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Pastors Report Better Family Life, But Nearly Half Say Ministry Takes a Toll

A recent study from the Barna Research Group found that a vast majority of pastors report high levels of satisfaction with their family lives, but that nearly half of them also admit that ministry has a negative impact on their relationship with spouses and children.

In "The State of Pastors: How Today's Faith Leaders Are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity," released last week, the Barna Group reported that pastors are far more likely than average U.S. adults to rate their relationship with spouses and children as "excellent," even though a large portion of these ministers say their work has been difficult on their family.

A whopping 70 percent of U.S. pastors said their marriage relationship was "excellent," while 26 percent described it as "good." In the overall population, less than half of U.S. adults (46 percent) ranked their marriage relationship as "excellent," while 35 percent described it as "good." Four times as many Americans (12 percent) as pastors (3 percent) said their marriage was "average," and seven times as many Americans (7 percent) as pastors (1 percent) said their marriage was "below average" or "poor."

A similar trend emerged when pastors and U.S. adults were asked about their relationship with children. A full 60 percent of pastors described their parenting relationship as "excellent," and 36 percent described it as "good." Only 46 percent of U.S. adults said their relationship with their children was "excellent," and only 32 percent described it as "good." Four times as many adults (16 percent) as pastors (4 percent) said their parenting was "average," and 6 percent of adults (no pastors) described it as "below average" or "poor."

Yet this pastor family panacea is not without its downsides. Roughly one-quarter of today's pastors have faced significant marital problems (26 percent) or parenting problems (27 percent) during ministry tenure. Pastors aged 50 and older are more likely to report these problems.

Nearly half of pastors said that their current church tenure has been difficult on their family. While only 8 percent said this is "completely true" for them, 40 percent at least acknowledge it is "somewhat true." This means that 48 percent of pastors admit that their current ministry has caused some strain on their family.

About one third (33 percent) said it is "not very" true, but even this arguably means that their current ministry has had some — slight — negative impact on family. If taken this way, a full 81 percent of pastors admitted some family strain from ministry, however slight. Only 19 percent said it is "not at all true" that their current church tenure has been difficult on their family.