Interview: Pastors Need Friends, Hobbies Too

A picture of one man pulling the other up the hill
A picture of one man pulling the other up the hill (photo:
By Steve Sun April 3rd, 2023

Pastors are also ordinary people who may encounter difficulties, and they need personal space to relieve their pressures.

Recently, the Christian Times, an online Chinese Christian newspaper, interviewed Pastor Xin Xiangrong (pseudonym) in East China. He is a millennial and the third-generation Christian in his family.

He started to work as a pastor in City C, East China, after graduating from a theological seminary in 2013. In 2019, he left his mother church and planted a new church. He feels that being a pastor is not easy. "Pastors are very lonely people, and they need support from different systems," he said. In addition to spiritual and family system support, he believes that they need their friends’ support.

Pastor Xin said: “I used to serve in rural churches for many years. As my pastoral experience grew, I encountered bottlenecks and pressures. However, such difficulties were often not meant for my family and believers to know. For example, when a young pastor is recruited, he needs to work with an experienced pastor, which requires a lot of running in.”

He gave an example: “On the issue of running-in between a veteran pastor and an inexperienced one, the pastoral guidance book says that it is normal to meet the alternation and running-in between the two. New, inexperienced pastors should be humble and obedient. However, it is easy to ignore that running in itself is very harmful to the new worker. Because a new worker occasionally finds himself misunderstood after an old worker completely rejects him after exchanging opposing viewpoints, it is not always because he is not humble and does not tolerate the experienced pastor. For instance, in the early years of my ministry, I had a different concept from the old one in promoting a ministry to train young people. The old pastor thought that it was not necessary for the church to spend money to train young people to become full-time pastors and then pay them again to serve the church. The proposed ministry so failed.”

Pastor Xin explained: “For a pastor, it is a kind of harm if the church staff and believers view his ministry from a worldly perspective. How should a pastor define the success of his ministry? This is a very important question, which, when correctly defined, is a kind of protection for the pastor. The worldly standards set by staff or believers will harm him otherwise. Often they will look at it from a worldly perspective: how many people attend your services, how much contribution your church receives, how grand your church building is, and so on. However, my understanding is that the success of the pastoral ministry lies in educating more young staff to serve the church full-time, opening up diversified ministries, and increasing the inner life of the believers.”

He continued, “The success of pastors also lies in their patience and continuous support for the believers until their lives mature. How to balance the tension between the practicality and belief of contemporary young people is a big challenge to me because they bear a pressure that is greater than any other generation. The Boomers’ pressure is far less than that of the Millennials, who are the middle generation.”

“As a pastor, how do I balance the tension, especially after they are married and have children, and meanwhile need various supports for family, parenting, education, and marriage within the faith? How to give them the kind of words and practical care when they are struggling is a very challenging part for pastors, because many pastors are serving under this kind of pressure. It will definitely affect their beliefs and services if they cannot find a way to relieve their inner pressures. I think many colleagues are serving from mental pain. Therefore, in different fields such as family and marriage counseling, youth counseling, and workplace counseling, we have set up courses to help people find out what is missing and fill the gaps to understand the path of unity between faith and life.”

Pastor Xin stated emotionally: “Pastors are often unable to talk about it to their families, and sometimes it is even more impossible to talk to colleagues and believers in the same church. Believers will very easily judge you. They think that you are a superhero and that you should not show signs of weakness. This means that we cannot talk to our unbelieving friends and classmates, including the classmates in the seminary, as we are far from each other. In fact, they cannot empathize with you. At present, I have four pastor soulmates of different ages who can share everything. When we meet, we will talk more about the plight of our current and new ministries, our coordination, and our inner struggles.”

“In addition, I see that pastors often have no room for their own relief. There are a number of issues affecting our leisure. In fact, pastors also need hobbies, but the mood evoked by the believers is that pastors are not to have their own hobbies. Some like to travel very much, and some prefer to exercise together. However, many believers’ eyes are fixed on them, and they think that pastors should live like saints and not have the feeling that ordinary people have. That means many pastors around me only relieve their pressure by watching mobile phone videos. That is absolutely unhealthy. Pastors should have their own private time and do some sports and activities that they like. Pastors need to be entertained through hobbies, and believers need to treat pastors like ordinary people. We have also tried to organize gatherings such as sports events in the church, but because the time of pastors and believers is often not aligned, we cannot do it in the end.”

- Translated by Charlie Li

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