Understanding the Stressors of a Pastor’s Family
Life in the Fishbowl
Pastors’ marriages and families face the same life stressors as other couples and families. In addition, they interact and live with an exceptionally large extended family; this extended family is the congregation. This unique situation has been described as living in a fishbowl and is the result of the congregational life becoming so intertwined with theirs. At times, it seems as if their lives are an open book that can be viewed, even scrutinized, by congregational members as well as by the larger community. The family may feel that they are on stage 24/7 and need to present themselves well, if not flawlessly. They feel the pressure to be the perfect family, above reproach. Yet reproach inevitably comes, for it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, especially when there are numerous, yet conflicting expectations to be met. Even so, people pleasing remains the goal and is encouraged. This can be frustrating and painful. All of the above and more are added challenges for pastors’ marriage and family relationships.
Pastors, pastors’ spouses, and pastors’ children have been the subject of some (not enough) research. The clergy profession has been identified as a high stress profession along with the professions of police, firefighters, and health care personnel. Being employed in the congregational setting has been found to impact the entire family. The research has identified various stressors that are unique to these families. The stressors include:
- Unreasonably high expectations
- Difficult time demands
- Intrusion of family boundaries
- Lack of support and loneliness
- Frequent relocation
- Inadequate financial resources
- Parsonage living
- Congregational conflict
- Threat of forced resignation or termination
Any of the above pressures can take their toll on these individuals’ physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. And what often happens is that they are so busy caring for others that they neglect to care for themselves. Feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety, depression, resentment and anger, a diminishing self-esteem, and a sense that one’s voice, autonomy, and identity are slipping away can result.
Living in the midst of a congregation can be wonderful, awful, and everything in between. Perhaps you or your family has experienced this spectrum of experiences. You may have enjoyed wonderful friendships and may have also been caught in the cross fire of congregational conflicts. Perhaps you have been joyfully embraced. Perhaps you have also experienced the hurtful and damaging cold shoulder of rejection. You may feel gratitude for the good times and you may have learned much from the difficult times.
Yet, do you ever wish that you would have known then what you know now? Do you wish that someone would have talked openly about all of this and not allowed the difficulties to be swept under the carpet? Do you wish that you would have had the assurance that you were not alone during the times you were struggling to cope with negative congregational dynamics?
You are not alone. Please contact me so that we can identify and explore these important issues together. I am passionate about shedding light on the pressures you are facing. My expertise arises from personal experiences spanning over 20 years while being in the role of “the pastor’s wife” and was also deliberately honed as I spent time reading much of the available research on clergy families when doing my final graduate work. I understand and grasp the issues at play. And I am here for you.