Pastor - Calling or Identity?

Pastor, do you identify with any of the following?

  • Feelings of failure when the church does not achieve the desired progress?

  • Driven to prove yourself?

  • Prone to overwork as a regular habit?

  • Quick to defend yourself at the slightest criticism?

If you answered “yes” to any of those things, you may be basing your identity too closely on your role as pastor and “success” in ministry.

And what’s wrong with that you might ask?  After all, pastoring is not just what I do, it is who I am!

Pastoring is a part of who you are, yes, and encompasses more than just vocational life. It overlaps with spiritual, social, and even family life. Yet, pastoring does not completely define who you are. Pastor is a calling, not a total identity!

If you make your role as pastor the primary definition of who you are (the term for this way of thinking is “performance-based self-esteem”), there is something you should know.  

My research as well as the research of others shows that people, including pastors, who base their identity too closely on a defined role demonstrate a heightened tendency to burnout.

Here’s why:

  • When things go well we feel successful but when things go poorly we struggle with a sense of failure.

  • When criticism or conflict erupts we’re much more likely to take it very personally and either become depressed or angry and defensive. 

  • We may even work harder and harder, not only to build the kingdom, but also to prove ourselves successful.

  • We may often feel as though we have something to prove to others or ourselves.

What’s the alternative? Opt to develop a secure identity in Christ, and transition through life’s changes and the ups and downs of ministry less stressfully.

How to make that change? Here are three practical steps you can take to move toward a more secure identity:

  1. Mentally reframe your self-concept. Your identity is in Christ. That identity does not change based on current circumstance, whether favorable or unfavorable.

  2. Create a more balanced lifestyle. Develop other areas of your life. Other interests, family and friendships.

  3. Nurture your relationship with God. Spend time with Him apart from sermon prep and prayers for the church.

  You can have a life, be a person, and pastor too!


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Dr. JeannieComment