The Broken Nature Of Pastoral Practice
A few weeks back, KruseKronicle posted a link to some disturbing statistics on the emotional health of professional clergy from Eugene Cho (drawing from Todd Rhoades, who in turn was citing Dan Chun). Then a couple of days later, reflecting on those stats, Michael wondered if there was a link between the challenges faced by […]
A few weeks back, KruseKronicle posted a link to some disturbing statistics on the emotional health of professional clergy from Eugene Cho (drawing from Todd Rhoades, who in turn was citing Dan Chun). Then a couple of days later, reflecting on those stats, Michael wondered if there was a link between the challenges faced by clergy and the widespread lack of interest in the ministry of the laity outside the walls of the church, quoting from William Diehl,
‚Äú‚Ä¶In the almost thirty of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been and enquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church doesn‚Äôt have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work.‚Äù
At first, I was inclined to agree with Paul at Prodigal Kiwi that these are two issues with two sets of causes. But maybe they both speak to a problem of superficiality within the life of the church. Surely a clergy that cannot understand what it means to be missional in the workplace and hold down a fulltime, longterm job (whilst also raising a family and maintaining contacts in the larger community) would surely be unable to win support and encouragement in the long-term?
When I look back on my days at theological college, there were a few who were aggressively chasing leadership roles in the denomination (even as students). I tended to find these folks rather shocking, since for me the call to ministry had involved a painful disavowel of careerism. Looking back quite a few have been sucessful in their quest, becoming the new leadership “class.”
What is interesting is that most of these folks had little real church leadership experience before college and hardly any work experience, with many never having held down a job for more than a year. But the reality is for the baptistic approach to church to work, it requires pastoral leaders who can mobilise a lay leadership that are sacrificing time to serve whilst holding down long term employment.
Maybe this is the missional-malfunction in some of our churches? A leadership class who do not understand and have no experience in holding down a job and a place in the community whilse serving, leading and teaching in the church? It might go some way to explaining the lack of pastoral curiosity about faith in workplace that I have heard a number of lay Christians speak of, especially those in business careers.
But, as dysfunctional as all that sounds, I’m not sure it is a sufficient explanation for all the hurt that ministers experience. Consider this other set of statistics from Resurgence (via Glenn’s Journey). In particular, two points stood out from the list Glenn compiled,
“Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.”
One of the most frequent lies I’ve heard in ordination/installation adresses is how the minister in question could have been a success in any career they had chosen. Truth is there are very such polymaths in the world and even fewer in the ministry – in fact few of the people I went to college would have not been an oustanding “success” in any career. From a spiritual point that is probably not an issue at all. It’s only a healthy materialism (or practical atheism) that makes us want to entertain the notion that our pastor could have been a captain of industry, or Nobel prize winner had they not chosen to entertain us every Sunday instead.
But in a missional-era, perhaps a failure to train ministers who can work while leading is also connected to a failure to train pastors who can study while working? Over the years I’ve been frequently alarmed by those going into ministry who view theological education as a ticket to a job, or a necessary hoop to jump through, often treating academic study of scripture as disconnected from spiritual development.
The integration of work, study and pastoral practice comes up in the comments and discussion following John Smulo’s post, The Charmed Life of Pastors. Both John and Randall Friesen in his relection on Cho and Rhoades thoughts, –Wanna be a pastor? point to a harsh reality – there is something broken in the way we do church that is breaking a lot of pastors.
Paul at Out of the Cocoon sums up some of the issues neatly as problems of “… scarce resources and overstretched expectations.” He links to a telling comment from Tom at BigBulkyAnglican about a colleague riding the edge of burnout. It’s points to one of the most documented sources of clergy-stress, loneliness and isolation.
On a totally contrarian tangent, The Eighth Day links to a study suggesting that clergy are the happiest, most satisfied American workers. It is a hard one to tally with the other reflections on the pain and hardship that clergy suffer. However it doesn point to the fact that when one is involved in genuine service, when teaching does flourish and when when ministry and mission are at the forefront, Christian service can be rewarding and satisfying in a way unmatched by any other calling. That it so often is not as fulfilling or joyful speaks volumes of the broken nature of pastoral practice today.
[tags] Pastor, Leadership, Burnout, Ministry, Clergy [/tags]