Pastors better off physically, emotionally, spiritually

Sunday, October 8, 2017
Michael F. Haverluck (

pastor at pulpitRight before Clergy Appreciation Day on Sunday, a Christian research group revealed from its study that pastors and practicing Christians are much better off emotionally, spiritually and physically than most America adults.

The Barna Group partnered with Pepperdine University in a major study to determine how Protestant senior pastors in the United States navigate their lives and leadership on a number of levels – compared to other practicing Christians and American adults.

More pros than cons …

The risks and rewards of being a pastor in the U.S. were examined to monitor their general wellbeing – including their satisfaction with their quality of life, as well as the condition of their physical, emotional and spiritual health. Nine hundred Protestant pastors were interviewed on the phone and online between April and December 2015 for this survey, which also included the results of 1,025 Web-based surveys of U.S. adults from all 50 states between April and May 2015.

Barna also set out to find answers to the following question from pastors: “Are they motivated and supported, or do they struggle with exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy?” and here’s what the Christian research group discovered:

“Ninety-one (91) percent of pastors, 78 percent of practicing Christians and 62 percent of all U.S. adults say they’re living the good life,” Barna reported.

Leading the next category, as well, 88 percent of American pastors said their spiritual health is “excellent” or “good,” compared to 87 percent of practicing Christians and 60 percent of all adults in the U.S.

Pastors led the two other groups when it comes to emotional health, as well, with 85 percent claiming theirs is either “excellent” or “good,” next to 79 percent of practicing Christians and 63 percent of all American adults.

When asked about their physical health, 67 percent of pastors, 73 percent of practicing Christians and 55 percent of all U.S. adults said that it is excellent or good.

Rating leadership

Pastors were also asked if they were “motivated to become a leader,” and 73 percent of them – and only 22 percent of all U.S. adults – said they “frequently” felt this. Only 1 percent of pastors “seldom/never” experience this, as opposed to 43 percent of all American adults.

It was also found that 68 percent of pastors said they are “well-supported by people close to them,” next to 43 percent of all U.S. adults. Correspondingly, just 4 percent of pastors seldom or never feel this, contrasted to 22 percent of all adults.

Sixty (60) percent of pastors indicated that they are “energized by their work,” and only 24 percent of all American adults felt the same, while only 4 percent of pastors say they seldom or never experience this, next to 38 percent of all U.S. adults.

When asked if “they are also more likely to be plagued by feelings of inadequacy about their work or calling,” only 12 percent of pastors agreed that they frequently felt this – a sentiment that was shared by just 8 percent of all U.S. adults. However, it should also be noted that 42 percent of pastors noted that they seldom or never felt this kind of inadequacy, while a much higher 70 percent of all American adults rarely experienced this feeling.

Just 21 percent of pastors felt that they frequently experienced emotional/mental exhaustion, with 23 percent of all U.S. adults admitting such fatigue. It was also found that 25 percent of pastors seldom or never felt this way, while almost double (45 percent) of all adults can say the same.

Pastors up close and personal …

Another survey administered last year by that included the responses of 577 American pastors found the following results to questions answered by pastors and ex-pastors concerning how they felt about their line of work:

  • At any time during your pastorate, have you doubted your call to ministry? – Yes (64 percent); No (36 percent)
  • Would you consider yourself overworked? – Yes (64 percent); No (36 percent)
  • At times, do you feel unable to meet the demands of the job? – Yes (86 percent); No (14 percent)
  • Do you feel there are/were unrealistic demands or unwritten expectations of you and your family? – Yes (77 percent); No (23 percent)
  • Have you ever considered leaving the ministry? – Yes (85 percent); No (15 percent)
  • Have you ever been hurt or “burnt” by a church that you left or were asked to leave? – Yes (58 percent); No (42 percent)
  • Do you fight depression? -- No (61 percent); Yes (39 percent)
  • Do you consider yourself lonely? – Yes (62 percent); No (38 percent)
  • Do you wrestle with anxiety? – Yes (65 percent); No (35 percent)
  • Do you take prescription drugs for things such as anxiety, depression or mood disorders? – No (83 percent);
  • Yes (17 percent)
  • Would you consider yourself having experienced burnout? – Yes (71 percent); No (29 percent)
  • At any point, have you sought out professional help due to ministry related struggles? – Yes (51 percent);
  • No (49 percent)
  • Have you or do you regularly see a counselor or therapist? – No (65 percent); Yes (35 percent)
  • At any point, have you considered taking your own life? – No (71 percent); Yes (29 percent)
  • Do you have a mentor? – No (56 percent); Yes (44 percent)
  • Do you have anyone you consider a close friend or someone you can share your struggles or burdens with? – Yes (75 percent); No (25 percent)
  • Have you or a family member experienced a conflict with a church member within the last month? – No (55 percent);
  • Yes (45 percent)
  • Does your spouse believe in what you do? – Yes (89 percent); No (11 percent)
  • Does your spouse want you to quit your position in the church? – No (75 percent); Yes (25 percent)
  • If you could provide for your family without working at a church, would you? – Yes (63 percent); No (37 percent)
  • Would you consider the previous church you worked at (or presently work at) to be healthy? – No (58 percent); Yes 42 percent)

Better to be a pastor today?

A group dedicated to helping pastors asked the church leaders about their ministries in order to get a better idea about their experiences behind the pulpit and behind closed doors. Even though being a pastor is not considered the easiest or most financially rewarding job out there, pastors generally feel satisfied in their ministries.

“Since first studying pastors in the late 80s, we are seeing significant shifts in the last 20 years on how pastors view their calling and how churches treat them,” reported. “We have seen that although the work hours are still long and the pay below a living wage, pastors are much happier with their congregations and their marriages are looking stronger.”  

The stresses of being a pastor are still existent, but there are still many positives that they note from their ministries.

“Many churches still place unreasonable requirements upon pastors,”’s Dr. Richard J. Krejcir stressed. “Pastors, in turn, are overworking themselves to appease congregational expectations, while facing volunteer apathy, criticism, and a fear of change.”

Over the decades, here are some encouraging trends that Krejcir’s organization found about pastors:

  • 79 percent of Evangelical and Reformed pastors are happier personally
  • 88 percent of churches are treating their pastors better, too
  • 88 percent have a high view of Christ
  • 75 percent are better at their spiritual formation
  • 57 percent are more satisfied in their calling
  • 54 percent of pastors still work over 55 hours a week
  • 57 percent can't pay their bills
  • 54 percent are overworked and 43 percent are overstressed
  • 53 percent feel seminary had not properly prepared them for the task
  • 35 percent battle depression
  • 26 percent are overly fatigued
  • 28 percent are spiritually undernourished and 9 percent are burnt-out
  • 23 percent are still distant to their families
  • 18 percent work more than 70 hours a week and face unreasonable challenges
  • 12 percent are belittled
  • 3 percent have had an affair
  • 90 percent feel honored to be a pastor
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