Book Reviews

The Inevitable Stress

In my work, I get to talk to a lot of pastors.  I try to encourage them by reminding them, and anybody else who will hear me, that one of the hardest jobs in today’s world is to be the pastor of the local church.  I know this, because I’ve been one.  One of the inevitabilities of being pastor of the local church is stress, usually in copious quantities.

Tony Pappas wrote a little book back in 1995 that I wish I had read back in 1995.  It’s entitled Pastoral Stress:  Sources of Tension, Resources For Transformation (Alban Institute).  In just over 140 pages, he writes helpfully and with personal anecdote about how to recognize and deal with stress in ministry, and where much of that stress comes from, in terms of family systems.  The role of the pastor in the system or systems that make up the church can be major stressors. 

Stress can be a gift if we recognize it for what it is and seek God in the midst of it.  Anxiety, on the other hand, is purely optional.  Anxiety is often our natural response to stress, yet God invites us to look beyond the immediate moment to the bigger picture of what his Body in that particular place is, and can be.

It would take too long to delineate the examples and the sources that Pappas offers in his book.  Suffice it to say that, had I read this book back when it was published, I might not have made some of the mistakes I’ve made.  (Alternatively, I might have made them with at least a greater sense of conviction!) 

Much of the book may make more sense to American readers, since he writes from within that culture and context, but Canadian pastors and church leaders will strongly identify with much of what is in this book.

Toward the end, Pappas points out that the culture around the church is changing, and the church (and its culture[s]) have a responsibility before God to grapple with that.  When this book was published, some of those cultural shifts which we consider normative today were just poking above the surface of the landscape (to mix my metaphors).  This is one of the greatest challenges that faces the church of Jesus Christ today, and while Pappas did not deal with it at length, his work gives the reader several tools for discernment.

I recommend this book.