A pastor faces ‘external’ and ‘internal’ challenges. Pastor Yow, who became a pastor 18 years ago, helps us understand the issues a pastor encounters.
I started my journey as a pastor in June 1999. This journey was filled with challenges of different sizes. These challenges can be categorized into two categories—external and internal. External challenges are the obvious. These “tip of the ice-berg” challenges may include having to deal with difficult members of the congregation, making difficult decisions, managing non-performing staff and the list goes on. Internal challenges are different. They are hidden from the public eyes and ears. These are inner struggles that are not easily articulated, understood and accepted.
The challenges I’m about to share are my personal struggles. I will attempt to be honest and candid in penning them down in hope that you get a glimpse of the struggles of a pastor’s inner world.
Balancing Family and Ministry
Balancing family and ministry is a challenge in pastoral ministry. The demands of ministry take the pastor away from the family.
Before stepping into full-time pastoral ministry, a typical weekend would be spent with family and friends. Public holidays were reserved for family holidays and occasionally church events. Weekday nights were filled with family conversations and bonding activities. This changed when I stepped into pastoral ministry. Now, weekends are spent in church, with church members, on church events and activities and weekday nights (averaging two to three nights) are occupied with ministry activities. When I manage to find the time to spend with my family, I realized I lack the mental and emotional energy to connect meaningfully with them. The demands of ministry drained me both emotionally and mentally. As a result, I became an absent husband and father.
Being an absent husband and father bred disappointment and guilt. On good days, these were well-managed. On bad days, they weighed me down and ministry became a challenge. My self-esteem was affected for “failing” my role and responsibility in the family. I also felt hypocritical preaching, teaching, instructing and counseling fathers to fulfill their role in the family while I am struggling to do that myself. It was a real struggle!
I have learnt to manage and balance better through the years. The family has also learnt to adjust and adapt to the demands of the ministry. However, that did not eradicate the sense of guilt and disappointment. I still struggle, but at a better disposition than before. I came to realize that this struggle may not be all bad. For one, it causes me to constantly evaluate my balancing act,ensuring that I have given sufficient time, energy and presence to my family. It keeps me on my toes.
Connecting with a Soul-Enriching Community
Another challenge that I face is finding a soul-enriching community within the church.
Someone said, “The cost of leading meant loneliness and few friends.” Do you agree? Although the pastoral ministry revolves around people, pastors can be lonely people. In my journey, I found this to be true. Let me ask you this question, “Who can a church member share his problems and struggles with without being judged, criticized or treated different in church?”
I bet the answer you are thinking right now is “The Pastor.” Allow me to ask the same question but this time, change the subject, “Who can a pastor, share his problems and struggles with without being judged, criticized or treated differently in church?” I bet the answer did not come so readily.
When I was a regular church member, I was connected to a cell group where I can be vulnerable. Sharing between members was honest and open. After stepping into the pastoral role, this became a challenge. I had to be wise in what I share, the depth of my sharing and to whom I share with in the church. These concerns are not keys to building soul-enriching relationships. So, relationships in church became more superficial than soul-enriching for me.
My soul cries out for a soul-enriching community of mature believers (not necessarily pastors) who enable me to be as I have never been before. In this community, I’m given permission to be real, to be me. I can be vulnerable. People are interested in my personhood and not my position. They want to know me as Ronald and not Pastor Ronald.
I can be vulnerable, sharing my struggles (both personal and ministry) freely. I can bear my soul, without the fear of being judged, criticized or treated differently. While I’m given the permission to speak truthfully, the community is also given permission to speak truthfully (in love) to me. And I become a better person because of this community.
Lacking such a community in my life left me with a growing sense of loneliness. But, we serve a God who cares for us. By His grace, I was recently connected to such a community, comprising of mature believers from different walks of life and church denominations. My soul has been enriched by this community.
I’ve just shared the top two challenges and struggles I face as a pastor. As I reflected on what I had penned down, I made this conclusion – Challenges will continue to fill my journey as a pastor but God’s grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in my weakness!
About Pastor Ronald Yow
Ronald is in-charge of and oversees GII services, GII GRACE Communities and Family Life @Grace ministries. He oversees the planning of Grace Groups (GG) curriculum of the GRACE Communities. He has spoken at multiple camps and conferences in Singapore and South East Asia. Ronald is married to Jean and they have two beautiful daughters, Carissa and Annabel.