NEWSWEEK recently reported a study of the American clergy made by Notre Dame sociologist John Koval which estimates that one in four U.S. Roman Catholic priests is ready to forsake his vows and one out of every eight Protestant ministers is seriously thinking of resigning his pastorate. 1
While Catholic fathers apparently are disgruntled about many issues, celibacy not being the least, the Protestant clergy are distressed by the " 'need for more money' " and the " 'seemingly futile and ineffectual work of the church.' "
Koval's study emphasizes that clergymen have not lost faith in their creeds, but they have become frustrated over the hopelessness of their mission.
Despair is in vogue. The last decade has seen men in every discipline throwing up their hands like children doing a finger play. Too frequently this mood of abandonment strikes the ranks of the Adventist ministry and threatens even greater infiltration.
Age is no safeguard in either direction. Only days ago the sad news came that a young friend had lost heart and dropped out of the work. Sometimes older men after long years of experience ask for a leave of absence that is understood to be a permanent one.
The temptation to become discouraged, like an uncontrolled virus, seems to lurk everywhere in the study when all alone, the pastor ponders his problems, in the executive committee room where grave dilemmas defy human solution, and even at workers' meetings when one bitter, despondent voice can cloud the conversation of a group of men enjoying a few moments of between-meeting fellowship.
Optimism a Necessity
Surely enough, the futilistic view musters sufficient fact to be convincing if we are not wary. A worker may begin indulging his feelings by looking at the terrifying amount of work to be done in his own conference or in his local district. He allows himself to think of how little he accomplishes in each short day, and he says to himself, "What's the use? I'm scarcely making a dent!"
The worker today sometimes falls to computing the many miles he is forced to travel, the time he sacrifices away from his family, the loss of rest and relaxation he suffers. He is tempted to say, "What's with it? I could make more money and support the church better if I were a good layman. Perhaps I might live longer at that!" Right at the moment he doesn't lay much value on that little white card in his wallet signifying his sacred calling.
A pastor observes the worldly pursuits, even open sin, that engulf many of his members, and he sighs, "Does my preaching have no effect at all?"
Our futilistic brother sees a great gap between the first vision he had of the soul-saving ministry and many of the actual duties that greedily gorge his time. His. head spins with directives from the various departments of the church until he cries within himself, "Am I only a promoter, a budget juggler, a campaign manager?"
Beware of Hazard
That such a spirit of futility exists is a grave hazard, but the real tragedy would be our failure to see it for what it is the scheme of Satan to destroy the ministry. It is the same assault that caused Jonah to check his baggage for Tarshish. It is the tactic that persuaded John Mark to become a missionary dropout. The feeling of despair brought the great prophet Elijah to the lowest ebb of his experience. But the servant of the Lord tells us that there is a way to overcome.
For the disheartened there is a sure remedy faith, prayer, work. Faith and activity will impart assurance and satisfaction that will increase day by day. Are you tempted to give way to feelings of anxious foreboding or utter despondency? In the darkest days, when appearances seem most forbid ding, fear not. Have faith in God. He knows your need. He has all power. His infinite love and com passion never weary. Fear not that He will fail of fulfilling His promise. He is eternal truth. Never will He change the covenant He has made with those who love Him. And He will bestow upon His faithful servants the measure of efficiency that their need demands. --Prophets and Kings, pp. 164, 165. (Italics supplied.)
What a marvelous assurance!
Is it possible for us to spend too much time thinking without praying, more time looking at the work than working? A busy man does not have time to become discouraged. His very usefulness is an antidote to an attitude of futility.
We Have That Power
If false shepherds lacking the Spirit and power of God are quitting their clergy, then let it only remind us that the Holy Spirit is thoroughly entrenched in the camp of truth and all His strength is on our side to enable us to finish the work.
True, we find ourselves inundated by the magnitude of the work. It seems that the nearer we approach the end, the more the work increases. Our churches and our people are faced with new problems today that bear heavily on the pastor and add to his burdens. In order to meet the rapidly changing mores of civilization the work of God is constantly expanding and supplementing old methods. This too multiplies the work to be done. In the face of all this it is for each of us to cast his own will. What purpose would be served by quitting? How much would that accomplish? The faithful worker sees the enormity of the work to be done as the very reason for keeping at his post. Never has there been a greater opportunity to be used---never has the cause of God needed him more.
Although the apostle Peter was speaking of the Christian calling in general, these words in his second Epistle are very applicable to the ministry:
So, dear brothers, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen, and then you will never stumble or fall away. And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter in to the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:10, 12, Taylor).2
It has been almost twenty years since my husband and I accepted this calling. There have been trying times when only Heaven could see the way out for us; there have been weeks and months of hard physical labor; but there has been the constant hand of God leading to triumph and success. We saw it in the beginning; it still exists. We will not give it up now or, with His help, ever!
1 Newsweek, "Clergy Under Stress," January 25, 1971, p. 57.
2 From The Living Bible, Tyndale House, Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. Used by permission.