A staple of the pastoral ministry is the ubiquity of doomsdayers, naysayers, and highly negative soothsayers. To wit:
Epidemic of forced pastoral terminations!
Thousands of pastors leaving ministry each month!
Depression rampant among pastors!
Pastors are overworked, underpaid, drowning in a sea of student debt!
Average tenure of pastors is short, and unsweet!
Toxic churches driving pastors to quit ministry, commit suicide!
There is some truth in all of these but a steady diet of such things is unhealthy for those called to the pastoral ministry. From the get-go thirty-five years ago my life was filled with warnings, alarms, and predictions about what a difficult life it was to be the pastor of a church. Well-meaning, grizzled veterans of the pastoral ministry warned me about recalcitrant deacons, members who would be hard on my wife and kids, low pay, long hours.
Yeah, thanks for the encouragement, brethren.
Since I’m semi-retired now, having survived several decades as a pastor without being forcibly terminated, without being driven into clinical depression, without kids or spouse being abused, and without being hopelessly impoverished, I thought I would take time to make a factual assessment of all this. So, I left my driveway and visited the first 100 churches I came across and interviewed the pastor. Here’s what I found:
1. The number of senior pastors who have been at their church for a decade or longer was almost half of all the churches.
Who would have thunk that? What happened to the old average longevity of eighteen months that I have heard innumerable times? It never was. Imagine that. Forty-four of the one hundred churches I visited has a pastor who had been at the church for a decade or more, long enough to see little children grow up and graduate high school. Long enough to see pimply-faced middle schoolers graduate high school and college, get married, and have kids. Nothing makes pastoral ministry easier than the accumulation of years of service that widens and deepens relationships in the church.
2. Pastors and churches are mostly in stable relationships.
Not much evidence of the thousands of ministers leaving the ministry for less stressful, higher paying fields. Only a single church had a pastor who left the ministry for another vocation, although some had pastors who died, retired, or moved to other ministry positions.
3. Pastors weren’t underpaid or overworked, generally.
Most of the 100 churches were average size for the SBC, 75-150 in attendance, and the pastor had a package that averaged around $57,000 annually. Not too shabby. Some made less. Some made more. As a group, this wasn’t an underpaid group. The great majority of the brethren had a work week that was reasonable, maybe a median of about 50 hours per week. As I asked more specific questions about the work week, I got the sense that many of the brethren knew how to squeeze in personal time to a work day and/or take a half-day or day off when needed. The average pastor work week was about the same as American workers as a whole. No doomsday here.
4. The number of depressed pastors was, well, depressing.
At about every fourth church the pastor admitted to some kind of mental illness. At about every eighth church the pastor admitted to a clinical diagnosis of a mental health condition. Depression is the likely and most prevalent culprit here. If there is a warning, this is the place it is found.
5. An overwhelming majority of the pastors denied that being in the ministry had a negative effect on their family.
From the old scare stories I had heard over the decades I figured that surely more than 20 or so of the pastors would disclose through clinched teeth that the pastoral ministry was a net negative on their wife and kids, but, nope, 79 denied that was so. I would speculate that truck drivers, teachers, law enforcement people, and a lot of other occupational groups have more than 20% with a negative family impact. The number of brethren who said that their congregation was very considerate and loving towards their wife and kids was surprisingly large.
6. Only a handful failed to state that they felt privileged to be a pastor.
Can you get 93 out of 100 pastors to agree on anything? I found exactly that many who agreed that whatever the difficulties and challenges, it was a privilege to be a pastor.
Perhaps they were speaking ministerially…or perhaps they were being honest.
Suggestion for my ministerial colleagues, especially younger ones: Ignore most of the doomsday stuff you hear. If your minister’s conference is a gripefest every Monday, then find another one that is more uplifting, encouraging, and supportive.