Ok. Time for a rant or a corrective or some observations whether helpful or not helpful or over generalizations…
I was perusing Facebook the other day and thought it was amusing the two posts that came up back to back in my feed.
First was a video from the Holderness Family parodying Rhianna’s Umbrella with a song called Man Cold. It’s funny because it’s sort of true, at least in my household. When I start to feel even a little sick, I am pretty much a big baby and useless. The point of a Man Cold is that it is no worse than anyone else’s cold, but since it’s happening to me it’s WAY worse.
Yeah. Humorous, or annoying if you’re a wife of a man who suffers—as I do—from these “man colds.”
I got a morning chuckle and even shared and tagged my wife, as I know she would both chuckle and mutter, “Amen,” when she watched it.
The next post was more serious. A picture of a list of statistics titled, “Pray for Your Pastor.”
As a Generation-X cynic whose only joy comes from deconstructing (yeah, we’re a great positive contribution to the advancement of society, aren’t we?), who also studied marketing in my undergraduate work, I can tell you that I have to agree with Mark twain who popularized the saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
These back to back posts caused me to wonder, do we, in full-time ministry work, sometimes suffer from the man-cold of vocations.
Maybe I should begin with what I am not saying.
I am definitely not saying that pastoral work is not hard. July will mark 20 years in full-time ministry for me. I look at this list and know too well how accurate and true many of these things are. It is hard work.
Along those lines I am definitely not saying don’t pray for your pastors and their families. They are fellow-sheep who have been called to serve as under-shepherds. They are sinners who have experienced the love, forgiveness, and power of the gospel in their lives who are trying to help other sinners experience the love, forgiveness, and power of the gospel. Like mechanics whose cars are total wrecks, and accountants whose checkbooks are a disaster, Pastors sometimes spend so much time and energy caring for you and your family that they forget to pastor and shepherd their own families or care for their own souls with as much care and compassion. So, yes, please, pray for your pastors.
But what on this list is so unique to pastors?
97% of pastors have been betrayed, falsely accused or hurt by their trusted friends.
Are you breathing? Are you over 16 years old? I can say without any exaggeration, you have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by a trusted friend. What’s more, at least 97% of pastors have likely betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt members in their congregations, some of whom had considered their pastor to be a trusted friend. I personally have betrayed, falsely accused and/or hurt my wife, my four children, other pastors, and men and women I have vowed to shepherd and care for. I have had to go in tears and repentance to ask for forgiveness. Many of those relationships were restored by God’s grace. Some were not. Are we looking for grace and forgiveness for our own sin while harboring bitterness and resentment toward those who have sinned against us?
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” John 15:20-21
70% of pastors battle depression.
What does this number mean? Does this mean that roughly seven out of ten pastors have been clinically diagnosed with depression? Or does this mean that roughly seven out of ten pastors admit that they fight against feelings of discouragement or melancholy or bitterness or resentment or emotional apathy? Again, I would venture to guess that at least half the people in our congregations would say the same thing. Are you reaching out to them? Praying for them? Helping them bear their burdens?
“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
7,000 churches close each year.
If this number is accurate it is certainly discouraging for the pastor and his family to go through this. But is it less discouraging for the members of that congregation who also must walk away from a work they too have invested time and energy and sweat and tears into? If 7,000 churches close this year it will affect roughly 7,000 pastors and their families (I am assuming—perhaps falsely—that the majority of churches that reach the point of closing have only one pastor). But if these churches that close have between four and ten other family units worshiping together, those are 28,000 to 70,000 family units who must now find a new church home. And that is assuming that the experience does not sour them to church altogether.
I have two very good friends who are facing the painful reality of seeing their church home close this year. One is the pastor of his church. He is sad and frustrated and exhausted and discouraged and fighting feelings of failure as you would expect. The other is not a pastor. He has been a faithful member of his church since it began over nine years ago. He has been there through three pastors now. He, too, is sad and frustrated and exhausted and discouraged and fighting feelings of failure.
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9
1,500 pastors quit each month.
What does this number represent? Pastors who have quit and left the ministry altogether? Does it include retiring pastors? Does it include pastors who had to resign because of sin or scandal? Does it include pastors who have quit and taken another calling? Does this number include part-time pastors, or does this really mean that there will be roughly 18,000 fewer pastors by the end of 2019 than there were at the beginning? Is this a national number or an international number (for that matter, are all these numbers U.S. pastors or do they take into account pastors from around the world?)? I do not deny that the pastoral ministry is one that can burn you out prematurely or chew you up unexpectedly. It is hard, very hard. But do we need padded numbers of attrition to make it sound harder than it is or is this merely “man-cold” explaining?
10% will retire as a pastor.
This statistic seems to be supporting the previous stat on pastors quitting (although, now I am wondering why that statistic was listed in numbers rather than percentages. Did 1500 look more dire than a percentage? Did I mention I’m a cynical Gen-X pastor?). This may be the one statistic, if accurate, that is the most concerning of all the numbers. Do churches care for their pastor’s future? Do pastor’s set aside adequate money for retiring? Certainly, as I stated before, pray for your pastors. But what are you doing in active obedience to care about your pastor and his wife when they reach the age of needing to slow down and step back?
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:15-17
80% of pastors feel discouraged.
This feels like a repeat of the second statistic with worse numbers but a seemingly lesser struggle – discouragement rather than depression. Brothers, we are stood three feet above the crowd, have our voices amplified, recorded, and rebroadcast for potential millions on the web (potentially, millions… reality, dozens), and then told to be humble. It is no easy call. We take far too much credit for the successes of the Holy Spirit in our congregations and accept far too much blame for the failures of the flesh in our congregations. We seem to want the beginning of Moses’ ministry with signs and power and millions of followers, but not the end of Moses’ ministry with wandering and complaining and consequences for our own faithlessness. We love Paul’s theology but don’t want Paul’s personal life. This is part of the job. We are not hired hands. We do not run even when what the thief has stolen is our own joy in the gospel. We stay we love we hurt when our people are hurting. We weep when they are ensnared in sin, and we seek to restore them gently. If you are looking for a vocation free of discouragement, buy an ice cream truck. But I warn you, the retirement plan is not any better than the one you have already and the dental plan is worse.
“And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” 2 Corinthians 11:28-29
94% of pastor’s families feel the pressure of ministry.
My first question is, where in the world are the other 6% serving?! Pastor, you are doing work of eternal significance with the souls of eternal beings whose very future is in the balance. If you have raised your children to care even a little about their neighbors, they are going to be moved by the work of ministry. They are going to see you weep over friends who are throwing all away to pursue self and self-gratification. They are going to understand that life for Christ in a fallen world is hard. Is it that we want our own families to feel the pressures of ministry less, or is it perhaps that we long for 94% of the other families in our churches to feel the pressures of ministry more acutely? The church I have been privileged to pastor and shepherd is as typical as many other churches in the U.S. today. We struggle with the 80/20 balance (80% of the work seems to be done by 20% of the people). My own four children are now adult members of the church (17 years old up to 22 years old). They all still live at home or are in college and home for summers. They are four of the members in the 20% and I rejoice that they feel a holy “pressure” to be a part of the church in which they have taken vows of membership. If a surgeon or policeman or a counselor came home every evening and unloaded on his family all the trials and struggles and failures and losses of his day and they felt overwhelmed and anxious as a result, we would not say that it was because of the father’s (or mother’s) job. We would tell him he is not being wise or kind to his family to expect them to be able to handle the things that he has been trained and equipped to handle. He needs to find a healthier place to share those things. Perhaps a professional counselor. Perhaps a group of friends (which will come up next). Brothers, if your families are feeling anxious and resentment toward their church more than a love and concern for the lost and their fellow Christians and the gospel, it may not be your work that is doing that, it might be you.
“If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:5
78% of pastors have no close friends.
What constitutes close? Pastors, are you a close friend? Allow me to paint an all too familiar picture: A family begins attending your church. They come often and somewhat regularly. Maybe they even join. Every Sunday, they arrive during the opening song and are second or third to leave after the benediction (Yes, I could have said first to leave, but if I am going to complain about hyperbolic statistics, I ought to avoid hyperbole in my rant, don’t you think?). They do not attend Sunday School or bring their children to Sunday School. They do not attend a small group. They do not attend any of the Bible Studies you offer throughout the week. Their teenager does not attend Youth Group. They do not come to potlucks or picnics or get involved at VBS. They attend for two years. And one day they tell you they are leaving. Why? They just don’t feel very connected. It’s just not a very friendly church. As a pastor doesn’t this familiar tale make you want to pull your hair out (if there’s any left), beat your head (or theirs) against a wall, and scream? You don’t feel connected? GET CONNECTED! Pastor, does your church value friendship? Do you value friendship? Is your church a place where male friendship is easy to develop? Friendships—especially close friendships—do not just happen. They must be cultivated over time and trial and error and effort and vulnerability and being hurt and hurting the other and seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness and growing in grace together. There are two schools of thought concerning close friendships with members in the church you pastor (have them or don’t have them—I hope that was obvious. Really the only two options…). If you are not comfortable developing a close friendship with any of the members of your church, please seek out fellow pastors with whom you can relax and unwind and laugh a little too loudly or cry and scream a little too long, and they will laugh with you and they will cry with you and they will pray with you. And, for the love of all that is good, make sure you are including your wife and that she can cultivate friendships as well (both inside and outside the church).
“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 2 Timothy 9-16
90% of pastors report working 55-75 hours per week.
I hope so. Have you asked the people in your church who work full-time jobs how much they are working? There aren’t very many 40-hour/week jobs anymore. Are you counting all the meetings you must attend as some of those hours? Are you counting your time on Sundays? You should. Of course, you should. But are these meetings that you expect some of those same full-time workers to also attend? They don’t get to count those meetings toward their work week. I’m not saying you should not rest. You must rest. You need rest. Take a day off. When you go on vacation, BE on vacation. And don’t get me started about the absolute necessity of true and actual sabbaticals for pastors. Sometimes to work on other projects for the Kingdom. Sometimes to plan and pray and consider the future of the church he is shepherding, and yes, sometimes for the very real and needed purpose of reconnecting with his Savior and his family. Here’s a helpful link to a trusted pastor (at least in my circles) on sabbaticals.
I agree that working 75 hours a week is excessive if it lasts too long. But there are always going to be seasons in the church that are going to require extra work. Yes, if you try to work 75 hours a week, no matter what your job is, you will kill yourself or your wife’s will kill you or you will kill your marriage or, if you claim to be a Christian and hide behind your Christianity as the reason you work so much, you will kill your children’s love for Jesus. Accept the gift of limitations. Learn how to say no. By all means, pray for your pastor if he is a workaholic, but pray for every member of your church who has falsely put there hope for justification in their successes or accomplishments.
Ministry in hard. But we do not have to make it sound harder than it actually is by man-colding our way through life. That only breeds resentment and discouragement in others in our church who are also facing equally hard times of betrayal or depression or losing their jobs or overworking or the lack of friends.
Brothers, if someone sold you ministry like an Amway sales pitch, you have been sadly deceived. It is not a place for you to lock yourself in an office five days a week and read and write and blog and rant (yes, I know – self-deprecating irony is fun). You are to feed Christ’s sheep. Love and prepare and protect and serve Christ’s Bride. He died to save her. We must live to care for her. Never at the expense of your wife or your family or your health. But what on earth are we asking God’s people to do when we say they must take up their cross daily and follow Jesus if you and I are not prepared to lead the way? May we find and be better friends. May we find those who will point us to Christ when we are lost or discouraged. May we love the Church Jesus loves and find our peace and hope and strength and identity in him and his presence.