David J. Van Dyke and Ben Pyykkonen on the Perilous Profession of Being a Pastor

Pastors today have a lot on their plates and the stresses of leadership, burnout, and moral failures are all too real. We are running a series of articles talking about some key struggles for pastors today.

On Friday, December 6, in partnership with the School of Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy, the Billy Graham Center is hosting a one-day conversation on leadership, burnout, and mental health. We invite all pastors to join us in person or via livestream and to bring your leadership teams. It’ll be an important conversation featuring pastors like Rick Warren and Derwin Gray and leaders like Ruth Haley Barton and Phil Ryken. You can view the full schedule here.


David J. Van Dyke, PhD, LMFT is an associate professor and director of the Marriage & Family Therapy master’s program at Wheaton College. He and his wife, Tara, own and run With U Parenting to provide family support and training for life’s biggest transitions.

Ben Pyykkonen, PhD is a clinical psychologist/neuropsychologist, associate professor, and director of the doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at Wheaton College. He is also a practicing clinician and director of neuropsychology at Meier Clinics of Wheaton.


Relationships are central to the gospel.

God pursuing and reconciling relationship with and for us is the biblical story. Our responding to God and living in community with each other is central to the Christian life.

Pastors often take the lead in this process. Pastors have multiple relational responsibilities to their families, congregations, and communities. And like each of us, pastors are people with needs, capacities, and limitations. These capacities are not limitless despite pressures and messages to the contrary.

As church members, we acknowledge that we expect a lot from our pastors. They are there to be shepherds, to lead, to care, and to guide. What we tend to forget is that they are also human beings who have relational, emotional, and spiritual needs that should be meet in community. The question that arises is, “Are we listening to our pastors and their needs?”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer explored the needs we have in Christian community in his book Life Together. He challenges us to develop the art of listening:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So, it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

We want pastors to experience having their needs listened to and receiving margin to spend time quietly before God and joyfully in the community in which he has placed them.

In addition to the personal need, this receiving by pastors can be an important spiritual modeling to their communities. However, there are many challenges to this aspect of living a Christ-centered life in the 21stcentury.

Technology, transience due to career, position in the church, and a culture of pressure and anxiety lead people to isolate or seek their only social support from their church and pastoral leadership, further increasing the demands and gobbling up the scarce and sacred margins of our pastors.

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Source: Christianity Today

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