On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Glenn Packiam (pastor at New Life Church and Barna senior fellow) sits down with David Kinnaman and Carey Nieuwhof to discuss the weariness that pastors have been experiencing, the difficulty of forming friendships while in ministry and the keys to cultivating resilience.
On the Weariness Pastors are Experiencing
Recent Barna data show that two in five pastors (38%) say they’ve given real, serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry within the last year.
Reflecting on why many pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry, Packiam notes, “This is a difficult time. The pandemic, in many ways has accelerated things that have already been in motion. [For example,] pastors’ declining place in the community from being a credible or trustworthy voice. I think the pandemic has accelerated some of that, but there’s another way in which the pandemic has been the revealer state of our own souls.
“Maybe because we’re at home more, or certain things have forced us to slow down,” Packiam continues. “[The pandemic] has revealed the state of our own souls, [and caused us] to say, ‘Actually, there’s a weariness deep in souls.’”
Packiam offers pastors encouragement, sharing, “When we set our current context in the wider lens of the historic Church or the global Church, there’s some encouragement there… [Through this], we can see that if Jesus Christ has been the head of his Church through these other eras and in these other places of opposition and persecution, then the Lord is with us now. And the Lord is the one that will help us in these difficult days that we’re facing here in America.”
On the Challenges of Friendship
Recent Barna data show that three in five Protestant pastors (60%) say they’ve felt lonely frequently or sometimes within the past year. Additionally, other Barna research highlights that only one in five pastors (20%) rate their satisfaction with their current friendships as excellent, while just over one in 10 (12%) say it is below average or poor.
Packiam speaks to the challenges of forming friendships as a pastor. “One of the factors that makes relationships difficult for any leader, but particularly pastors, is that the nature of our work is relational.” He continues, “We’re in all of these relational spaces, but actually there’s an asymmetrical dynamic to our relationship… We’re always on the upside of a power differential.
“The second challenge is the illusion of intimacy,” Packiam notes. “Because our work is relational work. You have this appearance or this feeling of intimacy in your interactions with people, but it’s not actually substantive. Because we’re in these spaces where there’s an illusion of intimacy, people feel closer to us than we do to them.”
Packiam states the need for pastors to cultivate a group of friends, noting, “I think the other trap for leaders is the myth of the North Star where people think, “I just need one relationship. I just need this one perfect mentor or best friend.” Packiam continues, “I want to suggest… a constellation method versus a North Star myth… Because in a storm, every sailor knows you don’t just need a North Star, you need the constellations.” Packiam shares that “As we as pastors are trying to navigate uncharted waters… we need a constellation of relationships.”
On the Ways to Become Resilient
Discussing the nature of resilience, Packiam shares, “[Resilience does] not mean that we never experience storms or turbulence, but that we are able to recalibrate. I think as Christians, we should say resilience is not something we just will ourselves into and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. The last thing I want listeners to hear or readers to take away is that this is another ‘to-do’ for pastors’ lists.”
Packiam shares some ways pastors can become more resilient, noting, “The first step to resilience is to renew our first love [of Christ]. For all of us as pastors… this catalyst for resilience is the renewal of our first love. So many of us sign up to plant churches and lead churches, because we believe in the cause. But the thing that sustains us over the long haul, is not our love of a purpose, but our love of a person.
“I think resilience is [also] reinforced by the right relationships around you,” he states. “But, finally, I think resilience is anchored by the hope of resurrection. Resurrection reminds us that even if the worst happens… God is the God who raises the dead and there’s something beyond this time on earth that awaits us.”
“I think often about 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul talks about the resurrection,” Packiam concludes. “At the very end of the chapter, he says, ‘Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always devoting yourself to this. Be excellent in God’s work, knowing that your labor will not be in vain.’ At the end of the day, as pastors, we don’t know if numbers are going to get back. We don’t know what a ‘new normal’ is. We don’t know any of that, but we do know that if we trust the God who raises the dead, our labor will not be in vain.”
About the Research
Resilient Pastor Study: The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted September 16-October 8, 2020 with 408 U.S. Protestant pastors. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 4.8 percent at the 95-percent confidence level.
October 2021, Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 507 Protestant Senior Pastors from October 12-28, 2021. 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.
U.S. adults are U.S. adults ages 18 or older.
Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who have attended a worship service within the past month and strongly agree their faith is very important to their life.
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