Pastor for life

They say pastors resign on Monday morning. If you are a pastor and you preached one or two sermons over the weekend and ministered in a million ways to all who needed you, you probably know that after-the-glory blues feeling. Often the highs of the Sabbath are followed by the lows the next day. In your tired brain, you go through reruns of the myriad of incidents that crowded your demanding day. The elevated emotions of vigorous preaching took so much out of you that you know you will need a few days to recover from exhaustion...

Ivan Charles Blake, DMin, is pastor of the Fletcher Seventh-day Adventist Church, Fletcher, North Carolina, United States.

 

They say pastors resign on Monday morning.

If you are a pastor and you preached one or two sermons over the weekend and ministered in a million ways to all who needed you, you probably know that after-the-glory blues feeling. Often the highs of the Sabbath are followed by the lows the next day. In your tired brain, you go through reruns of the myriad of incidents that crowded your demanding day. The elevated emotions of vigorous preaching took so much out of you that you know you will need a few days to recover from exhaustion. One look into the mirror and you see that the aging process has accelerated, possibly irreversibly. And then that email or phone call casts doubts on your integrity, sincerity, or accuracy—a put-down that effectively knocks you down. After going through this wave-crashing experience for a number of years, a Monday morning resignation seems like a welcome release into anything but pastoral work.

Though some would disagree, many would insist that never before have pastors struggled more with too much work, too many unsolvable problems, far too much stress, and too little job satisfaction.

Disturbing data

One person gleaned data from several sources and published sobering information about pastors. He claims the following:

• Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.

• Eighty percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.

• Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.

• Seventy percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years of ministry, only 50 percent still felt called.

• Eighty percent of pastors surveyed spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer.

• Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

This report also reveals the feelings of pastors’ spouses:

• Eighty percent feel their spouse is overworked.

• Eighty percent wish thei r spouse would choose another profession.

• The majority of pastors’ spouses surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day the pastor entered the ministry.

And never should the feelings of the children of pastors be forgotten.

• Eighty percent of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.1

Reading through this alarming report may yield an understandable reaction from some: “Why don’t these pastors give priority to developing their relationship with God through personal Bible study and prayer? That should strengthen them to face the many challenges, and they will be overcomers instead of being overcome!”

Never has there been a more sound opinion. A strong relationship with God, daily nurtured, becomes the key to faithful and fruitful pastoral ministry. But might the issue of the high turnover of pastors be more complex than walking closely with God? The point—Monday morning resignations are mounting.

Who is retiring?

The opposite of the Monday morning resignation is the Saturday night joyful celebration of more than 40 years of fulfilling pastoral ministry.

How many of these honoring events occur where the celebrant spent all those years in pastoral ministry? By far, it seems that most retirement parties are for men and women who have served in various ministries of all descriptions.

All forms of ministry are worthy of celebration: teaching, administration, writing, editing, departmental, treasury, trust services, medical, evangelism, and many other areas. Many who enter these areas of ministry began their service as pastors. For a few years, they preached a fresh sermon every week; served a congregation with tireless energy; and comforted, counseled, and chaired committees all they could. Then the call came to move into another form of ministry.

There is no fault with someone moving from pastoral ministry to another form of ministry. The fault is found in this becoming a trend, resulting in the perceived shortage of experienced and seasoned pastoral leaders serving congregations and the consequence of less than optimally healthy congregations. There is no intention to denigrate the quality of pastoral leadership of those who have served congregations for 15, 10, or fewer years. There is also no intention to devalue the service rendered by those who moved from pastoral work to other forms of ministry. Spending 40 years in pastoral ministry does not, in itself, necessarily reflect quality ministry. There is, however, definite concern for the large number of pastors that are quick to “move on” to other nonpastoral ministries, often leaving behind congregations that miss out on seasoned leadership. And seasoned leadership is what the rigors of pastoral ministry in congregations calls for.

If the rigorous demands of pastoral work are real, then it seems logical that pastors need specialized training and postgraduate professional development, combined with several years of experience in cultivating the unique skills necessary to provide the kind of leadership congregations need. Churches can only suffer for the lack of such advanced training and skill development in the pastors who serve them. A decade of pastoral service is far too short a time to become proficient in meeting the needs of congregations.

Underserved congregations

Perception is often reality. And very often, perception is not subjected to rigorous examination or testing, but is mostly anecdotal. What does one hear while listening to church members talk among themselves right after their pastor moved on to a “higher calling” (a.k.a. higher organization)? Or after their pastor decided to go into counseling as a profession, or any number of other professions? Or after their pastors quit the ministry altogether for some secular employment? They typically express the need for a new pastor who preaches well, leads well, organizes well, and visits well because these are the areas of excellence in ministry in which a dearth exists. These are the abilities and qualities most desired, but it takes experience and hard work over a period of time to do them well.

It seems that we do not often have the ability to observe what healthy churches could look like because there are so few examples of seasoned pastors giving 40 or more years of quality service to congregations.

My burden is for more pastors to stay in pastoral work exclusively, giving themselves to qual i t y preaching, teaching, leading, and training. This yearning comes from personal experience after 38 years of ministry, all of which (except for six years in administrative leadership) were devoted to the pastorate. I have said no to several opportunities to move into other forms of ministry, due to my passion for providing churches with significantly developed pastoral skills and many years of experience.

During my 38 years, I served too many congregations. Instead of staying at one congregation for ten or more years, my average stay has been five years. This is not something to be proud of. Virtually every move occurred because a previous pastor left for some other form of ministry, went into secular work, or experienced a tragedy that terminated their ministry in the denomination. I often experienced sorrow for these fine persons who are talented, devoted, and needed in pastoral ministry. But they left, and I sensed the Holy Spirit’s leading to pick up where they left off. If only these persons had stayed on, worked through their tough issues, and were given necessary support, they could still be giving superior service to needy congregations.

Should we not be overwhelmed by a sense of need for churches to be served by men and women who have been trained, honed, and equipped by the Holy Spirit’s unction and who stay there to build God’s kingdom?

I have derived a high level of satisfaction in preaching the Word, loving the people, and leading in ministry. I wish that more would keenly and passionately long for that to be the experience of thousands of pastors, pastors who stay in the parish to lift up Jesus and love people with the grace of God!

What can ensure pastoring for life? In a study of pastoral morale among 172 Seventh-day Adventist pastors in the United States and Canada, a significant minority reported a variety of low morale experiences.2 Respondents offered possible remedies: changes in the structure of the pastorate that would make the ministry more fulfilling; relieving pastors of the administrative minutiae of the church; more continuing education with its development of talents and abilities; and a more equal relat ionship wi th conference administrators, including input into conference goals and programs.

These remedies may improve morale, but would they result in longer tenures for pastors? If these proposals were in place, there might be more pastors who would do so well that they would become “qualified” for opportunities to become departmental directors and, eventually, administrators.

The core issue, it seems to me, is a need for the development of, and commitment to, a culture of viewing pastoral leadership as the primary ministry in the denomination’s structure. This could be achieved by the following:

1. Designing and implementing a slimmer and more efficient administrative and departmental structure, hence reducing the need for so many personnel to occupy those positions.

2. Rotating qualified senior/lead pastors every two years in leading sections of a territory (conference or field) administratively while still occupying the pulpit and serving the pastorate.3

3. Working hard to provide meaningful support and assistance to pastors who need professional, collegial, and developmental security. Felt needs of pastors would be addressed. Resources can be available for developing the particular gifts of pastors. Personal problems should be seen as opportunities for growth rather than a threat to effectiveness.

4. Giving equality in rank by administrators with pastors being mor e accountable to thei r local lay leaders and congregations rather than administrators.

5. Establishing local ministerial support groups to provide a nonthreatening environment for spiritual and professional growth, including peer accountability.

6. Giving pastors the opportunity to maximize their personal leadership strengths. Staffing can be provided to make it possible for pastors not to be distracted by time-consuming and energydepleting assignments that do not fit their makeup.4

7. Placing efficient departmental leaders and administrators back in pastoral work every four or five years.5

8. Using the expertise at the local church level to provide training for church officers from several congregations instead of depending on departmental leaders to organize and present training. Observing how ministry, successfully done in a real setting, seems to be a more effective means of training. This will reduce the number of departmental leaders who could, instead, serve as effective pastors in local congregations.

Conclusion

Of greatest importance is the commitment of denominational leadership to show, in actions, that they mean what they say, “The local congregation is the most important part of our denomination.” Such actions will certainly include making it attractive and desirable for pastors to remain in congregational ministry for more than 40 years.

Imagine attending 10 retirement parties for men and women who have given themselves to ministry for more than 40 years and 9 of these celebrations are for parish pastors. Surely the result would be reflected in a growing number of healthy congregations!

Notes:

 

1 These statistics were collected by Richard A. Murphy in “Don’t Become a Statistic,” Life-Line for Pastors, April 2003, http://www.maranathalife.com/lifeline/03-04-p .htm (accessed April 19, 2010). (Life-Line for Pastors is a publication of Maranatha Life.) He drew information from across denominational lines and various sources, such as Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Global Pastors Network.

2 Roger L. Dudley and Des Cummings Jr., “Factors Related to Pastoral Morale in the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” Review of Religious Research 24, no. 2 (December 1982), 127.

3 This will lessen the administrative responsibility of one person, who, of necessity, has to give full-time attention
to the enormous task of leading a territory. It will spread the load among many, who will not be so swamped with
management tasks that they will be unable to lead a congregation at the same time. Financial management
could serve several territories from only a few locations nationally, utilizing technology and uniform policies.
The same can be done with the education and church ministries departments. A pragmatic formula can be
developed that calculates how many pastors should be in the field for every administrator and for every departmental leader in order to achieve optimum efficiency and maximize the number of pastors in the field. If a formula is applied to determine how many church members must be in attendance at weekly worship services (including other factors) before a pastor can be assigned to a congregation, then why not apply a similar formula to determine how many pastors need to be in the field before it will be feasible to establish conference administration and departmental leadership? Such a formula should be weighted heavily in favor of minimizing
full-time administrative and departmental personnel. This can easily be achieved, it seems to me, by giving many
senior pastors limited administrative responsibility.

4 Such staffing can be provided by part-time paid or volunteer persons whose gifts, training, and expertise can provide leadership in local church ministries such as Religious Liberty, health programs, publicity, singles, children, and youth ministries. This will be more difficult to implement in smaller churches where less talent may be available. Funding can be made available once volunteers demonstrate resulting membership growth by their
productivity. In a congregation that I recently served as pastor, the church board was reduced to a small number
of administratively gifted individuals who knew how to use their governing skills to manage the main direction of the church instead of micromanage the details of church operations. The day-to-day items were cared for by trustworthy volunteers who led the ministries of the church. This freed me, the pastor, to give more of my attention to preaching the Word and leading and training the people.

5 This would necessitate a revision to constitutions and by-laws, making provisions for term limits. It is recognized that continuity in leadership is important for the health of an organization. The redistribution of responsibility, however, to several senior pastors in the field will greatly reduce the need for full-time leadership that makes the organization dependent on their being in office for a long time, due to the complexity of their duties.

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Ivan Charles Blake, DMin, is pastor of the Fletcher Seventh-day Adventist Church, Fletcher, North Carolina, United States.

July/August 2010

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