Pastoral Care Challenges

A recent CBC opinion piece highlights the way in which providing pastoral care can be an emotional burden for congregational leaders.

Pastoral Care Challenges is one of the potential Core Stressors that we explore in our research. With over 300 participants to date, 28% identify this as a Core Stressor for them, meaning it is more than moderately frequent and more than moderately negative, and contributes to an increased experience of stress in their ministry lives.

However, it is encouraging to note that for 32%, Pastoral Care Challenges appears as a Stress Buffer, meaning that engaging in the challenges of providing Pastoral Care is linked to an increase in their sense of personal accomplishment!

When we have one-on-one conversations with our participants to explore their Ministry Life Assessment and Discernment Report, we often ask “Who is a trusted person in your life with whom you could further explore what this data means for you?”

As the article notes, many people in positions of congregational leadership feel alone in the role that they play. If this is true for you, we would encourage you to consider who you might want to include in your support team; ministry has a unique set of challenges that can sometimes be isolating, but you can help set yourself up for a lifetime of flourishing by building a community of support. This might include a licensed therapist, a spiritual director, trusted peers in similar contexts.

We are created to be in relationship, to cultivate vulnerability, and to receive love as we give it. Ministers and leaders in faith communities are no exception; it may take a little more work, but we believe a healthy network of supportive relationships will go a long way in creating a sustainable ministry experience.

As always, if you are working in Christian ministry and have not participated in our research (or it has been 2 years since you last participated), please register now and receive your free Ministry Life Assessment and Discernment Report after completing our questionnaires.


Prompts for Reflection:

  • Do I feel drained by the responsibilities I have to provide emotional support to those in my care?
  • What relationships from my life stand out as being places of support and encouragement for me as a person?
  • Who is currently in my circle of support that provides space for me to be vulnerable?
  • When I think about the sustainability of my current ministry experience, what additional care for my self might be helpful?

Leading Through Change and Controversy

As a new year gets underway, there is one thing that we can almost guarantee 2019 will bring your ministry context: Change. Ministry leadership inevitably involves guiding communities through change, navigating controversy, and addressing conflict. Nearly 1/3 of our participants name Leading Through Change & Controversy as a Core Stressor.

Given that change is a constant reality in our world, we would encourage you to reflect on your own accumulated wisdom and the insights of others that can help you prepare for the unavoidable task of navigating change in your community.


Prompts for Reflection:

  • Can you think of a time that you have either led or experienced leadership that has navigated change or controversy in a fruitful way? What helped make this a positive experience for you?
  • What people/resources/tools have helped you navigate change and controversy?
  • Sometimes leaders struggle to have patience and grace with community members who are resistant to change. What might help increase this capacity in you?


Resources to Explore:

  • Dr. Malcolm’s draft chapter on conflict.
  • Garrido, Ann M., Redeeming Conflict: 12 habits for Christian Leaders (Notre Dame, IN: Ave
    Maria Press, 2016).
  • Thomas Kilman Instrument (TKI) — an online self-assessment of conflict response styles and other resouces which can be found at
  • Stone, Douglas, Bruce Patton, and Shiela Heen, Difficult Conversations (New York, NY: Penguin
    Books, 1999)

Family vs Ministry Conflict

Whether you have a partner, children at home, parents to care for, or find family in non-biological connections, our intimate relationships are a vital part of our lives. Holidays/Holy Days are often a time of gathering together as family; for many people in ministry, these are also some of the fullest work days of the year.

Ministry life inevitably comes with challenges, and one of those is navigating conflicting expectations or needs between family and work. For more than ¼ of our participants, this is experienced as a Core Stressor.

As the Advent season begins, looking ahead to where family and ministry needs may conflict can help you and your family make a plan for navigating these together, rather than being caught off guard when they occur.


Prompts for Reflection:

  • As you consider your own family context, do you feel conflict between your family life/needs and your ministry role? Is this an ongoing tension or a situational one?
  • Often family/ministry conflicts are more likely to occur around significant holidays or specific times of the year (eg September!). How might you and your family anticipate and create a plan for these times?
  • If Family vs Ministry Conflict is not currently a source of strong stress for you, what contributes to your success in this area? How can you celebrate and protect this alignment?


Management Skills

In our research, Management Skills includes administrative tasks, solving administrative problems, and using organizational skills effectively. While Management Skills is reported by the majority of our participants as a core satisfier, 23% of participants reported that Management Skills is not affecting their Satisfaction in any direction, and for 10% of our participants, Management Skills shows up as an “Irritant,” meaning that it is frequently required of them, but not particularly enjoyable.

People in ministry may not see themselves as “managers,” but as with many jobs, there is a certain amount of organizational management inherent to the work of ministry. What might change in your ministry experience if utilizing your Management Skills was understood to be a valuable and vital part of serving God?

Prompts for Reflection:

  • What is your current experience of administrative management in your ministry life?
  • What might it look like to reimagine your relationship with the administrative aspects of your work?
  • If it is not particularly positive, but frequent:
    • Is there room to adjust how frequently it is required of you? For example, would it be possible to delegate some of the tasks to an administrative assistant or volunteer?
    • Would it help to participate in a workshop or take a course that might increase your enjoyment of the administrative aspects of your ministry?

Fostering Faith Development

When we look at all 15 potential Satisfiers, the aspect of ministry life that is least likely to show up as a Satisfier is Fostering Faith Development. This includes having opportunities to share your faith, seeing people come to faith, and seeing someone grow a passion or their spiritual gifts.

Interestingly, when Fostering Faith Development is not a Satisfier, it is almost always the case that it is quite positive, but not frequent enough in an individual’s life to tangibly contribute to overall satisfaction.

Most people in ministry find Fostering Faith Development a very satisfying and life-giving aspect of ministry – this is not surprising as it is often the desire to specifically foster faith development that has brought an individual into a ministry role!  But 30% of our participants are telling us they aren’t able to engage in it frequently enough to experience its benefits in an ongoing manner.


Prompts for Reflection:

  • If you are frequently able to engage in Fostering Faith Development, what is it about your ministry context or personal choices that makes that possible for you? Is it something you have had to intentionally work at?
  • If you find Fostering Faith Development to be too infrequent in your current ministry life, what is one step might you take to increase its frequency?