Battered Pastors (2)

The call to be a pastor is one of unparalleled privilege. It is a joy, though a sobering one, to apostle paul.gifpreach God's Word for the benefit of God's people. For battered pastors, however, (and they are numerous) the glad labor of being a pastor has become detrimental to their well-being and that of their family.

I have written previously that the reality of battered pastors is a scandal upon the church. A startling number of pastors leave the ministry every month. The proof is in the research. The anxiety of caring for the church (to use Paul's words) is simply too much for many pastors to bear. They leave not because they lost their love for Christ. They love Jesus and they love his church. But the battering they have received at the hands of a congregation or elders has left them too wounded to go on. It is for these men that my heart aches.

In 1989 the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development embarked on an 18 year study that revealed some rather frightening statistics about pastors. It is important to point out that this particular study focused only on evangelical churches. Mainline denominations were not included in the testing.

Here is a sampling of the findings:
ƒ?›    90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
ƒ?›    50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
ƒ?›    70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
ƒ?›    90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands. The unique demands placed upon the pastor simply cannot be adequately prepared for in a classroom.
ƒ?›    70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
ƒ?›    50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. The training that pastors must receive leaves them ill equipped to do anything else when they are driven from their church.
ƒ?›    80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
ƒ?›    80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
ƒ?›    80% of spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.
ƒ?›    70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
ƒ?›    40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
ƒ?›    #1 reason pastors leave the ministry -- Church members are not willing to follow the leadership of the pastor.
ƒ?›    50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
ƒ?›    1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. Only 10% of ministers will last long enough to retire as ministers.
ƒ?›    4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
ƒ?›    Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
ƒ?›    Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

One of the authors of the study wrote:
Over 70% of pastors do not have anyone they would consider to be a friend, and hardly any pastors had any close friends. Ninety percent (90%) of pastors feel they were not adequately trained to cope with ministry coordination and the demands of the congregation. Seventy-five percent (75%) of pastors experience a significant crisis that they faced due to stress in the ministry (Fuller Institute, 1989-1992). We at the FASICLD retested that data by various means starting in 1998 and also retested the results in an internet survey form several times over the last eight years. We found it has slightly worsened. Most pastors now work up to and more than 60 hours a week. Hence, why the divorce rate among pastors is rising and pastor's children rarely stay in the church or keep their faith. In both studies, over 40% of the pastors reported serious conflicts with their parishioners every month. This leaves pastors physically tired, spiritually weary, and even distant from God! Thus, they cannot properly minister or connect with their flock.

Most of the pastors I know work hard and care deeply about the church. Most of the pastors I know have never expected to get rich from being a pastor. We are sickened by stories of pastors building 16,000 square foot mansions and using hundreds of thousands of dollars of church money to pay a marketing firm to ensure that their next book will be a NY Times bestseller. The pastors I know are scandalized by such a thought. The vast majority of pastors toil away in relative obscurity making just enough money to pay the bills (so long as their wives are working as well).

Many of these very men face heartbreaking conflict regularly with members of the church. I don't suppose anyone likes conflict. But it must be kept in mind that when pastors go through conflict they rarely have the sorts of close friendships upon which they may lean for solace. It is very difficult for a pastor to make close friends within the church he serves. This is not so because he does not desire those friendships. I assure you he does. He longs for the sorts of friendships in church he had before he became a pastor. The problem is that he knows that members of his church have a very hard time when they realize that he is a fellow sinner. The pastor does not want to cause members of the flock to stumble. And while church members know that their pastors are sinners, it is another thing entirely when they actually gain knowledge of those sins with which he struggles. So the pastor guards himself. And it cannot be fixed by telling your pastor, "Go get yourself some close friends outside of church." He simply does not have the time or energy to pursue additional relationships. His life orbits around the church almost exclusively.

This means that church members have the power to break the heart of their pastor. This was certainly evidenced in the ministry of the Apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 2 he references a particularly painful time in his ministry. It was after he had written his lost "hard letter." Since we don't have this letter we don't know its content precisely. But we do know that it was a stinging rebuke. Paul was grieved by their reception of the so-called "super apostles" who had cruelly slandered him. But now his heart was deeply troubled by the possibility that the Corinthian church would refuse his counsel and reject him personally. To make matters worse, Titus, who was supposed to bring word to him concerning the Corinthian response, had not met him as arranged. Paul assumed the worst.

"When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia" (2 Corinthians 2:12-13).

Paul was so distressed by his anxiety concerning the Corinthian church that he even walked away from an open door for the gospel. Paul was in deep pain. Today we would almost certainly describe him as being depressed. He loved the Corinthian church and because he loved them they had the capacity to hurt him deeply. And they did.

Ultimately however Paul recognized that being a pastor means following Christ in His Triumph (2 Cor 2:14-17). Like the conquered following along in the procession of a Roman Triumph, ours is not to win victories. Ours is to be led along in Christ's triumph. We are captives to His cause. We do not spread our fame but the fragrance of Christ. Even through the battering, that is enough.