Broken, Hurting Pastors: 9 Sources of Pastoral Disintegration

I was talking to a friend today at the end of the Evangelical Free Church of America Theology conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. We were catching up on one another’s lives and ministries, sharing prayer requests and seeking to encourage one another in a three decades long friendship. My friend Roy, an expert missiologist with a primary focus on the Islamic world, was talking about some of the trends he is seeing both here and abroad. The conversation worked its way around to what I am doing.

What do I do?

My standard answer these days is that as a field shepherd with Standing Stone Ministry, “I spend a lot of time caring for and hanging out with hurting pastors.” Of course, my answer goes beyond that but today this question popped into my head, “Why are they hurting?” I’ve actually been thinking about that question for about 6 months. And here, briefly, are some of the categories of WHY.  [Not in any particular order or priority.] 

  1. They are hurting because the pressures of ministry in the last few years have drained them of joy in the ministry. 
    Covid put some pastors in a position of being “damned if they do and damned if they don’t.” No matter what position they took on closing or staying open, masking or not, vaccinating or not, booster shots or not, people they loved were going to leave their church and never come back again. And some of those people where going to say horrible things about them or the church. In addition to the normal pastoral pressures, covid added a load that simply crushed some men.
  2. They are hurting because their marriages reached a breaking point.
    For some, that breaking point came as a result of their spouses infidelity. Two of the guys I am working with, the loss of their marriage was a personal tragedy that sent them into a tailspin of depression, a lack of discipline, and all the complications of how to faithfully raise their children after mom left the home, the family, the church and in one case, the faith. Sometimes the pressures on their children became too great to continue in ministry.
  3. They are hurting because they were beaten up by a power group in the church.
    It might have been the church council, or an elder board, or a session, or a deacon board, or a church “boss”, but the end result was that they and their church experienced a heartbreaking “forced exit.” (see the book, Musical Pulpits) There was no problem with their doctrine, or character, or finances, or ethics, marriage, or teaching. There was simply a difference between how a leader or group of leaders thought about the pastor’s job and how the pastor understood his job. One pastor was forced out of his position partly because others leaders on his team coveted his job for themselves.
  4. They are hurting because they made some grievous mistake or moral failing.
    They may have strayed into pornography, alcoholism, or stolen money from the church. Some of these might make them unfit for ministry  anytime in the future and some might be recoverable. In either case, men who cared for others now need care themselves. This is not a big category among the men I am caring for but it is for some of our field shepherds and requires special grace and sensitivity. 
  5. They are hurting because they have done too much, for too long in an unbiblical and unhealthy way.
    This is large group. Too many pastors, in a desire to serve, seek to please people rather than “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” It is easy to do, out of a desire to keep everyone happy in a church (impossible)—pastors “do the ministry” themselves rather than “equip others” to do the ministry. This is unsustainable and is a big cause of #7 below.
  6. They are hurting because of misplaced or misaligned expectations. 
    This can come from either the church and elders (leaders) or from the pastors themselves. One pastor I know was experiencing a wonderfully productive ministry but expected even more and was so disappointed that he left the ministry for half a decade before other encouragers helped to bring him back. Another pastor was driven from his church BECAUSE it grew! Some leaders wanted him to continue to be a small church pastor and do more than was healthy or according to his gifting. 
  7. They are hurting because they failed to take proper care of their own spiritual, mental, physical or financial health.
    Pastors are just as susceptible as any other Christian to become so wrapped up in the tasks of their profession that they lose sight of their own spiritual and mental health. Some are “married to the ministry” to the sorrow of their wives and children and pay prices they have tried to warn others about in the demise of their own spiritual disciplines. Some become so sedentary in their study of the word of God in the discipline of opening the word of God to the people of God that their physical health goes to the wayside producing different pressures and consequences. Some churches have an inability to pay a so-called “living wage” and the pressures of caring for the need in their own congregations causes them to neglect the financial health of their own families.
  8. They are hurting because they have no “safe-friends” within the church or in their orbit to talk to about the struggles they are facing.
    This is a big one, especially in combination with any of the categories above. The pressure that pastors face from congregations and themselves to “have-it-all-together” is an occupational hazard that can erode the soul of authenticity and integrity. Pastors need “confide-in-friends” just like anyone else but most have very few.
  9. They are hurting because of some combination of the eight categories above. 
    My readers have demonstrated both their intelligence and their compassion over the years and don’t me to elaborate in this already over-the-average length post.

Broken, hurting pastors need your prayers.

And so do I.


If you would join in praying for us and them, would you:

  • email me, or (
  • text me, or (if you have my number)
  • DM on FaceBook, or
  • leave a comment below.

It would be a great encouragement.

This will be updated: I’ve already thought of two more categories.

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