"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
April 23, 2007

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,

“…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’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work.”

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]

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7
Responses
jim 15 years ago

I’m a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA.) I recently got into a bit of an argument with a woman from another church in our denomination who was complaining about having to pay a pastor. I said to her, “Look, the rest of the church world is figuring out that the solo pastor isn’t really working, and that the lay folks need to be trained and involved in the work of the church, in ministry, and in mission out in the world.”

She replied, “Well, I guess we’ll just pay our pastor then.”

I love being a full time pastor in my small 90 member church. I love preparing sermons, I love having time to study and read, and I feel like I’m in a pretty good church without a lot of pathology. I also love being paid for all of that. But at the same time there isn’t one day that goes by that I don’t wonder if our church or our members are having any real impact or affect on the world around us and if my being paid by them to be their full time pastor limits our ability in that manner.

Paul 15 years ago

Hi Fernando, reading this great post made me think about the nature of work. For instance I work at my job not because i love my job but because by selling my services in the market place i get paid and therefore i can afford to do the things that i really want to. I am present in work but am i a presence in work? I wonder to what end that applies to pastoral ministry – it’s a job i do because it’s a means to an end and therefore I am not really present or I do it because it is what I love and therefore i have presence?

Which is neither to criticise people who take the job as pastor cos it pays or who pastor cos that is where they are present in the world, but simply to wonder if that is not a place from where stress/loniliness can arise and indeed where contentment and happiness can also occur?

grace 15 years ago

I absolutely agree that there is something broken in the way we do church that does break pastors and their families.

There are claims of misunderstanding from both sides –
the “laity” who legitimately claim that the pastor doesn’t know what it’s like to be asked to volunteer their “spare” time for ministry,
and the pastors who feel the “laity” believe that pastors don’t really work.

It is a really touchy subject because for the pastors it is their livelihood and vocation. At the root of the discussion is the question of whether ministry should be a vocation. That seems to be an unfair question to ask when there are individuals who have given their entire life in the pursuit of that vocation.

Pam Hogeweide 15 years ago

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.

(Hi from Portland, Oregon…)

Great post. We need more recognition and acknowledgment that contemporary versions of being a pastor (at least in the West) is increasingly problem-laden. The pastors I have known would likely experience different crises if they suddenly were out of the professional religious worker field and thrust into a blue-collar job. I wonder how this trend began, to separate leaders from laity, from the daily grind that 99 % of the world is engaged in. Jesus was in the midst of work for most of his life. Paul preached, and worked. It is the best way to be embedded in the community you live in.

The small church I attend here in Portland has two “official” pastors; one has a full-time business as a graphic artist and also pastors, the other is paid to pastor, but she does not hide in an office or behind a bible studying for huge blocks of time to pull off a stunning display of rhetoric for 30 minutes on Sunday morning. (I have never understood why educated men spend hours in preparation to give one talk once a week!) Much of her work is being with people wherever they are, in their homes, coffee joints, at the pub. She connects to the people she pastors not from behind a desk, but in the city we all live in.

I do believe in paying people who serve as facilitators of our local churches. Nothing wrong with that. What is disconcerting is when the structure of the church pushes the leader out of the community and sequestered behind a closed door, isolated with a shelf full of books and a deadline to deliver.

Imagine if there was a revolution among church pastors? What would that look like?

(so hey, Fernando, my hubby and I used to live in Hong Kong. For years, nearly seven. We left in 1992. Do you know John Laudon? )

Fernando Gros 15 years ago

Thank you all for the honesty in your posts. I have been thinking through soem individual replies, but instead I’m going to write a follow-up post drawing on your comments. This is such an important topic.

Susan David 12 years ago

Hi,

I would like to share with you a good ebook that’s free to help pastors and their wives with discouragement and burnout. You can find it at: . It’s quite helpful.

If you have pastor friends or even their wives, we are currently inviting pastors and pastor wives to join charter membership club for free for 2 months,you might want to share this with them. You may visit for more information.

We would also like to invite you to view our video on this topic at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miF-R0bCz0A.

Feel free to share this with your friends or people you care for.

Thanks,

Susan David

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Susan – Thanks for posting a link to your products. I hope they are helpful. However, you’ll probably get a lot more traction from readers of this blog by engaging in the conversation, rather than just posting advertising links.

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