It is no secret that the last few years have been extremely difficult for churches and even more so for pastors. Of course, pastoral ministry is commonly fraught with its own set of unique stresses, but those stresses have grown exponentially over the past few years due to the chaos and turmoil that has so regularly characterized our society. This has led to unprecedented numbers of pastors leaving the ministry, a trend some are now calling the “Great Resignation”. The Barna Group has recently reported that some 42% of pastors have given real, serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year, a number which is up 13 points from 29% just over a year ago. It is a trend that should concern all of us, both pastors and congregants alike. If pastors are called by God and love His church, why are they leaving ministerial service seemingly in droves?
Over at churchanswers.com, Thom Rainer recently shared some of his findings pertaining to this question in an article entitled “Ten Reasons Pastors Are Glad They Quit Vocational Ministry.” It would be redundant to reproduce the entire list here; however, suffice it to say that all of the reasons stated reflect the relief of having a massive burden lifted off of the shoulders. But what exactly is the massive burden that these former pastors were carrying? I believe that it was the unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of the church and its members. So many churches in this country expect their pastors to be superheroes, masters of every skill, having impeccable personality and charisma, able to carry every burden of ministry, always available, and never to feel exhausted or drained or burned out. A quick perusal of online advertisements for pastoral openings reveals that for most churches, Jesus Christ himself wouldn’t be qualified; after all, he was a single thirty-something with no children, no experience, and no seminary training.
Whether because of the rise of celebrity pastor culture or due to the influence of values taken from the business/political world, expectations regarding pastoral responsibilities and qualifications in most churches are nearly unattainable. However, the problem is not necessarily that the expectations are wrong; they are usually reflections of a congregation’s felt needs or past hurts, though many of these still go unacknowledged or unspoken. Rather, the problem is that they are all heaped upon one person, i.e. the solo or senior pastor. This is why a plurality of elders leadership model is more healthy because it shares the responsibilities of leadership among a group of biblically qualified and trained men. A single or solo pastor/elder is unable to be all things to all people at all times; he is not able to be everywhere and everything that the members of the congregation might need him to be. Or to put it another way, he is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. He has limitations on his time, his energy, and his resources. A plurality model for elders eliminates these limitations by sharing the burdens of ministry among a group of pastors of equal authority and responsibility.
Of course, this does not mean that there are no qualifications or expectations for those called to serve as pastors. The Bible is clear that a man must be spiritually mature, that he must have proven Christ-like character as well as sound theological and biblical convictions. It is also clear that a pastor’s primary duty is to be devoted to prayer and to the ministry of the Word, to care for and feed the flock of God. In many ways, pastors should be held to a higher standard of faith and practice than the regular church member, but as church members, we must remember that our pastors are still human, that they are members of the same body, that they need the same care, encouragement, prayer, and support that we all need. This is why the Bible so often uses the body metaphor to symbolize the nature of the local church. As a body, the church has one head, and that head is Jesus Christ. Beyond that, the rest of the parts of the body are interdependent, and pastors are just one of the parts of that body. They need the life and nourishment of the body just as much as any other part. As the Apostle Paul puts it,
Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. Romans 12.4-5
Like any relationship, the relationship between pastors and church members must be grounded in trust, worked out through open and honest communication, and always characterized by grace toward one another, because only when both sides are able to admit their most vulnerable needs without fear of judgment will we be able to build the kind of foundation that can sustain long-term ministry faithfulness. It is the church’s Scriptural responsibility to raise up men from within their body to serve as pastors/elders. However, so many churches in the world today have adopted the mindset that they exist only to be served by their pastors, rather than to serve them.
This attitude is the primary reason that good and godly men flee pastoral ministry in droves. They have been used up and beat down over and over; they have been chewed up and spit out too many times. We desperately need to rediscover what it means to build each other up rather than tear each other down, and this applies to pastors as much as it does to everyone else. Who is caring for the pastors?
Because they desperately need it.
Bio: Phillip Powers is a pastor serving in Northeastern Arkansas. He blogs periodically at phillippowers.wordpress.com, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhillipPowers.