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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Agony of De-Ministry

Written by: on April 12, 2018

Statistics in the Ministry[1]

  • 72% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 84% of pastors feel they are on call 24/7.
  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
  • 65% of pastors feel their family lives in a “glass house” and fear they are not good enough to meet expectations.
  • 23% of pastors report being distant to their family.
  • 78% of pastors report having their vacation and personal time interrupted with ministry duties or expectations.
  • 65% of pastors feel they have not taken enough vacation time with their family over the last 5 years.
  • 28% of pastors report having feelings of guilt for taking personal time off and not telling the church.
  • 35% of pastors report the demands of the church denies them from spending time with their family.
  • 24% of pastor’s families resent the church and its effect on their family.
  • 22% of pastor’s spouses reports the ministry places undue expectations on their family.
  • 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
  • Moral values of a Christian is no different than those who consider themselves as non-Christians.
  • The average American will tell 23 lies a day.
  • 53% of pastors report that the seminary did not prepare them for the ministry.
  • 90% of pastors report the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.
  • 57% of pastors believe they do not receive a livable wage.
  • 57% of pastors being unable to pay their bills.
  • 53% of pastors are concerned about their future family financial security.
  • 75% of pastors report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses have felt unqualified and discouraged as role of pastors at least one or more times in their ministry.
  • 52% of pastors feel overworked and cannot meet their church’s unrealistic expectations.
  • 54% of pastors find the role of a pastor overwhelming.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once in the last year.
  • 80% of pastors expect conflict within their church.
  • 75% of pastors report spending 4-5 hours a week in needless meetings.
  • 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy.
  • 26% of pastors report being over fatigued.
  • 28% of pastors report they are spiritually undernourished.
  • Over 50% of pastors state the biggest challenge is to recruit volunteers and encourage their members to change (living closer to God’s Word).
  • 70% of pastors report they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend.
  • 27% of pastors report not having anyone to turn to for help in a crisis situation.
  • 81% of pastors have been tempted to have inappropriate sexual thoughts or behavior with someone in the church but have resisted.
  • 57% of pastors feel fulfilled but yet discouraged, stressed, and fatigued.
  • 84% of pastors desire to have close fellowship with someone they can trust and confide with.
  • Over 50% of pastors are unhealthy, overweight, and do not exercise.
  • The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”.
  • Many denominations are reporting an “Empty Pulpit Crisis”.  They do not have a shortage of ministers but have a shortage of ministers desiring to fill the role of a pastor.
  • 71% of churches have no plan for a pastor to receive a periodic sabbatical.
  • 66% of churches have no lay counseling support.
  • 30% of churches have no documentation clearly outlining what the church expects of their pastor.
  • 1 out of every 10 pastors will actually retire as a pastor.

What does the call to ministry actually entail to the one who answers that call? Is ministry all heartache and pain and regret, or is it possible that ministers may actually enjoy what they do, in spite of the challenges that arise. This seems to be the question that is asked in Samuel Chand’s book, Leadership Pain. I doubt I will ever forget my first Youth Ministry job; I was so excited to finally take the reins in my own walk with God. I worked at least 80 hours a week between office work, weekly devotionals, as many activities as I could muster on my $1700/year youth budget, and bible study. My wife would give me a hard time about how little I was home, but she also knew how important it was for me to do well. The euphoria lasted about 2 months…then reality set in. I was invited over to an elder’s home for lunch…a lunch that turned sour once he began telling me about the hate that he had for the current preacher; I hate that I would soon find had at least some valid reasoning behind it. Shortly after that day, I found out that the same preacher was telling people that I was never in my office, and that he was responsible for many of the ministries that I had worked to get started. Each month grew more and more tense as he literally set me up to fail with different events, would take credit for things he had no part in from the pulpit, and would continually undermine every single thing I did. To this day, I am not sure how I lasted the full year that I did. At this point, I completely understood “liminal space” as defined by the author:

“Liminal space is a concept in theology and psychology. It is the intermediate, in-between, transitional state where you cannot go back to where you were because a threshold has been crossed, and you have yet to arrive where you are going because it is not yet available to you. Essentially, it is the hallway between the past and the future. I can tell you quite candidly: it’s hell in the hallway.”[2]

I knew this was not where I wanted to be, and yet, exactly where I trusted that God had placed me. That first experience gave me what I refer to today as, “Elephant Hide”. I grew so used to insults, gossip, lies and degrading comments, I half-believe that I am immune to them now. I learned to focus on the goal rather than the damage along the way. Chand wrote, “For many years, I didn’t equate “leadership” with “pain.” I equated leadership with vision, strength and success.”[3] I felt exactly the same way…and at that point, started to realize that ministry was not just going to be devotionals and after-church volleyball games. Chand will state immediately after this; “I see it differently now. I realize now that with responsibility comes difficult decisions, painful seasons, as well as some tremendously rewarding victories.”[4]  It is the mental challenge that we all must find in the ministry…can we balance the good with the bad?

I was studying through one of my all-time favorite passages the other day as a means of preparing a lesson; John 17. In this passage we see Jesus praying to the Father right before His impending crucifixion on the cross; an image that really struck me hard when I visited the Garden in Jerusalem. However, the reason it impacted me was not because Jesus was about to die, but rather because of how He relates the death that was about to befall Him:

        John 17:1 (NKJV)
1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You”

To be flogged, stripped naked, spat upon, ridiculed and then hung upon a cross, Christ called it “glory.” I realized at some point in my ministry that all the promises ministers seem to make to their congregation that God will make everything “okay”, was not really the truth. God’s promise to take care of His people was an eternal promise, but not necessarily an earthly one. The reality of the story of Christ is that He died in one of the most awful ways humanly possible; furthermore, nearly every one of His apostles was put to death for the cause.

So what’s the depressing point, right?

As a means of bringing encouragement to the ministry, Christianity Today tried to rebut some of the statistics I listed at the beginning of this post by writing, “It appears that being a pastor will almost kill you, everyone is quitting, and those who stay in the ministry wish they could get out. At least that’s what I hear at conferences, on Twitter, and on the interwebs. The problem—it’s not true and the false report is hurting pastors and the reputation of the church and ministry.”[5] However, if this is true, then why did I relate to a large number of the statements made in that first article? Why is it that I have personally seen a number of fellow ministers leave the ministry because of the stresses on their family, marriages, or finances; in addition, I have even known a couple who left the faith altogether. If Christianity Today is correct, then why is there a website called, “Pastor Burnout”; which encourages depressed and struggling clergy members to find solace and support from one another? The reality is…the threat and struggle is real.

BUT I AM AN OPTIMIST! At least I keep telling myself that. If Jesus can face the Cross and count it as glory, then I can face that stubborn old lady that always has an insult and count her as Sister. “The pain we experience may be caused primarily by the bumps and bruises inflicted by others, by our desire to reach higher and do more for the kingdom of God.”[6] Though Chand will take this thought and talk about the help that family can be to one’s ministry (and I would in no way argue that point; my family has been awesome for my ministry), I would rather reach deeper for encouragement. Though God never told me my ministry would be easy, always happy, or filled with people that would only ‘Amen’ every sermon I preached; we do see Jesus reminding His disciples that, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[7] So, we are never alone in our ministry; and that is encouraging.

Ultimately, this was finally the book I have been waiting for in this course. No offense to all of the other books, they have been fruitful (though some more fruitful than others); however, I found this full of “meat” for a Doctor of Ministry student. My father used to always tell me how great the ministry was, but that was not what I remembered growing up; I remembered him getting fired, members yelling in his face, the gossip about our family that caused us to pack up and move…again. I remembered the pain. And yet…here I am with over 20 years of my own ministry behind me. Honestly…I don’t regret it one bit. God has been so awesome to me in spite of the trials and the wickedness that I have encountered over the years, and for that I am grateful.

“Know This: You’re at this moment because you have successfully navigated many types of hurt, loss, grief, betrayal, and complexity. You’ve raised your pain threshold many times in the past. It’s time to raise it again.”[8]

 

 

 

Bibliography

Chand, S. R. (2015). Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Statistics in Ministry. (2017). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from Pastoral Care Inc.: http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/

Stetzer, E. (2015, October 14). That Stat that Says Pastors are Miserable and Want to Quit. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-says-pastors-are-all-miserable-and-want-to-q.html

Ty. (2016). Miserable but Cannot Afford to Quit. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from Pastor Burnout: http://www.pastorburnout.com/miserable-but-cant-afford-to-quit.html

 

 

[1] Statistics in Ministry. (2017). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from Pastoral Care Inc.: http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics.

[2] Chand, S. R. (2015). Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc. P 56.

 

[3] Ibid, p 82.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Stetzer, E. (2015, October 14). That Stat that Says Pastors are Miserable and Want to Quit. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from Christianity Today: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-says-pastors-are-all-miserable-and-want-to-q.html.

 

[6] Chand, S. R. p 191.

[7] Matthew 28:20.

[8] Chand, S. R. p 240.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

9 responses to “The Agony of De-Ministry”

  1. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Shawn. I absolutely thought this was the book I had been waiting for. The other books really stretched me and pulled my mind into new shapes. But this was the most applicable and immediately valuable book to my life. Also it was so encouraging to feel validated in all my pain and know that if Im suffering it doesnt mean im doing somethign wrong.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I agree Kyle. Granted, there have been far more intellectually stimulating books, but to be honest, this has been a really trying year for my family and I, and sometimes you just need to remember that God is refining you with fire. In a Doctor of Ministry program, we do not just need the intellectual…we need the Spiritual as well.

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Shawn,

    Well done on your stat lines. Fifteen years ago I would not have believed it, but today I absolutely do. Are you going to retire from being a Pastor? I believe you will. Stay the course my Brother, finish the race! And keep taking your Sabbath as a gift from God…

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I have this strong belief that I might just die in the pulpit someday…LOL. I keep telling everyone that I’m praying the Lord comes soon so I don’t have to worry about it.

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    Thanks for the “stats” on serving in ministry. I laughed when I saw your pastor-car salesperson comparison. Why, because in sub-Saharan Africa most pastors are part-time car salespeople because their churches cannot support them financially.
    Thanks for sharing Scripture about the Biblical ideas around the pain of leadership. Christ’s example far outweighs anything we can complain about, right? Thanks for your transparent post and reflection on your leadership journey and the cost you count in following Jesus.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Exactly. I want every young minister to come in contact with to know that the job is not always sunbeams and snowflakes…sometimes it sunburn and flakes. I was hoping the computer age would mean that I had less buttons to push but apparently I am still hooked up to the spiritual keyboard. But God is GOOD and Jesus suffered through His ministry much more than I have ever suffered in mine.

  5. Dave Watermulder says:

    Hey Shawn,
    Thank you for this post and for lifting up all of those statistics! I loved the way partway through this whole jeremiad, that you put in all-caps: BUT I AM AN OPTIMIST! It is clear the way your faith is so grounded in the Word, and also in your community of faith. It seems like you are on track to find your way through this whole maze. What are your practices that keep you sane and healthy and strong?

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    I love how clear and level-headed you are with a great deal of awareness of your own strengths and growing edges. I so appreciate your humility and authenticity. Your positive spirit is a blessing for your church brother!

  7. Greg says:

    My first youth pastor job taught me to remain positive, keep quiet in my complaints and to stay in my own lane while running this race. I had a pastor that did nothing and preached old sermons. Church that complained and wanted me to rally around them. I was in seminary and chose to not talk bad about the pastor, to not back the people against the pastor and do the job that I was called to do. It is not easy to be in those situations shawn where the leader is intimidated and self conscious about their abilities. I tried not to be discourage about reading through all the stats. I do think ministry has stress but I do believe that some problems are self inflicted.

    Thanks for sharing your journey and the encouragement.

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