The nonproductive pastor.

The nonproductive pastor

Upon beginning our ministry we feel that we can conquer the world, and we set out in a whirlwind of activity to prove it. Later in our ministry we feel that the world has conquered us, and our level of productivity begins to prove it. How can we avoid becoming just another mortality statistic among clergy failures? If we are an administrator, how can we infuse new life into a pastor who has become paralyzed with inactivity? The counsel offered here is invaluable.

Kevin Howse is a lecturer in the theology department, Newbold College, Bracknell, England.

During the early years of his ministry the young pastor tends to be an indefatigable worker. His productivity puts inactive pastors to shame. His churches love and deeply appreciate the young dynamo as he conducts his lively and creative program almost single-handedly. For several years he maintains this vigorous program, encouraged by his superiors, rewarded by his congregation(s), and lamented by his wife and family.

But then mid-life crisis strikes. Perhaps his health breaks down, his body being unable to keep pace with his hectic and compulsive lifestyle. Perhaps his neglected wife threatens to leave him, or his children rebel, tired of being third-class citizens of his world. Or perhaps the stress and strain of his workaholism gets the better of him, and his emotional control system breaks down. Then he begins to evaluate his life by the things he has not yet done and perhaps will never do. By whatever means the crisis comes, it dawns on him that ambition and hyperactivity have been a poor measure of success. He asks himself some painful questions: "What is it all worth if I lose what is really important in life—my health, my family, my eternal security? What does all this success really prove? Am I about to become just another mortality statistic among clergy failures?"

In dealing with the problem of the nonproductive pastor, we start with the assumption that for the most part the nonproductive pastor is made, not born. Admittedly, there may be some who are not suited to the ministry because perhaps they perceived the ministerial profession as a comfortable retreat from responsibility and strenuous work. They are basically lazy. Or perhaps they saw the church as an institutional umbrella promising maximum security for a mini mum of personal investment. However, most of those entering and remaining in the ministry have followed higher motivations than these.

There is more to the nonproductive pastor than meets the eye of the anxious congregation. Erratic visitation, poorly prepared sermons, inadequate administration, and general apathy often belie a more profound problem. His lack of motivation is often not the direct result of dwindling spirituality, self-interest, theological deviance, disloyalty to the church, or faulty vocational calling. Consequently, the common remedies that have been recommended and applied in the past treat only the symptoms of the problem, leaving the fundamental cause untouched. Indeed, administrative pressure, misunderstanding, or neglect serve only to aggravate an already delicate situation.

The process whereby the pastor becomes inactive and ineffective is, in many respects, like that of the burnout process. The job burnout process moves through four distinct stages. Stage 1: Enthusiasm. Initially the individual commences work with high hopes and expectations. Stage 2: Stagnation. Gradually the individual becomes ineffective (not doing the right things) and inefficient (not doing things right). Stage 3: Frustration. He experiences confusion and intense disappointment as enthusiasm has been wasted, expectations have been thwarted, and hopes dashed. Either the anger felt at this time can provide the energy for creative change, resulting in a new and more realistic enthusiasm, or else its energy can be wasted, leaving the pastor apathetic. Stage 4: Apathy. Finally, in an attitude of defiant acceptance, the individual gives up hope and becomes nonproductive, cynical, and inactive.

Nonproductivity and the pastoral life cycle

To understand better the problem of nonproductivity, we must be aware of the unique anxieties that a pastor experiences during an average pastoral life cycle.

The early life. The stages of burnout can be active throughout the pastoral life cycle but perhaps are felt most keenly during the early years. The period between completion of ministerial preparation until a few years after ordination are the most stressful years, being a time of major adjustment.

The young intern often commences ministry with great anticipation and an enthusiastic willingness to sacrifice and serve. However, during the very early months of ministry he makes the transition from student to teacher/pastor, and from young person to adult. The anticipation of a life career clashes with fear of the unknown as he begins to reevaluate his unrealistic expectations. The joy of recent academic success and achievement is dampened by the awful realization that he doesn't know everything and indeed has serious skill deficits. The relief of having finally arrived in the place of his calling is tempered by feelings of loss, loneliness, and seclusion, having left the comfort and safety of friends, home, and a familiar environment. The young intern wrestles with feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and loneliness and even questions his calling to the ministry.

Internship experiences will either serve to breed disillusionment, anxiety, fear, and skepticism or nurture fulfillment, hope, and success. Leiffer's study1 demonstrated that younger pastors tend to be more radical and action-oriented than older ministers. This phenomenon often results in frustration and conflict as to the role of the minister and the church, because it appears that neither are the agents of change, but rather stand fixed as bulwarks against it. The young pastor's enthusiasm becomes tempered by the apparent rigidity and coldness of others.

Upon becoming frustrated, angry, and disillusioned, the young pastor is reduced to a condition of static inefficiency. He either searches for ways to drop out respectably or, instead of dropping out, searches for an alternative spiritual gift and calling. Constant moves, higher education in paraministry specialization, and diverting energy into special challenging projects may provide respectable alternatives.

The mid-life preacher. Mid-life can be characterized as a period of disillusionment and soul-searching, as the pastor comes to detest his compulsiveness as well as all those who have manipulated this trait and rewarded him for it. Real enjoyment and satisfaction in ministry is depleted as the pastor tends to spend more time in the activities he likes least and considers least important, while spending relatively little time in the activities he likes most and considers most important. 2 He begins to realize that busyness and success can be two different, although often confused, criteria by which to gauge effectiveness in ministry.

If he and his family survive the mid-life crisis, three alternatives are possible. He may discover new and more realistic criteria than busyness by which to measure pastoral effectiveness, and consequently implement a more balanced style of life and work. However, as a reaction to his previous compulsive activity, it is not uncommon for such a pastor to reverse his behavior patterns completely. He may take up hobbies, television, sports, or other "escape" activities almost as devotedly as he previously worked, while maintaining a minimal involvement in all but the essential pastoral responsibilities. He appears unmotivated and disinterested in his profession, demonstrating mean while considerable enthusiasm for his substitute activities. Or, finally, he may escape by abandoning his profession and perhaps even his faith. In so doing, he may think that he has treated the problem at the cause, but more often than not he has merely changed hats.

The aging pastor. As the years go by, a cloud of frustration and desperation frequently settles over the minister, who, being sensitive to the changing needs of the church and world around him, realizes that these needs demand new abilities and skills. He realizes he is no longer as effective as he once was. He feels trapped. On the one hand, he fears to get involved lest he expose his inadequacy, but on the other hand, he feels that updating his skills would be impractical.

Many a minister who mastered the skills necessary for effective ministry during previous generations finds himself growing inadequate to the unique demands of the 1980s. He lacks the skills of family counseling and youth ministry. Such a pastor feels powerless as he helplessly watches families split apart and youth march out the back door of the church. The task of reaching a post- Christian, secular, technological society demands a new vocabulary and a vastly different set of evangelistic skills. And so he looks on in dismay as churches that he once labored hard to build dwindle in membership.

Added to this, health problems and energy depletion may also limit his ability to work at the same pace as he once did. It is not that he is lazy or poorly intentioned, but rather that he is ineffective because of not being able to update his skills to meet the needs of a rapidly changing society. Consequently, instead of his many years of spiritual leadership climaxing as he comes to retirement age, he may find that he is merely biding his time while his ministry fizzles to an end.

Personality traits and nonproductivity

Personality factors are both learned and inherited, and these traits generally tend to predispose individuals to certain professions. The following personality types are often associated with those who choose religious professions, but they sometimes bring the negative effects of stress.

The sensitive. Those called to the ministry often possess qualities that are both their greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Sensitivity is one example of such a quality. In the daily course of ministry the pastor is called upon to be sensitive to the personal needs and conflicts of individuals in his congregation. His caring, nurturing, empathizing qualities provide a basis for personal ministry. Without sensitivity there can be no compassion, and without compassion there can be no effective Christian ministry.

However, this very quality can also make the pastor vulnerable to offense. Misunderstandings with church leader ship, inequities and injustices in the administration of policy, personal criticism, and petty church fights provide the bulk of offenses that often turn into resentment.

Over the years the sensitive individual can allow these painful emotional experiences to drain him of his compassion. He becomes cold, critical, cynical, and aloof, and his interpersonal effectiveness is all but destroyed. He permits his bruised sensitivity to sabotage effectively his ability to be sensitive to others.

The angry/hurt idealist. In a study of Lutheran pastors this characterization was the most frequent of any for pastors (22 percent) and their wives (15 percent). "They tend to be friendly, outgoing, anxious to please, and they are usually interested in new ideas. Their response to stress and frustration, however, contains a mixture of immaturity, poorly controlled expression of hostility, and self-centered demands. They experience temper outbursts and make threats resulting from the poorly controlled anger, even though they usually make considerable effort to repress untoward feelings." 3

The very nature of Christian doctrine and pastoral ministry demands a high level of idealism. Properly balanced, it is a quality that inspires hope and optimism, and, as a leadership quality, brings out the best in people. However, the pastor learns quickly that not all is as he expected it should be. The church is not as enthusiastic about its goals as it should be, and Christians don't always behave as they should. Sermons, no matter how well conceived and delivered, do not always result in changes in the life of individuals or the congregation. Problems do not simply evaporate with prayer, Bible study, and witnessing. Grand illusions and unrealistic expectations, when confronted by reality, result in disappointment, hurt, anger, and disillusionment. The resulting underlying hostility is most often communicated nonverbally in his tone of voice as he preaches his sermon or complains about church members and leadership. Emotionally, his anger drains him of his life-giving qualities. Spiritually, he grows cold and lifeless. Such realities cause a crisis in the early ministry of young pastors, and many never fully recover.

As an alternative to becoming more flexible in their high expectations of the church, some simply drop out. Wilson concludes from his study of men leaving the ministry that these tend to have a "fairly rigid view of what the church ought to be."4 Meanwhile, others go on clinging to their original ideas and hide their frustrations and anger behind a tenacious adherence to rules and authorities that give them support, thus justifying their idealistic crusade against all those who do not agree and cooperate.

The undisciplined. In daily ministry considerable self-discipline is necessary. The pastor is often pulled in many conflicting directions. The demands placed on him to administer, study, preach, counsel, teach, and evangelize leave him fragmented. His work is never done to the satisfaction of himself, let alone others. Thus he reduces his goals to doing only what he has been asked to do. Success deteriorates to keeping people happy. Planning gives way to rushing around putting out fires. His ministry is a constant round of indiscriminate action. The vast array of expectations, duties, and demands leaves him confused and with a feeling of always being behind.

Others may describe such a person as lazy, but he would quickly argue in his defense that he had done a mountain of tasks, traveled many miles, and skimped on his sleep. They perceive him to be inactive because he is doing nothing of importance that has overall purpose or direction.

How to help the nonproductive pastor

While the pastor must ultimately accept responsibility for his feelings, goals, and behavior, he must also find understanding and acceptance from those whose responsibility it is to "pas tor" the pastor. The following are suggested guidelines for helping the inactive pastor.

1. Make your leadership person-centered rather than product-centered. The most valuable investment in any organization is people. If those who are responsible for the well-being of employees wish to avoid contributing to burn out, they must undertake long-range planning in order to offer person-centered leadership, and replace material priorities with human and spiritual values. Productivity is achieved when there is a realistic balance between the needs for organizational prosperity and individual well-being. It is an accepted fact that productivity loss can be caused by work overload, boredom, unrealistic deadlines, improper training and super vision, fear motivation, inadequate rest periods, and no opportunity for growth, to mention just a few factors. 5 Before inactive pastors are condemned, leaders must first ask themselves the question "What are we doing or not doing to contribute to the problem?" When an individual within the system malfunctions, the system itself must assume some responsibility.

The majority of inactive pastors are burned out, unsupervised, over whelmed, and discouraged. The stresses of ministry have left them feeling tired, guilty, lonely, and confused. Consequently, either they escape into an isolated and "safe" world where failure is avoided by not trying or they invest themselves in relentless busyness and active nonproductivity. Inactive pastors do not need criticism; they need under standing and assistance in developing self-awareness, self-esteem, and realistic goals for self-directed behavior.

2. Create a positive work environment for the pastor working under your leader ship. Burnout is present in environments with strong evidence of fear and a lack of trust. Jack Gibbs, psychologist and management consultant, has suggested that job burnout is significantly related to the degree of personal and trusting relation ships on the job. Fear, he suggests, is the major stifler of creativity and imagination. 6 Potential burnout environments are those in which the lack of trust is demonstrated through such means as limited growth opportunity, overcontrol, obvious management manipulative strategies, insensitivity, and nonexistent delegation. Organizations that demand unquestioning loyalty to hierarchical systems and stress high productivity as opposed to personal effectiveness and fulfillment may be creating the crippling stagnation, infighting, and low productivity that they are seeking to correct or avoid.

On the other hand, trust eliminates fear and minimizes distress. A century ago Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, father of Italian unification, constructed a new and more creative environment by advocating the idea that the person who trusts others will make fewer mistakes than the person who distrusts them.

3. Use support systems to manage role conflicts. If the pastor is to adjust to the role conflicts confronting him, struggle successfully to find the purpose and meaning of the church and his ministry, and achieve personal growth, he will need lifelong supervision and support in three major areas of adjustment:

a. Personal support. In adulthood men generally find great difficulty in making close friends. Added to this, ministry can be a lonely profession. Companionship needs cannot be expected to be entirely met by the spouse and immediate family. Consequently, the pastor must make intentioned efforts to find meaningful friendships that meet his social needs.

b. Spiritual support. The effect of personal spirituality on pastoral effectiveness is well understood, but there is little appreciation of the effect of ministry on spirituality. Tiredness, anxiety, loneliness, fear, and frustration all take their toll on spiritual vitality and freshness. In order to bring accountability and insight to this vital aspect of pastoral growth, each pastor must have a spiritual supervisor/support person with whom stresses and anxieties can be shared and plans for personal spiritual growth discussed.

c. Professional support. Growth in effective pastoral skills is an ongoing process. However, seminars, workshops, and workers' meetings offer information but little assessment of a person's effectiveness on the job. Pastors require assistance in clarifying issues that tend to confuse that which is personal with that which is professional. Consequently, professional support systems are needed in order to provide an opportunity for systematic self-appraisal and goal-setting in structuring for professional growth, clarifying issues in church and personal conflicts, analyzing difficult cases in counseling, establishing goals and evaluating plans, assessing worship, sermon, and preaching styles, et cetera.

Supervision/support systems are essential during crucial transitional stages in the life cycle of the pastor. During the early, mid-life, and later years pastors have special needs and tasks that when ignored lead to crisis rather than growth and maturity. Consequently, pastors are lost to the ministry simply because developmental tasks were ignored or help came too late. Each group requires special attention and support in order for the pastors to move through the issues unique to their stage of life and work.

In conclusion, while this article makes no pretense at being a comprehensive review of the problem, it is hoped that pastors and church administrators will take another look at the unique stress and developmental crises of ministry and attempt to formulate a positive response. By so doing, they will enrich intrachurch relationships, and both pastoral and organizational goals will more likely be achieved.

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Kevin Howse is a lecturer in the theology department, Newbold College, Bracknell, England.

September 1984

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