A sobering post has been making the rounds this week from ExPastors.com addressing why so many pastors are leaving the ministry. And as a former pastor I took notice. The statistics, if they hold true are disturbing at best, and at worst reflect a crisis in the pastorate.
As stated by ExPastors.com,
The statistics speak for themselves. Working in ministry – whether you’re a full-time pastor or a lay minister balancing a job and a church – can be challenging. Families suffer, discouragement and depression – amongst a gamut of other things – runs like a river in the lives of those who sacrifice their own life to the cause of the church.
However, before we throw in the collective towel, I think it is important that we draw some necessary boundaries and gain perspective. The original study, from which these statistics are taken, was facilitated by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICLD) – originally began at Fuller in 1989 and spanned 18 years of research. Here are some shocking stats from that study:
- 75% surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
- 90% stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).
- 77% surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
- Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
- 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
- Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
In 2010, I gained my certification as a Black Belt in Six Sigma efficiency methodology. And if you have any business background and know of Six Sigma, then you also know that measurement is the they key to finding areas of breakthrough. I was lucky to be trained by the co-founder of Six Sigma, Dr. Mikel J. Harry. His mantra – that I have fully adopted as my own – is “If you don’t measure it, you don’t value it.” And in this case it holds true.
I value church and hold her in high regard, so these measurements bother me. But with all statistical endeavors, they often present the causes as well as the symptoms. Here are some root issues that I think are feeding the above data-driven results – AND they are found in the same data streams:
- Spiritual Neglect – An astounding 72% of the pastors surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. As a person with integrity, whether in leadership or not, you cannot continue to press upon those you lead to spend the time necessary for growth, when you do not do it yourself. The internal conflict of feeling like a hypocrite will eat you alive psychologically. The Pastor’s first love, has been stolen for the pipe dream of attainment and it is reflected in his spiritual vibrancy. A spiritually dry pastor cannot facilitate streams of life-giving activity in their congregations.
- Physical Neglect – According to this research, 90% of the surveyed pastors felt physically fatigued or worn out on a weekly, if not daily basis. We have been given our body to care for, not to abuse. Pastors cannot be expected to work 70 hour weeks, care for their families, care for themselves, and care for the church body adequately. Pastors, go to bed! Exercise! Your to-do list will be there in the morning. Radical statements like “I can sleep when I am dead” are stupid and childish. This is an ultra-marathon, not a 40-yard dash.
- Marital Neglect – With 77% of the pastors saying they did not feel they had a good marriage and with a 50% divorce rate, there is no wonder everything else is in shambles. I don’t know which comes first, the slow steady burn of ministry that affects the marriage, or neglect of marriage that destroys ministry; but as men in ministry, we are given direct responsibility to care for our wives. If ministry comes first, you need to take a break from ministry and focus on your wife! I suspect if you repair the damage of your marriage, the ministry will begin to heal as well. Remember, if your wife cannot respect you at home, there is no congregational surrogate that will replace it. Care for your marriage and family first, then care for your church.
Ministry is stressful and difficult. There is no getting around that. However, pastors are responsible to care for themselves and their family. The moral failings, burnout and ongoing conflict is a direct result of the neglect that they allow to consume their lives.
Pastors, please, I plead with you, take the necessary amount of time that your situation requires and build in margin. If that means taking a 6 or 8 week sabbatical, then do it. The church will not close while you are away and you will feel refreshed upon your return. Take control of your personal life, and place your professional life in proper balance. Above all, don’t forget WHY you entered the ministry in the first place – to serve people and glorify God.
At this pace, neither one is happening.
*** If we can help in any way, please contact us. Please know the Association of Arizona Churches and Nonprofits maintains the highest standards of confidentiality and have placed upon ourselves the task of serving those in ministry. We cannot be all things to all people, but we can connect you with the resources you need. Call us at 623-688-0403 or contact us via our website for more information.