Faith

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

Image via Shutterstock, a black pastor smiling with his family.

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.

The Barna study also measured self-reported rates of “burnout,” associated — among other things — with ministry dissatisfaction. “Those who report low overall vocational satisfaction or low satisfaction with their current church ministry are much more likely than the norm to say it’s true that ministry has been hard on their family,” the study reported.

According to Barna, 75 percent of those at high relational risk reported that their current ministry has been hard on their family, with 41 percent saying this is “completely” true and 34 percent saying it is “somewhat true.” Overall, less than half of all pastors said this. Relationally high-risk pastors were also more likely than those at low risk to report lower levels of satisfaction with their current church ministry: only 30 percent said they were very satisfied, compared to 65 percent of low-risk leaders.

The effect of ministry on a pastor’s family is tied to that pastor’s ministry satisfaction, Barna concluded.

The Barna study also reported shockingly high levels of porn use among pastors, with over half admitting to having struggled with it in the past. Porn is the most likely addiction among pastors.

Nevertheless, pastors report higher satisfaction with their spouses and children than average adults. This could be due to the pressure pastors and their families experience to be the best in their community, but it is still heartening — especially contrasted with the porn statistics — that pastors still prioritize and maximize their family relationships, despite at least some level of work-life strain.

Pastors are likely not unique in reporting some strain between work and family life, but they can perhaps present a model of successful marital and parenting relationships. There might be something in the extra prayer and Bible reading for which pastors are known that encourages and inspires better family lives. It might be wise for the rest of us to take stock and learn from their examples.