The September-October edition of Facts and Trends (a magazine published by Lifeway “designed to assist pastors, church staff and denominational leaders in their roles of ministry by informing them about LifeWay resources and how they relate to current issues in Christian ministry”) contains data culled from a poll of Protestant Pastors conducted by Ellison Research.
This particular poll addressed the tenure of Pastors within various protestant denominations. 872 ministers nationwide were polled.
The study turned up lots of information, amongst which I found the following figures. These numbers address why Pastors chose to resign a position of ministry in favor of another:
* 27% changed due to a “desire to serve in a different type of community or a different region of the country”
* 20% moved after “getting promoted to a higher position, such as from an associate pastor at one church to the senior pastor of another church”
* 16% left because they were “wanting to pastor a larger church”
* 12% left their current position of ministry because they were “feeling the move is Godâ€™s will, or being called by God to another church”
* 11% changed churches because they desired “better pay and/or benefits”
On the one hand, this study gives us some positive information.
1. Obviously, Pastors are growing more and more honest about their motivations and priorities in ministry. Anytime that we can strip through abstract “spiritual” language and get some hard figures from those making decisions for and within local churches we must see that as a postive because it allows us to more accurately examine what is going on in our churches.
2. Pastors are aware that the short tenure of the average pastor is a matter to be concerned about. In fact, 59% of those polled believe the average tenure of a pastor in their denomination is too short
On the other hand, we can clearly see some negative trends being gaged by this poll:.
1. Only 12% of Pastors felt confident enough of their decision to change ministry positions to summarize their motivation as feeling it to be the will of God. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that “the will of God” tends to be a spiritually sounding cop-out for far to much of what goes on in Christendom. However, regardless of how one goes about discerning what the will of God, wouldn’t you imagine more would be seeking to be obedient to their Lord when making career decisions – at least enough to list that as their primary motivation? I think we can safely conclued that the pastorate is becoming less theologically motivated and more driven by the normal standards of any other career choice.
Ron Sellers, president of the company who conducted the poll assessed the information this way:
People who work in real estate, manufacturing, marketing research, and other careers change jobs in order to move to a city they prefer, get a promotion, start a new company, find better working conditions, and make more money, among other reasons…This study shows ministers take new jobs mostly for these same reasons. Most pastors have not changed jobs simply because they felt God was calling them to a different church â€“ for most, a job change is a result of a promotion, a move to a larger church, a desire to live in a different community, or even as a result of getting fired.
2. The language of “promotion” has entered the common vocabulary of those describing the value of a given position of ministry. This is particularly disturbing to me. Apparently service for service’s sake is passe. Also seeking to glorify Christ in one’s vocation goes out the door as churches are evaluated on the basis of their value to the Pastor, rather than the opportunity they present for the fulfillment of one’s calling and expansion of His kingdom.
So here is a question: Who is to blame for this situation? I believe the blame must be given not only to Pastors themselves but also the congregations that make up the body of Christ.
In the first case, Pastors have bought into the pragmatic philosophy of ministry by embracing secular business models as the right methods for leading/serving a church. Add to that the emphasis on numbers being touted (at least by implication) as the validation of a given ministry by Pastors themselves and we see their role in this mess.
In the second, let me encourage you to drop by the SBC.net JobSearch site and make a list of the qualifications that churches are listing as their criteria for accepting a Pastor’s resume. Education, experience, and administration dominate the listings. I’ll grant that these are fine qualities for a Pastor to have but when those elements are elevated above and beyond the criteria listed in the Pastoral epistles then they become an indication of how poorly our churches are seeking to find men to serve in their leadership postions. This situation also puts incredible pressure on those who desire to serve a local church as Pastor to gain another degree, serve in more denominational/associational positions (to the detriment of service to the local church), and – above all – get numbers. The last factor there is usually the most important, being the factor that “covers a multitude” of failures in ministry.
The two combine as a cycle which continually promotes an unhealthy view of ministry, success therein, and what the local church is to be. That cycle then shows its ugliness when polls such as the one under discussion are conducted, showing us clearly how far we’ve departed from the Biblical standards.
So what is the solution? At the risk of sounding simplistic, I would propose that it is the same solution that is always needed when the people of God get off track – return to the Word. What does this look like practically?
* Pastors: Find out what God expects of you in ministry. Make this your highest goal. Refuse any standard presented to you that isn’t founded in the clear teaching of scripture. Gently, firmly, and carefully show those whom you serve what God expects of your office and the local church.
* Church Member: Know what scripture lays out as the qualifications for eldership. Refuse to allow yourself or those in your congregation to attempt to enforce any standard beyond what God Himself has given. Encourage your Pastor to be faithful to the commands of scripture and not to fret about unnecessary issues. Take the lead in your church on this issue in areas such as compensation, evaluation, and promotion for those who serve the church.
* Pastor Search Committee: form your job descriptions exegetically from the Pastoral Epistles. Allow men of God to stand in light of their obedience to God’s Word instead of secular criteria of performance evaluation.
Again, perhaps this is too simplistic. It might not entirely work out the problems that this polls speaks to. However, I believe it is the best place to start.
* The raw results of the poll on the Ellison Research site.
* The September-October issue of Facts & Trends.
* Article on this poll written by The Christian Post.
* Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry by John Piper.
* Pastoral Turnover And The Call To Preach by Paul V. Harrison (JETS Article, requires PDF Viewer)