HOW TO AVOID BEING A STATISTIC IN THE MINISTRY
From the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development:
Here is research that we distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, all of which backed up our findings, and additional information from reviewing others’ research:
•Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches (18,000 per year).
•Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
•Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
•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.
•Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
•Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
•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 (this is Key).
Most statistics say that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not still be in it 10 years later, and only a fraction will stay in it as a lifetime career. Many pastors—I believe over 90%—start off right with a true call and the enthusiasm and the endurance of faith to make it, but something happens to derail their train of passion and love for the call.
Someone sent me this information and it broke my heart. I don’t doubt the research. Since being in the ministry I’ve seen all of this and more. People would always ask me if I wanted my kids to follow my footsteps in the ministry – no way – I want them to follow in their heavenly father’s footsteps and they’ll be fine. Ministry is very, very hard. I’ve seen many of my friends who I started with depart the ministry due to burnout, immorality, greed, or a thousand other things. You never can please everyone. You never can lead everyone. Sounds simple enough, just do what’s right – I agree. Just be ready for a lot of pain when you do. Some people think, naïvely, they can avoid headaches by a particular “style” of ministry – that just isn’t true. There is no such thing as “pain free” ministry.
How can you avoid being a statistic in the ministry? First of all let me state that you can’t avoid the pain – no matter what your field of work is there is difficulty. What makes ministry so hard is that rarely do people go in to it for the money – and yet it requires a lot of education, people skills, and gifting. God still calls people to vocational ministry – I have no doubt about that. Though the majority of my ministry is to try to mobilize and equip everyday disciples – there are those whose ministry is to do that very thing on a full-time basis – equip and release. Here are some things that have enabled me to hang with it since I began this journey as a teenager 40 years ago.
First, pray daily. I could not survive without prayer. Cheat in your prayer life, and you will not make it. Many pastors start out well in this area but begin to get so busy they fail to keep the priority of daily worship with God. I’m so sad, I can’t run anymore – I can “elliptical” and I’m doing it except for some joint surgery going on right now. But the thing you can ALWAYS do is pray and spend time with God.
Second, journal as often as possible. It’s not about your writing, it’s about seeing God’s pattern, direction, recounting the stories of what God has done and is doing in your life. From my teen years to my early 20’s, I have a journal, then one from the first few years of my ministry. When God got a hold of me in 1992 I began to write daily what God was teaching me and everything that happened. I even wrote out prayers. At first it was a journal every two years. Then I filled up a journal every year. I was about to go to a 6 month journal and I found a 400 page journal I’m using now. My journals will not be a rich garden of literature – but they are the stories, lessons, crises, and victories that I’ve experienced throughout my life. They’re for me, not posterity – so they’re sloppy at times. I paste notes people send me, mementoes, pictures – they tell a story. But every year I read over the previous year and write down what I learned and where God is leading me. I’ve defined journaling as “a catalogue of reflections” or a collection of stories and revelations of all God is teaching you. Journaling let’s you see things in perspective so you don’t live just in the moment you find yourself in.
Third, lose the idea of Jesus bailing you out of hardship because you follow him. Hardships are part of the life. How you handle those hardships and respond to others are revelations of where you are – good and bad. I had the idea I’d lead a church or ministry and God would bless it and we’d all get along and there would never be any hardships or disagreements. That just isn’t realistic. Bill Hybels has said ministry is far more difficult than business – you’re leading people you ask to pay and work for free. What you can do is make sure you’ve got some wise mentors and counselors that you can turn to and listen to. That has been part of my salvation. At times I’m wrong. It’s great to have instruments to help like 360’s, personality profiles, etc. Other times my leadership has to grow to a new level, there are books, courses, and seminars and other things you can do to grow. At times, and this is huge, you have to learn to confront issues. Many in the ministry want to be a pastor, which is fine, sometimes we have to be prophetic and challenge people or issues. It isn’t fun, but we must do it in love and truth. Both are critical – without love we become legalists and without truth we become nothing.
Fourth, lose the idea you’re Jesus. You’re not. You can’t make everyone happy. You can’t fix every problem. You can’t be there 100% of the time. You can’t always bat 1,000 in the pulpit. If you have a Jesus complex, you will forever try to please others and allow yourself to be beat down by the myriad of expectations that others place on you. When we were a small church I’d always say if 3 people disagree with you, you should listen. That simply doesn’t work at a huge church. There is no way you will keep everyone happy, and as you grow, the church will have to change and grow as well and it can’t be determined by everyone having the same access or input to you they did when it was a lot smaller. There are a lot of screwed up people and you cannot allow them to offload all their junk and expectations on you.
Fifth, do it for Jesus alone. Sadly, people are not always your friend because they’re your friend. You know who your friends are when they disagree with you and yet still love you and remain your friend. If they have to have you in agreement with them to hang out with you – chances are they aren’t your friend. They want something out of you. Sometimes people don’t get the whole picture, they see it only from their perspective. You will have friends – don’t retreat into isolation, but select them slowly and carefully. Also have a few friends outside your local church. They shouldn’t all be pastors. Some of my closest friends are businessmen, professors, etc. Sometimes the people who are your friends may also bring you critique – but their critique’s aren’t ultimatums – unless it might be a moral issue.
Sixth, be who you are – not who you admire or who is doing an incredible job somewhere else. You will never achieve what God has called you for, if you envy others. I remember Rick Warren once saying, “As long as you envy someone else you can’t develop the unique things God has given you.” It’s so true. Every person is so unique and so is every ministry. Giving God glory means living out the unique call that he’s given you.
Seventh, don’t cheat your family. You can still work 45 to 60 hours a week and have enough time for them. You will have to schedule it and be intentional. We all have the same 24 hours to what we must do. We have to manage that time. It is your family that will be there with you when no one else is. Lot’s more I could write . . . . . . but I need to party with my wife . . !!!
Bob is the founder, senior leader, and chief spokesman for Glocal.net . His primary focus is to connect leaders and estabish relationships to explore transformation. Follow Bob on Twitter at @bobrobertsjr.