A few years ago I was struggling in my leadership role as the founding pastor of Living Oaks Fellowship (Aurora, CO). As I prayed, the Lord told me to go back to my journal and look at the lessons He had taught me over the past few years. I identified 17 lessons on a variety of topics, but that was not the most significant discovery. What I found most significant is that only one of these lessons had been mentioned during my 3 and 1/2 years of seminary education. About this same time, I heard a couple of statistics about pastors that I found disturbing. The first one was that 50% of pastors leave the ministry in their first 5 years. The second one was that 85% of seminary graduates are out ministry in 10 years or less. (Note: As I was writing this I came across this blog with more such statistics – http://preachersandteachers.wordpress.com/2008/03/26/71/ ).
Why is this important and what is the connection between the statistics and my experience?
I believe that the reason so many pastors are leaving the ministry is what I call the negative variance between what they expect and what they experience once they enter ministry. The reality of ministry is far different (and more difficult) than what people either see from the outside looking in or are prepared for in seminary education. The stark contrast is, for some, too much to handle and they quit. Our role as pastors is to lead people from Egypt to Canaan; from spiritual slavery to spiritual freedom. The dirty little secret that we are rarely told is that we never make it to Canaan in this life. There is no place of ministry where the elders don’t fight and the sheep don’t bite. We will never “arrive” in ministry, coming to a place where we can relax with no issues. However, if we are on this journey with a constant refrain of “are we there yet?”, we will be in for a rude awakening. Entering into ministry without a realistic understanding of what you will face can set you up for disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment.
Adding to this dissonance is the truth that many pastors have no one with whom they can honestly talk and share their hearts:
- Boards are looking to protect the church. A pastor who regularly admits weakness or shares struggles may lose his/her job.
- Congregations are looking for a hero. Parishioners often have unrealistic expectations for their spiritual leaders and don’t want to face the truth that their pastor is as human as they are.
- Other pastors are often viewed as competitors. As unhealthy as this may seem and as unpopular as it may be to admit or share, many pastors often do not feel the freedom to confide in their counterparts their struggles and concerns. Our self worth is often tied to tangible measures of growth – bodies, budgets and buildings.
- People outside of the church don’t understand the challenges of pastoral leadership. It is very difficult for someone outside of the church to relate to the spiritual, emotional, financial and relational battles inherent in this position.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not writing this from a position of bitterness or disillusionment. I love the Lord, His work and His people. I am still actively engaged in the life of the church in pastoral ministry. Have I been hurt by the ministry and the people whom I’ve ministered? Of course! But that goes with the territory. I am not seeking to dissuade anyone from going into ministry by painting some horrid picture of pain and suffering. In fact, I want to do just the opposite. I want to assist in properly preparing people to go into ministry so they can be more effective in their service.
My hope for this blog…
It is my desire for this blog to become more than a platform for me to share my opinions, knowledge or expressions. My hope and prayer for it is to:
… Give pastors and ministry leaders a safe place to connect, discuss issues and to be “real”.
… Create a learning environment where those who are young in the ministry can learn from those with more experience.
… Connect pastors and ministry leaders with others who are like-hearted and to encourage them to create their own small groups.
Many of the thoughts in Musings will come from what I learned during my own journey towards leadership and personal healthiness that are being shared about in an upcoming book: Living the Journey – Lessons from the Front Lines that Might Save your Ministry, your Mind and maybe even your Marriage.
Who is invited to share these conversations? Anyone who is engaged in the anointed and challenging task of serving God’s people. Regardless of your age or tenure, you are welcome and we want to hear from you. I look forward to sharing conversations with you about the Journey.