of the responsibility does not weigh on the Pastor alone.
Becoming consumed with the chronic needs of a few people to the exclusion of the whole. There will always be a multitude of needs represented in the people we are called to lead. Some will become co-dependent on the regular empathic intervention of the Pastor. When Pastors allow themselves to be dominated or manipulated by the needs of one or two people, others of the flock will be left unattended. The emotional energy consumed in ministering to the chronic needs of one or two is extremely taxing and time-consuming. The answer is to select and equip a team of people in the church who can share the burden of ministering to the chronically needy. The Pastor should never feel guilty about referring such individuals to appropriate professionals such as doctors or counsellors. My own 'rule of thumb' was to limit my personal interaction with any person to three consecutive appointments before I would call for the involvement of others in the situation.
Being unable to say 'No.' Pastors who are insecure in their role and lack confidence in their own leadership tend to find it difficult to say 'no' to any request made. To decline from meeting any request equates to an admittance of dereliction of duties. This compulsion to respond to every demand greatly emotionally affects Pastors and their immediate family members. Fatigue from over-involvement often leads to discouragement and even depression. It is important to understand that everyone else's emergency is not necessarily yours. I have learned as a leader to redirect the request of individuals back into their own court. If they feel that some task is vital in the church, I ask them about their plan for making it happen. I assure them that I am happy to provide the resource of encouragement without assuming responsibility.
Carrying the burdens of others too far. When one carries the burdens of others without a mechanism to release them, the accumulated weight is eventually too heavy. In counselling a Pastor friend in this area, the Lord showed me a very simple truth that I could share with him and apply to myself. We are meant only to help carry the burden of others as far as the Cross. There we encourage the person to lay it down at the feet of Jesus. As a caregiver, we must learn to do the same. We were never meant to carry the burden of others past the Cross. If we do, we are assuming a role that is not ours and beyond our ability. At the Cross, Jesus, the burden bearer, picks burdens up, and we must let them go. The key to long-term health in empathic, pastoral ministry is letting the burden of others go once we have brought those people to Jesus. A prayer of release for them must also be a prayer of release for us.
Feeling compelled to have an answer. Life in the first quarter of the 21st century is very complicated. People are filled with questions about faith, societal dysfunction, and the future, to name a few. I have discovered that I do not have satisfactory answers for many of those questions. For many years I felt that I needed to. It created discomfort and pressure when I was not able to respond satisfactorily to the perplexing questions of others. It has been liberating to realize I can freely admit that I simply, 'do not know.' I am only God's representative. I am not God, Himself. My best efforts to answer the big life questions are anemic at best. However, people are not looking for answers as much as friendship and understanding. Every Pastor can provide that. In an accepting environment where people are valued, they can safely work towards owning their own faith and developing their own Christian worldview.
Taking no thought of personal well-being. Many Pastors forfeit their own need for physical, emotional, and spiritual refreshment to ensure the well-being of others. In this season of time, it takes a healthy Pastor to lead a prevailing congregation. Such health is not an automatic given. To remain robust in body, soul and spirit, the Pastor must intentionally and regularly schedule renewal chapters into their schedule. The congregation's health will not surpass the Pastor's health. A pastor who is negligent in this area is depriving themselves, their family, and their church of God's preferred best.
I have the deepest love and respect for those serving in Pastoral Ministry. Forbes (secular company – see footnote) lists the Pastor's role as one of the toughest for anyone to undertake. It is an amazing, God-ordained thing when men and women respond to the prompting of the Spirit of God to serve a community in this way. It is my prayer that we will learn these above basic principles of self-preservation so that we might remain effective and stay the course for the long haul.