Thursday, August 12, 2010

Death by Ministry? By Eugene Cho

As I have studied on health, articles on ministry, ministers, and health keep popping up. Here is an article that came through my Twitter newspaper yesterday with, again, some startling statistics. This article is called "Death by Ministry? by Eugene Cho. I have copied it here (hope this is okay, Eugene.)

Several years ago, I spent several hours/week doing research (and meeting with other pastors) about pastoral health and vitality for my denomination.

I chose to spend some time doing that for selfish reasons. I was and am still learning how to take better care of myself in ministry (as evidenced by the scary picture above) – while completely acknowledging that sometimes, it’s not supposed to feel right.

What I learned was pretty shocking and heartbreaking but one of the conclusions I came to was that as ministry leaders, pastors and other pursuers of God’s work, it helps to understand some of the challenges ahead and to be proactive rather than reactive.

Yesterday, I posted Part I of this post entitled, Why is Being a Pastor so Unhealthy. The reasons are complex and I’ll acknowledge that when one looks for “doom and gloom,” you’ll find some discouraging things. I can focus an entry purely on the joys and blessings of pastoral ministry and feel confident I can write a compelling piece. But these statistics (and stories that many of us are aware of) and our personal stories are hard to ignore.

Here’s a summary of what I learned and shared:

There are varying reports from different sources but I believe most will agree that the ministerial profession (life as pastors) is now considered one of the most dangerous or unhealthiest professions. It’s usually rated last or second to last. Read this from a local Northwest minister,Mark, on a comment on an earlier post:

“At the first church I served we had an insurance agent who was a member of the congregation. When I went to see him about some auto insurance needs, he said “Hey, wanna see something that will scare the crap out of you?”…He pulled out a form that had various professions rated for their risk of giving life insurance policies too…Anyway, to make a lengthening story shorter, he showed me that clergy members were in the same category as Deep Sea Welders and Loggers as the second highest risk group to give life insurance policies to. We were behind crab fishermen but ahead of munitions workers.

It was a little disturbing to know that statistically I was gonna die due to my profession before someone who builds explosives. This was back in 1994 the statistics may be better (or worse) now.”

If you don’t believe the above comment, read some of these statistics:

48% of them think their work is hazardous to their family’s well being. Another 45.5% will experience burnout or depression that will make them leave their jobs. And 70% say their self-esteem is lower now than when they started their position. They have the 2nd highest divorce rate among professions. Who are they? They are pastors. Here are some more overwhelming statistics from this article.

  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with spouse and that ministry has a negative effect on their family.
  • 40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner once a month.
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75% report they’ve had significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 58% of pastors indicate that their spouse needs to work either part time or full time to supplement the family income.
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say they have no close friends.
  • Pastors who work fewer than 50 hrs/week are 35% more likely to be terminated.
  • 40% of pastors considered leaving the pastorate in the past three months.
Feeling dizzy? Take a breath. Here’s some more statistics:

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons. [compiled by Darrin Patrick]
While I love being a pastor and even more, being called to be a pastor, I want folks to know how incredibly difficult it is at times to handle the complexities and stress of being a minister. Finally, at the of 36, I feel more at peace at how to create boundaries, love my church, better care for my wife and children, support my fellow staff, handle criticism, etc. but there are times, I feel clueless and overwhelmed. I’ve been having occasional visitors from a bhog started by and for pastors’ wives [couldn't find one for pastors' husbands]. Some of their comments have been difficult to read because they hit so close to home. I will not post a link to their blog here but here are but two comments:

“Oh, and the financial part is tough. We live on poverty level. I don’t know how we are going to pay all the bills sometimes, much less buy groceries. The Lord always comes through, though, and on a really tough week, someone in the church will anonymously give us a gift. We have no in between at our church. It’s either people trying to help us out, (it’s all there what we make each week – in black and white) or it’s people that have this attitude - ‘Pastors are supposed to suffer and sacrifice. It’s part of the job.’ Has anyone else noticed that mentality? I don’t know where it comes from, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Pastors aren’t supposed to drive nice cars, have nice houses, or buy new clothes. And we are always supposed to be worried about making ends meet I wonder if it is just half of my church that thinks that way.”

Here’s the second comment:

“Today my son approached my husband and randomly said “I guess you’re going back to church now.” And he wasn’t going anywhere! During seminary, he would walk around the house saying “Bye bye Daddy. Bye bye daddy!” So sad, but very true. It’s definitely a calling, isn’t it? I told my husband the other day: “In my classes that I took to prepare me to be a minister’s wife, they told me over and over again ‘it is the loneliest job in the world,’ but I never realized it until we were in the role…

While I feel solid support from my staff, my elder board, and the church as a whole, I know that many of my peers do not feel this way.

Simply, pastors are often underpaid, underappreciated, and at times, undermined.

There is strain on their marriages and families. Two other incredibly real factors that add complexities to the ministerial calling are: 1) the cultural complexity and dynamic of the 21st century and 2) the nebulous but real nature of the spiritual realm & battle. The reality is that being a pastor is not just merely a job nor should it be one. Ministry is a calling. It’s both amazing and incredibly difficult. While it isn’t my desire to over dramatize the significance of ministry, I do believe that the Evil One seeks to impede and harm the work that is to take place through ministers and pastors.

As for the “cultural complexity of the 21st century,” I think this quote captures my sentiment:

“My viewpoint tends to be more organizational, so my take on being a pastor is that it is an impossible job. Here you are asked to be the lead preacher and teacher, available for counseling sessions, leading a staff of people that can span such responsibilities as missions and janitorial, serving as the public face for your organization in the community, networking with other leaders at Christian conferences and denominational gatherings. That’s a lot of hats! … Let’s finally consider the financial issues. I don’t believe pastors are paid very well, so that’s obviously a downer. And if you are paid well, and sometimes even if you aren’t, that has its own issues, for congregants can quite easily feel they own you, since they’re paying your way. What other organizations is the person at top in such an awkward financial relationship with his or her co-workers and clients?” [h/t Lee H]

My point is very simple:

Please care, pray, and love your pastors (and church staff) in your churches.

Seriously, give them a nice pay raise, more time off, regular opportunities to get away for even a day retreat to pray, buy them some dinner certificates, honor their spouses, love their children, pray for them, and regularly share your appreciation and affirmation.

Now, I know that this can easily be intended to perpetuate the victim language or mentality, but it’s a two-way street. Churches must seek to honor and care for its pastors and staff and build healthy structures to ensure such care. Similarly, pastors and their families must make choices to be holistically healthy! We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on your jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here].

We need to lean on God; stop our self-sufficiency and repent of the idolatry to please all those around us. Easier said than done but it needs to begin somewhere. Why not now?

Some good news:

Despite the intense nature of pastoral ministry, it is also immensely fulfilling. Huh? It makes total sense to me. According to a recent survey, the top five professions are clergy, physical therapists, firefighters, education administrators, and painters/sculptors:

Clergy ranked by far the most satisfied and the most generally happy of 198 occupations. Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were “very satisfied” with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being “very happy,” compared with an average 33 percent for all workers.Jackson Carroll, Williams professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke Divinity School, found similarly high satisfaction when he studied Protestant and Catholic clergy, despite relatively modest salaries and long hours.“

They look at their occupation as a calling,” Carroll said. “A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person’s life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There’s a lot of fulfillment.” [read the entire article]

So, while pastoral ministry is at times exhausting, draining, depressing, and overwhelming, it’s also meaningful and fulfilling.

May God grant you grace, courage, and strength.

God bless you pastors. God bless your spouses and your children. May you bless your flock and may you be blessed by them. And together, may you bless the Lord as you seek to bless His creation.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to Church Sunday - Missional or Not?

Looking for a fall outreach idea? Outreach is promoting a "Back to Church Sunday." Read the story here. Outreach says that churches that participated in this Sunday last year averaged a 20% higher attendance on this day. I'm considering this for our church (though not this particular flyer--I'll probably design our own). While we do not want to substitute direct mail for personal invitations, we must also remember that the Spirit has already been sent out into the world ahead of us, and he has already touched many people's hearts.

While it is probable that the "dechurched" and lapsed Christians are more likely to respond to this invitation than the totally unchurched, this group would be great to help them re-connect with God. This too is missional. What would not be missional would be just relying upon this approach, targeting Christians from other churches, failing to be involved in the community, failing to serve or help heal areas of brokenness, or failing to share the gospel. And the primary way that we invite is still by personal invitation. Direct mail can reach some, but personal connections are always the most effective.

So--what do you think about the "Back to Church" concept? Is it missional or not?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Outlive Your Life - By Max Lucado

This is the video trailer for Max Lucado's new book Outlive Your Life. Looks interesting.

Here is the book summary:

"These are difficult days in our world's history. 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, natural disasters are gouging entire nations, and economic uncertainty still reigns across the globe. But you and I have been given an opportunity to make a big difference. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God's love and life? We are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let's live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did."

Have you read or ordered this book? What do you think of the trailer/summary?

Just for Fun - A Chimpanzee Solves a Problem

Reasons Ministers Quit the Ministry - Part 1

In studying about minister health, I have come across some startling statistics and studies. One such statistic is that nearly 1400 ministers across America quit ministry every month. At a time when churches are shrinking and good ministers are hard to find, this is a disturbing statistic. And these ministers are not being replaced, particularly preachers. In my own fellowship, Harding University has commissioned a study for why so few people are going into preaching. The reason undoubtedly has to do with the poor experiences that so many ministers have.

Fuller and Pastoral Care Inc have reported research about reasons why ministers leave the ministry. Here are the top 5 of 10 reasons that they give, with quotes.

1. The Ministers Have a Vision that the Church Does Not Share.

"The most disheartening thing ministers go through is to feel they have a message and direction from God for their church but the people are not willing to listen or respond. In one survey, ministers and laity were asked the purpose of the church. 90% of the pastors state the purpose of the church was to reach the lost but when asking the laity, 90% report the purpose is to meet their own needs! Only 10% of the laity stated the purpose was to reach the lost."

When I saw these statistics, I was blown away. Jesus stated that his mission was to reach the lost. Without this mission, there would not even be a church, and we would not have salvation. Of course this is our mission. And yet, 90% of church members believe that the purpose of the church is to meet their own needs--despite Jesus' clear call to his disciples to "deny themselvs." No wonder so many ministers quit. It is frustrating to constantly try to get people to believe and do what they clearly do not want to believe and do. Most ministers are high on vision and integrity, and so they just finally get so frustrated with lack of support for Christ's mission and the inward nature of members that they just quit.

2. Lack of Denominational Support.

For Churches of Christ, this translates into a feeling of lack of support from elders, other ministers, or influential "informal leaders."

3. Feeling All Alone.

"A pastor's work is never done. They report working between 55 to 75 hours a week, often burning a candle at both ends. Most of the calls a minister receives is not to check on how their pastor is doing but because of problems either in the church or in their lives. Complaints seem to come in on a daily basis. 40% of the ministers report having serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month! Over time, pastors report feeling that others are only caring about themselves, complaining about most everything, and have attitudes of “what have you done for me lately”. Most pastors feel unappreciated. They give so much time to others but who is there for the pastor?"

Loneliness comes, in part, from reason #1 - feeling like no one proactively supports the vision of reaching the lost. Elijah felt this way (1 Kings 19), partly because he was so exhausted. In response, the angel of the Lord told him to eat and rest. And God told him that he had reserved 7000 who "shared his vision." Ministers can better deal with this lonely feeling if they take better care of themselves and make sure that they "have a life"--do fun, non-ministry related things. Still, this is a problem. To work 55-75 hours a week, striving to help others in every way, and to receive daily complaints and serious conflicts every month is enough to make ministers quit.

4. Stress on the Family and Health

"Most people never think about how the ministry demands affect the pastor and his/her family, especially long term. As mentioned before, 94% of the minister's families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry. 80% report that it has negatively affected them. Children of pastors often report having negative experiences and many do not attend church anywhere today because of those negative experiences!"

Ministry ought to be a blessing to families, but for many, it is a significant source of stress and conflict. I'm blessed with a wife who is supportive of my ministry, and who is independent enough to not resent the nights that I'm away. I seek to have "songs, prayers, and Bible stories"--a family devotional time with my kids five nights a week, and to take my day off during the week. But kids and spouses experience enough problems from ministry that they report it is at best a mixed blessing.

When those who are not in ministry "go to church," they can find help, healing, and encouragement. For ministers, there is no separation between work, family, and church, and the latter is often a source of conflict.

5. Must Be the Most Spiritual/Can't Be Real

"While ministers should set standards high enough for others to follow and want to achieve, the very nature of double standards propel ministers to further distant themselves among others within the church. According to statistics, 66% of church members expect a minister and his/her family to live by a higher moral standard than they do. This pervasive thought lends itself unrealistic, and when accompanied by the demands of the ministry, ministers and their families feel the pressures and desire to further distance themselves even more!"

Where do ministers go when they face life, ministry, or moral challenges? I have been blessed to always have an elder or two that I was particularly close to that I could share with. Still, every minister knows that he must be extremely careful who he talks to about any kind of struggle. Sometimes this is because certain things are only appropriate to be discussed in leadership circles, and other times it is because there is a fear that what they say may end up being shared inappropriately.

What is most surprising or concerning about the above statistics? How can we help ministers stay encouraged and stay in ministry?

"Congregations Gone Wild"

The NY Times had an article today called, "Congregations Gone Wild." This article followed a previous NT Times article on clergy, in which a study was cited that showed clergy have higher than normal rates of depression, obesity, and anxiety.

In Congregations Gone Wild, the author, Jeffrey MacDonald, a United Church of Christ minister, writes about how ministers are encouraged to give in to a consumeristic, entertainment-oriented membership: "In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else . . .

Ministry is a profession in which the greatest rewards include meaningfulness and integrity. When those fade under pressure from churchgoers who don’t want to be challenged or edified, pastors become candidates for stress and depression.

Clergy need parishioners who understand that the church exists, as it always has, to save souls by elevating people’s values and desires. They need churchgoers to ask for personal challenges, in areas like daily devotions and outreach ministries."

As a minister, I can indeed say that there is pressure to not challenge people, to not call them to sacrifice and service, to concentrate on members' wants and ignore the lost. While we might expect this from members who are not very spiritually mature, or who perhaps are hurting so much that they cannot see beyond themselves, this is most challenging when these pressures come from those that we expect would be supportive of these things. As the article indicates, this can be a source of stress.

Overall, ministry a great joy. But this is one of the stresses that ministers must learn to deal with or they will quit the ministry, as so many have unfortunately done. We must, like Christ, our example, continue to preach and teach Christ's message and mission.

So, what stresses do you think that ministers face? How can these stresses be helped?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Atheist Christopher Hitchens Talks About God and Cancer

Christopher Hitchens is a well-known atheist who was recently diagnosed with cancer. In this CNN interview, he speaks against smoking, drinking, and burning the candle at both ends. However, he says that he still does not believe in God. And if he has a death bed conversion, don't believe it. He would not be himself then. Sad.

What do you think about this interview with Hitchens?