May 22 2010

Give pastors some grace

In the past few days a couple of former-Christians-become-atheist sites have picked up on this article (by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir) on Schaeffer Institute site about the sad state of evangelical pastors. For a number of reasons, the atheist sites present the material in a more compelling way than does Krejcir’s article. Here’s just a few of the figures:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80 percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 40% of pastors polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

The conclusion, reached by atheists and Christians alike, is that something is seriously wrong in the evangelical church. Being a pastor is certainly a stressful job, there’s no doubt about that; but I don’t think it has to be as stressful as it often is.

During my stints in church leadership positions, where sometimes my main function was merely to look out for the well-being of the pastor, I recognized some problems. I believe it is systemic. There is a really, really bad model of church that has been perpetuated in evangelical churches that in essence makes the pastor a potential victim of abuse. Some of this is actually encouraged by the pastor, as it’s what they have been trained to believe.

This usually results in the pastor – as a survival mechanism – becoming an abusive leader.

One of the problems is that the church adopted much of the corporate business model, which is essentially organized social Darwinism. It’s survival of the fittest, results matter, perform or get out. It also puts the pastor in a conflict of interest situation with regard to his finances. His continued income depends on the church growing (at least financially) and the church giving. Again, this is a set up for abuse. If nothing else, the pastor lives in conlfict.

Many pastors have never been trained for anything else; they are indentured servants of the church system. And, many of them don’t have any retirement plans, and may not pay into social security. So, when they burn out or retire, they are nearly destitute. Unless, of course, they’ve learned to make money as authors, conference speakers, and TV personalitites.

The church needs to understand that being a pastor is just a job (yes, that’s what I said). It’s a role, of which there are hundreds in any church. Rather than the pyramid-shaped CEO model that most churches use, the church was really designed as a “flat” organization, where all relationships are reciprocal in nature. That is, if the pastor helps you with his teaching, you help him with whatever “good things” you’ve got, not necessarily financial.

If everyone in the church would function on this principle of grace – sharing each other’s burdens, sharing all good things with one another, and so on – the pressure on the pastor would be relieved.

Of course, grace means freedom – which also means personal responsibility, for everyone.  Good luck getting a church to buy that.