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The Pastoral Life
Rest, repose and relaxation in a tranquil setting is not the picture “pastoral” brings to mind to a great number of our church leaders.

Some chats with leaders from across the country and denominational flavours have unearthed some disturbing pastoral realities: weariness, despair, and quandary.

One pastor friend, sporting a different brand of Kingdom wear (he’s Reformed; I still love him, but of course I was predestined to), reminded me that recent U.S. statistics show 1500 leaders leaving ministry monthly because of conflict, burnout or moral failure. They’re not taking a break; most have no intention of returning to the grinds of pastoral life. They are done, spent, fed up, chewed up, spewed up; even ushered out. 

All this makes the whole idea of the “pastoral life” a horrible oxymoronic and sarcastic kick to the nether-regions. “Pastoral life” can conjure up images of quaint log cabins or hillsides dotted with cud-chewing, tail-swishing cattle. What I’m hearing, and granted this is not every leader’s current experience, is that the life of a pastor is anything but tranquility. This, of course, is nothing new. Leaders have always been fair game from without and within. Those who have experienced the church under persecution realize that the enemy always aims for those living the pastoral life first.

These current trends, however, are a revealing indictment of a Church not facing overt persecution. Perhaps the enemy is using more subtle tactics. As an under-shepherd with my weary brothers and sisters allow me make the following observations:

First, the pastoral life is being made weary by the unrealistic demands of consumerist religious idolatry. This sounds harsh, and we leaders can be as much to blame as anyone; we’re all sheep who love a good trough and back scratch. A culture demanding what it wants, expecting what it wants, and generally getting what it wants has invaded our churches without anyone asking for proper identification. We are idolatrous consumers who expect a church life that will feed our religious and spiritual fee-for-service, drive-through appetites. Leaders are weary and burnt out trying to meet these impossible demands. Too many have been told their job is to keep people happy. Too few have been given the charge to simply do the will of the Father.            

Second, the pastoral life is producing despair by the dysfunctional mess of our age. Every era has its quirks, but a unique challenge of this age is the rapid unraveling of the home. While the mess left by the hurricane through the home can produce some wonderful clean-up stories, pastoral leaders are dealing with increasingly complicated dysfunction that leaves them without answers when they are expected to have them. Too many are being told they bear responsibility for fixing messes they didn’t create. Too few have been freed to call for the responsibility of the individual and the community to the repenting, embracing and healing process of increasingly broken lives.  

Third, the pastoral life is left in a quandary by the unstoppable shift of culture. The boundary lines have moved. The Church no longer functions anywhere near the center of cultural conversation. We are a side-show, a nicety for the old, unscientific and ignorant – at least that’s what the culture believes. To be a leader of this chastised remnant of yesteryear is not a title many clamor after. Many leaders are baffled why pews are empty or their best laid plans produce nary a blip on the radar. We matter, don’t we? We’re confused why we don’t anymore. We wonder if we’re still necessary when Oprah is more popular than Jesus – even in the church. Too many have been told they must simply do what has always been done. Too few have been released to lead their community into full-fledged missionary engagement with the world as it now is.

Phil Wagler is pastor of Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church and Kingsfield-Clinton, Ontario. You can reach him at

Originally published in Canadian Mennonite, October 13, 2008.




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