Dear Pastors and Pastor’s Wives: Stop Whining

By Joel A. Hess

Since seminary, I have been told by seasoned pastors and “expert” first timers that pastoring is a tough, thankless job. They encouraged me to set boundaries so I don’t get lost in the work and forget about myself and my family. They scared me stiff, perhaps hoping I would not be overwhelmed by surprise when I went out on the front lines. The dark forecast was cast with even more doom and gloom for my wife. At seminary, there were groups for pastor’s wives that met like AA, all bellowing, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen…”

This chorus of martyred voices continues to shower the blogosphere with sundry titles all along the line of “A Confession of a Pastor’s wife.”  Then, of course, there are the organizations serving the hurting pastor and his wife, offering respite and healing. And finally, I am regularly reminded of all the pastors who do not have calls because their former churches threw them out.

Now, I am not arguing that pastors and their wives have it easy or that we don’t need help and compassion by others. Oh Lord, we do! Just stop the whining. Everyone in our congregations has it tough! Very few have job security. Most of our people work more than forty hours a week and work on weekends. Many wives in our churches have left their families to follow their husbands to places they did not want to go. Many of our members pay for their own health insurance, if they even have it, and fret about retirement.

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Certainly, there are occasions in which a pastor is thrown out in an unjust and unbiblical way. However, I have met far too many pastors who probably deserved it. They are not martyrs, and they are not without a call because they were preaching the truth to remnant. Worse than pastors who brag about their numbers are pastors who brag about their low numbers. Herr Pfarrer—You are no Elijah. Yes, there are some terrible situations out there, but I have encountered too many guys who, for whatever reason, are very poor pastors. Quite frankly, I have seen far too many instances of congregations irrationally putting up with their pastor’s asinine behavior! Their situation reminds me of beaten wives who tell the police and their friends, “But I love him.  He won’t do it again!”

There is definitely pain and suffering that accompanies the shepherd and the shepherd’s wife. We all need prayers, let alone the Word of God, confession, and Christ’s holy body and blood! And for sure, sometimes we need it bad. Let’s just stop crying and speaking about it as if somehow the pastor’s struggles are heavier than other vocations. May the Good Shepherd continue to pick us up, dry our tears, and lead us on toward those green pastures!

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16 comments

  1. It gets to a point that I dread going to winkles, pastor conferences and conventions. You would think that the theme hymn to these gatherings would be, “O Darkest Woe.” But I would say it comes from pastors who want people to see how valuable that they are by how hard they have it or how busy that they are. I have come to a conclusion that a large group of pastors that I’m around are very insecure so they are trying to control their image with people around them.

    But it is amazing that we are still used to serve the Good Shepherd’s people in His good gifts. I always hope I can get out of the way.

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  2. Perhaps you will recant your position when you encounter a congregation who rejects the truth and therefore rejects you.

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  3. Early in my ministry, three of my seminary classmates were called to the same circuit in Nebraska. At one of the winkles, we were complaining about our lot in the ministry, student loans were being paid, salaries were too little, families living in fishbowls, congregations that were not meeting our needs, taking care of the parsonage — you name it — our world was dark. A seasoned pastor in the circuit told us to stop whining. You think you guys are the only ones who face struggles in the ministry? There are no struggles you are going through that have not been struggled through by others. You are not a privileged class, you have the privilege of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Put the devil in his place and drown that old Adam. Rejoice!!! Christ is Risen!!! Thank you pastor Wilke.

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  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Especially the part about the “martyrs” who are simply reaping what they sow. My wife hesitates to have anything to do with the district pastors’ wives group because it’s “creepy.” I have had vocations both inside and outside the church and I do find that within the church the politics are dirtier and the hesitation to deal with the problems greater. I attribute that to two things: The devil already has the secular world in hand so his effort is within the church; and people in the church don’t want to confront the problems because “it’s the church.” That being said, the victims of this are not just the pastor, but *all* the faithful who *together* are confronting the gates of hades.

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    1. Pr Eifert, I couldn’t agree with you more. The reality that few talk about is those outside of true faith however strong or weak and pagan. Satan has them!

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  5. “And he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will say this proverb to me, “Physician, heal thyself.”‘”

    “They will put you out of the synagogues.”

    “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

    “If he were not guilty would we have brought him to you?”

    “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

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  6. Not sure I agree with this. I worked for more than 25 years and worked hard. I even had a tough job where I got to argue with truck drivers every day. I put in many many long hours. Still it was nothing like when we were placed in our church. There the attacks became personal. I didn’t measure up as a Pastor’s wife and certain people let me know it. No matter that I worked 60 + hours a week and was still at church working almost every night. No matter that I taught Sunday School and cooked dinners for the whole church. They always found the things that I didn’t do. As far as pay, I was well compensated for the job that I did. It wasn’t like our church that got by with paying 60% of scale and then starting cutting his salary. It’s completely arbitrary and they use the purse as a way to control the Pastor. Do what they like and you will be rewarded. Do what you feel is right and you and your family will get pounded.

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  7. Many small parishes in small towns have become personal or familial kingdoms who’d prefer a functionary who does what he’s told. Bullies thrive in such congregations that have been in decline for decades. Yet they expect a pastor to double the membership in two or three years. He has an almost impossible task as the parish likely has a terrible reputation in that small town. The pastor is likely to hear “I won’t step foot in that church until (insert bullies’ names) is cold in the grave!” And he will hear that a lot.

    But you’re correct about the whining. God is patient with us and it’s not as though we pastors don’t have issues. We deliver God’s Word to people He loves and has saved, despite their unworthiness–just like you and me!

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  8. “Here is a secret: everyone’s life is hard. Everyone hurts. Everyone struggles, loses, is afraid. Everyone has a broken heart. Some people deny it out of pride. They are afraid to show weakness. Some people hide it in shame or think it is none of your business. But no one sails through this life unscathed. No one. No one is free of doubt, regret, or sorrow. Nothing has befallen you that is not common to man. If your works do not impress God, neither do your sorrows or the injustices and sleights you have endured.

    Do not think that you are better than others, that you work harder, are busier, or are smarter. And do not think that your life has been more difficult, that you have suffered more. The difference between you and the drug dealer, or between you and Mother Teresa is the difference between two pieces of straw in a pile the size of a house. It is not great enough to be measured, statistically it is non-existent. Get over it. Get over yourself. Repent.

    Repent and be humbled. Pride is the way of death. Your bragging and complaining expose you along with your gossip and jealousy. We do not give thanks by speaking ill of others. The Pharisee went to the temple to pray. But he went home damned. Don’t you do the same.” – Rev. David Petersen (http://cyberstones.org/sermon/trinity-11-2009/)

    Thanks, Pastor Hess. It’s a good reminder for all of us. Life under the cross is tough . . . but then again, I’m pretty sure Jesus promised us it would be. 🙂

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  9. Several who responded gave a more balanced view, so as to say to Pr. Hess, “Sorry, Bubba, it just ain’t as simple as you make it.” Perhaps other commenters had not yet thought the matter all the way through before they commented. I cannot speak for them.

    And I don’t deny the reality of chronic complainers. They come in every walk of life, although I tend to think the comment about “O Darkest Woe!” was a tad hyperbolic. Again, I could be wrong.

    However . . .

    On facebook, men I know who wouldn’t say “Sh*t!” even if they had a mouthful, reacted as did I upon reading the piece, and on subsequent re-reads, and we did so independently of one another. There are many men who go through the Ministry almost on cruise-control. They are the very fortunate, blessed ones. But it’s a sure bet at least one of their predecessors did pay a steep price for the relative present calm.

    And it is also a simple numerical fact that they – the blessed – are few and far between. Many, many men (and families), have been put thorough wringers few could possibly understand, unless having been through the wringer themselves.

    Putting something up like that requires a far finer touch with regard to Law and Gospel as well. There ARE men (and their families) who have been horribly abused by their flocks, and are in intense pastoral counseling with a mentor or brother of the collar. If they read such a flippant assessment of their situations, by a fellow pastor of their own Synod who doesn’t have the first clue of individual situations, but passes out such blanket pious platitudes, what would that say to them? satan would have a heyday in their minds and hearts and souls. Likewise, in comments, merely quoting verses or proof-texting like some Baptist out with the evangelism team, is hardly constructive in such cases.

    And last of all, in all He did and all He said – Our Lord did not and still does not require sacrifice, but compassion.

    Might be my eyesight, but I fail to see any compassion at all in this article.

    pb

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    1. I find it much easier to submit to God and his Word than to somebody’s pastoral sense or sensitivity (no matter how wondrous those abilities might be). It is hard to humble yourself and become subservient to another man. Ultimately it can’t last for long. Only a mutual, shared humility before the Lord endures. I didn’t have some grand strategy when I made my previous post. It just seemed fitting. Since you don’t seem to understand my purpose for bringing up these verses, let me explain.

      “And he said to them, ‘Doubtless you will say this proverb to me, “Physician, heal thyself.”‘” I quoted this because the author says what Jesus prophesied.

      “They will put you out of the synagogues.” I quoted this because Jesus tells us that this will happen to godly preachers, men, and women. The author seems quite glad that the troublers of Israel will be gone.

      “They loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” I quoted this because the author just as hungrily after praise from the cool kids as the phlegmatic complainers are after sympathy.

      “If he were not guilty would we have brought him to you?” This is what the pastors in Jerusalem said about Jesus to Pontius Pilate. They thought he was a real loser who deserved what he got. The author uses the same reasoning.

      “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Obviously this article is shamefully frivolous at best and damnably hypocritical at worse. I would not want to give account for his words. However, I will stand behind what I have written in these comments.

      When you have to explain a joke, it tends to lose its punch. When you have to explain a word of judgment you take its bite out of it. I am not interested in the author thinking I have a fine sense for Law and Gospel. What good would that do him or me? But if he should see his shame in the light of these verses, that would do him some good. I also have said some very foolish and untruthful things. He can join the club. The only agreement that is worthy anything is an agreement under the Lord. Your compassion or moderation or fine touch or whatever isn’t worth anything. Neither is mine. Why should we be called good? There is only One who is good.

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  10. Ease up on the shaming, brethren. He’s right…in the article, I mean. We need to grow some real ball sacs. I have earned the right to say that, having been a worker priest so to speak for one half of my years in service. Only to have some old Lutherans tell me that their congregation is not really a mission, that stuff is for the District to do. By the grace of God, they have been destroyed spiritually– hopefully terrible enough to get on their knees and repent. I was spared their darkest years of self isolation. What a horrid sin! Just pray, pray, pray. And trust the Lord Avenger, Christus Victor.

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  11. Sounds to me like you are whining and complaining about people who whine and complain. That’s a little ironic I think. You had some good points to make, though. So I won’t hold it against you. For those of you who whine and complain, I understand that is just a way to say, “help! I am hurting!” To you I say, I hear you. I understand. Here, let me offer you a hand. Let me encourage you in this journey.

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  12. Hey everyone! Truly believe that some pastors and pastor wives have had the crap beaten out of them, even by the Devil himself. And I surely know how that feels as well. I am a foolish needy weak sinner! God have mercy on us all. I am talking about public whining and martyr posing. And yes I am guilty myself. This is pretty clear in the post.

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