In a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, John Eldredge—author, counselor and Christian lecturer—sits down with David Kinnaman to reflect on the unreasonable expectations put on ministry leaders, the importance of replenishing reserves and ways to address loneliness and isolation after the pandemic.
On Unreasonable Expectations Put on Ministry Leaders
Recent Barna data show that just under one in five pastors (18%) say they’ve frequently felt lonely in the past year, while over one in six pastors (17%) say they’ve frequently felt isolated from others in the past year.
Eldredge responds to the data, saying, “[The data is] totally understandable for two reasons. The ministry has always been incredibly demanding. There are such unreasonable expectations that are placed on ministry leaders. They’re expected to be remarkable people on every front, from CEO leaders to great therapists to real estate tycoons.” He continues, “But then you had the pandemic, global trauma and the social tensions all the way down to the family level. The last couple years in particular have been brutal on leadership.”
Describing ways in which the church can correct the unrealistic expectations put on ministry leaders, Eldredge notes, “It starts internally with [leaders saying], ‘That’s not mine to carry.’” He explains, “A leader’s mission—your purpose and your calling—are very clear, but then people want to saddle you with all kinds of other things… I think [doing what you can but knowing it’s not yours to carry] can help create some internal margin that could offer some breathing room for recovery.”
On the Importance of Replenishing Reserves
Eldredge explains how leaders can replenish their reserves after the pandemic, encouraging, “There has to be periods in your life, weeks and days where more is coming in than is going out. Begin to ask yourself this question.”
“Once a week, you have the Sabbath,” he notes, “Which is the last thing that Christian leadership gets to enjoy. But [leaders should have] some kind of Sabbath in their week; maybe you get to the beach, get to the park, go play some pickleball or [do other] things that replenish your soul.
“Listen to your soul,” Eldredge says, “[Discover] what brings you joy. … Ask God for his thoughts on your prescription of what you [need to] do for soul care and healthy rhythm. God knows what your soul needs.”
On Increased Loneliness and Isolation Because of COVID-19
Recent Barna data show that almost one in three practicing Christian men (30%) say they are “very satisfied” with their friendships, while almost two in three married practicing Christian men (62%) say they are “very satisfied” with their marriage.
Eldredge discusses how COVID-19 has affected loneliness and isolation, stating, “You don’t recover from any sort of emotional setback without talking about it. There’s all kinds of research that shows that putting words to things reduces the emotional impact of events in your life. If you don’t have anybody you can talk to, or if all you’re doing is talking to people over Zoom or FaceTime — which isn’t the same — [you can’t recover from the setback as well]. The pandemic put us in global trauma and it isolated us.
“The goal is [to have] one or two people that you can be honest with,” Eldredge concludes, “This soul friend that God may have for you might be very surprising… If we lift the expectations off of [this friendship] and say, ‘Lord, you know my need,’ he will bring those people into your life.”
About the Research
March 2022 Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 510 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 10–16, 2022. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Five Essentials to Engage Today’s Men: The research for this study consisted of two online surveys conducted October 8–21, 2019, with 1,593 U.S. men (1,000 practicing Christians and 593 from among the general U.S. population). The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 2.9 percent at the 95-percent confidence level. The margin of error for the general population of men is plus or minus 3.9 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022
Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.
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