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Piercing the Pastor’s Thick Skin

by Craig Cable

Most of my professional career has been spent in leadership positions. I learned early that to be a good leader, I had to have fairly thick skin. This was especially true when dealing with people. Sparks often flew when I encountered difficult people who had unrealistic expectations or an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

I recently had candid conversations with two wonderful friends in ministry regarding a pastor’s need for thick skin. During one of these conversations, my associate pastor friend shared that a disgruntled church member recently sent the senior pastor an absolutely scathing letter via registered mail. This unorthodox method of delivery ensured that the pastor would read and feel every toxic word that was spewed out on paper. I thought, “What infraction could possibly warrant a nasty letter like that?”

My second conversation was with the wife of a pastor. She told me that they’re constantly receiving criticism from outspoken parishioners. In spite of their best efforts, someone is always going to be upset and she and her husband were always going to hear about it. With a trembling voice and tears in her eyes, she confided that they’re often left wondering if they can do anything right. I can only imagine how daunting and discouraging that must feel week after week, year after year.

It doesn’t escape me that pastors are under immense pressure. Aside from pouring their lives into helping children, youth, and adults grow in their relationships with Jesus, they’re also the lightning rod for everyone’s frustrations. They have to be compassionate and grace-filled in the face of adversity, scrutiny, and challenge. And if the rigors of ministry weren’t enough, they’re also called upon to wear the hats of coach, counselor, and even custodian at times.

If you’re a pastor, please know that…

-I’m grateful for you and your servant heart.
-I’m thankful for the long hours and thankless work you do behind the scenes.
-I’m not going to tell you what I want, but I’ll ask how I can better serve you.
-I’m committed to praying for your marriage, your children, your health, and your mental well-being.
-I’m going to do my best not to have my words or actions become thorns that test the resiliency of your thick skin.

As the director of church leadership publishing here at Group, I see my role as a leader who serves those who lead others. I’m here to help you be successful in all that you do and all you strive for. I’m committed to sharing with you fresh insights and new perspectives so that you may refresh your church…and in the process I hope to refresh you also.

The website exists to serve people in ministry…people like you.

5 thoughts on “Piercing the Pastor’s Thick Skin

  1. “And if the rigors of ministry weren’t enough, they’re also called upon to wear the hats of coach, counselor, and even custodian at times.”

    Does this suggest to you that the way we ‘do’ church might be really unhealthy? Maybe we are not meant to have one man doing and being everything. Maybe the whole body is called to gather together and minister to each other, each as they have been gifted.

    • Jean Askew

      This model is emphasized in many Presbyterian churches in which the pastor is the designated “teaching elder.” I have experienced, as a lay person, the importance of a public “dedication” during a Sunday service for church teachers and leaders, in which they vow to serve faithfully.

  2. As the wife of a pastor, an associate pastor myself, and a former small church pastor, I truly appreciate this post. Once (at a different church), an angry church member who was eating in the same restaurant we were refused to tip the waiter if he waited on us. We have received toxic mail at our home as well as our church. Do people not think that our children might see those things?! The thickest skin we must have is on our knees! Thanks for your encouraging words and prayers.

  3. yes I can attest our pastor is run ragged,we have a lot of elderly in our church,plus a lot of issues with younger adults,with marriage issues.we are part time snow birds so we try to help when we are here with whatever.we are seeing its so hard to get the younger 30s 40s age bracket to do much of anything,and they are not very good attenders our pastor with 2 other members including myself do the cleaning each week pastor wears many hats.

  4. Rev. Canon Tony W. Bouwmeester

    When my Bishop discussed my first appointment with me he said, “ I am sending you to a somewhat difficult two point Parish. Just remember you won’t be able to please them all.” My reaction was, “ Bishop I will please them all, some when I arrive, some while I am there, and the rest when you give me a new call, and I leave.” He said, “I think you are going to survive.”
    That was 1988, and I am now retired, and I would gladly do it all over again.
    All the pleasure of being a Pastor was worth the struggle with some who were a little difficult. I recommend every new Pastor read the book, “Antagonists in the Church,” by Kenneth C. Haugk, a real eye opener.

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Piercing the Pastor’s Thick Skin

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