If you think your pastor doesn’t work very hard, please continue reading.

Ten weeks ago I left the pastorate after 25 years to teach full time at Simmons College of Kentucky, a wonderful historic black college. During this ten week period, I did the following:

  • Changed jobs.

  • Had two weeks to prepare for the fall semester, during which I am teaching five classes I’ve never taught before, most outside my major field of study.

  • Established a grading system and learned how to advise students as a department chair.

  • Added 40 minutes to my total daily commute.

  • Performed a funeral for a dear church member.

  • Took students to an academic conference.

  • Packed up and moved an office and large library.

  • On top of all this we moved my mother in with us, and we packed up and then sold her home.

Counselors have scoring systems for measuring life changes and stress. I think it’s fair to say those scoring systems would label my stress level for this ten weeks as unhealthy.

So here’s the thing. A few days ago, I said to my wife, “You know, I haven’t felt this well rested in 20 years.”

If you wish to persist in your belief that your pastor is not working hard, you might say, “Well, maybe YOU were working hard in the pastorate, but you didn’t have it as good as my pastor.” Actually, I’ll bet you twenty bucks (I can do this now; I’m not a pastor.) that I had it better than your pastor. I was in a healthy church in a nice part of town with great people and a tremendous staff team. My fellow pastors shared the leadership load, and our deacons typically behaved like grown-ups and also were a big help with congregational care. We had our challenges, but the hills we faced were smaller than most churches.

Even so, after 15 years in this good place, I knew the pace was not sustainable much longer unless I was willing to sacrifice my emotional and physical health. So, having tried and failed to lead the church in the direction of a co-pastorate, I walked away–not angry, just tired. Our church is part of a small network of churches in our state.  Over the past 15 years, about half of the ten larger churches have now had a middle-aged pastor leave, not just their congregation, but congregational ministry.

This is not an easy time or culture in which to be a church, and it’s not an easy time to lead one. Next time you see your pastor, tell them you know they have a hard job, and that you appreciate his or her hard work. That’s a word today’s pastors need to hear.

By Chris Caldwell
Department Chair, Sociology, Simmons College of Kentucky