If someone sat down and designed a ministry system for senior pastors and other church staff it’s hard to visualize the design of a tougher system than we already have in the Southern Baptist Convention.
- There is no entry level of education; therefore, many pastors who have plenty of both compete with others who have no ministry degrees, degrees from shabby educational institutions, low threshold “doctorates” that are seen by churches as equivalent of rigorous academic degrees.
- There is no entry level of experience required. Actually, there’s not a lot of choice here. We have to start somewhere. Internships and staff positions are limited and could not possible manage everyone who feels called to pastor a church.
- There are a limited number of good-paying churches, a factor that is mainly a function of the size of the congregation. We can’t all be megachurch pastors, large church pastors, or large budget church pastors..and if we never land one of those churches, pay is inherently limited. Most SBC pastorates are small churches. There is a long running trend of membership movement from smaller to larger churches which looks like it will result in more numbers of smaller, weaker churches and greater numbers of marginally compensated pastors.
- To get a substantial increase in pay, ministers must often relocate to another church, even an equivalent sized church. Many congregations tend to give, sometimes, inflationary pay raises but seldom “step” increases.
- Our system is such that it is typical for the average pastor to move many times in his career. Taking an average tenure of five years, a pastor might have a half-dozen or more post-seminary pastorates and relocating to a new field is risky on several levels. The new pastor has instant respect and support from some church members. Seems to me that with the decline of trust of clergy in our society, a long trend, there are less instant supporters for the new pastor putting him in a position of having more pressure to quickly build trust and confidence.
- Some churches are toxic to ministers, yet there always seems to be a supply of brethren who are willing to take such churches. This may be a result of a lack of due diligence, a deficiency in ministerial savvy, or an unhealthy level of desperation on the part of the minister. Whatever the cause, it is painful and destructive.
- Our system of moving from church to church is antiquated, messy, and sometimes impenetrable. There is no central market that brings available clergy and churches together. Some of the brethren are not skilled at networking. Some churches lack skills in minister search processes. The result is often undesirable.
- The age of the minister is an almost insurmountable hindrance at times. Hit 50, 55, or 60 and find less churches unavailable. To be forced to move after 50 or so makes the minister very vulnerable. He may not have saved sufficiently to take a smaller church, or semi-retire, or take a cut in pay.
- The impact of ministry on the pastor’s family is substantial, often negative.
Most of these are a product of our belief in local church autonomy and our relatively affluent society. One solution often proposed is that churches develop and then call clergy from within. I favor this but do not think it is likely to be widely adopted. Frankly, I don’t see where many of these could change for the better. We should, I suppose, equip ourselves to manage the system we have.
The wonder of it is that there are tens of thousands of ordained, trained, educated SBC clergy who endure this and find their calling to be satisfying and fulfilling.
While I’d like to say that God is involved, or is the main factor in our church-clergy system, honesty compels me to say that God’s absence in the process is often more obvious than His presence. I would appreciate being persuaded otherwise.