According to Lifeway Research, 63% of pastors say stress is a mental challenge they face in ministry. Billy Walker, pastor of Calvary Church, joins Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, to discuss the Greatest Needs of Pastors study and how pastors can deal with stress in ministry.
Ben Mandrell: Sixty-three percent of pastors indicate that stress plays a role in their personal lives. How have the stresses of the pastoral ministry changed for you, and how are you dealing with them?
Billy Walker: That’s interesting. When I was in music, I was the part-time minister of music at the church that I’m now pastoring. My dad was the pastor. It’s amazing when I think of what stressed me out back then and where I’m at now.
Back then, “Hey, you know what, it’s not my church. Let dad worry about that.” And I was concerned with: Do we have enough people in the choir, and what are we doing for Christmas? And, now it’s time to plan for Easter. Program stuff.
Then you become a pastor, and, all of a sudden, you stand up behind the pulpit. You look out, and you are feeling the stress of every person that, you know— every family.
Mandrell: You carry it. You carry their stress.
Walker: And I mean, you know: What I’m sharing, what I’m saying, what I’m preaching to them … this is where they’re at in life. And you know this lady— her husband just passed away. You know that this couple out here has a son, a daughter who they don’t know where they’re at. And this one over here just had a bad doctor’s appointment, and this one’s facing a financial crisis. And you know all this, and that adds to the stress.
So it’s not easy, but one of the things that I’ve tried to come to grips with, and that I’ve understood more being a pastor than even as music director, is I can still say, “It’s not my church.” It’s His church. It’s His church. I just have the awesome reward and responsibility of being the one that’s here to help people find peace in the midst of that struggle and to share with them what God has laid on my heart and to trust that His Spirit will use it to impact them.
And the cool thing about God and what we do is: Does it matter what the worship is? And does it matter what we say and how we say it? Yes, yes. We want to pursue excellence and all that kind of thing. But the cool thing is that the Spirit of God somehow can take what happens on a Sunday and meet people at the point of their need.
Mandrell: You’re making a distinction between ownership and stewardship. I think it’s important. We don’t own. Our leadership roles have no ownership associated with it. We are only given a season to be the steward of this thing, and then somebody else takes over. But it is really hard in the moment to not feel like an owner—to not take it personally when people don’t like what you’re doing, to distance yourself emotionally from criticism. It’s difficult. And I think that’s a stress that pastors struggle with.