Thursday, May 26, 2011

More thoughts on every member ministry

I read an interesting blog post at 9 Marks this morning by Thabiti Anyabwile regarding the tragic statistics regarding pastoral burnout: Don't Make Your Pastor A Statistic. Some of the highlights are numbers I am sure you have seen before, from a Schaeffer Institute study:

  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

    80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.

    50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

    Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.

    Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.

Those are staggering numbers and when you realize that many of the men who are chewed up and spit out by the clerical system are the most enthusiastic and zealous men. These same men are the ones who get burned out and they are the men we need more of but the system they are pushed into has the opposite effect of what is intended. There is clearly a major problem. The question becomes what to do about it. Thabiti’s response is the traditional “are you honoring your pastor” issue.

So, I'm hopeful at least some of God's people would consider these statistics, reflect upon their church's treatment of their pastors, and perhaps lead a conspiracy to make sure faithful elders receive "double honor" from those they teach and lead. Let's face it: we can't get survey statistics like these unless it has become an unchecked commonplace among congregations to gossip and gripe rather than to breathe grace toward church leaders. These statistics indicate a pandemic culture of disregard and dishonor aimed at pastors. That's to the church's shame.

I'm praying that Hebrews 13:17--rather than rejected as giving too much authority to leaders--might be embraced by individual members and congregations as one means to growth in Christ and deeper joy as the family of God. "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
Fairly standard stuff. This was my response in the comments:

Perhaps the problem is not that we fail to properly “honor” pastors. Perhaps it is that the church has inherited a clergy-laity schism that places a small minority of men in a position where they are expected to bear what is an unbearable responsibility. What if, instead of trying to make the best of an untenable situation, we instead sought to have every brother in the church do the work of ministry, sharing the privilege and burden of ministry rather than subcontracting it to one or a few men.

The solution is not to give pastors more time off or to pay them better. The solution is found in a functional rather than theoretical priesthood of every believer where the work of ministry is shared among all of the brothers in the church. A solution where we change our focus from performance on Sunday morning to serving others throughout the week. Seeing elders as servant-leaders who labor alongside other believers instead of an employee-employer relationship. The strange symbiotic relationship between clergy and laity makes a mockery of Biblical ministry and it must be abandoned rather than modified.

This of course would require a radical rethinking of ministry in the local church. The alternative is more of the same: young men zealous for the Lord being shuffled off to get an expensive seminary education, moving to a new town and a church full of strangers who expect him to do everything for them and then watching the meat grinder of professional ministry chew them up and spit them out at a 50% “failure” rate in five years. No amount of pay or vacation time or sabbaticals is going to offset the enormous burden of the clerical system that is killing our most zealous young men and making apathetic spectators out of the rest.

Ministry is something no single man can handle on his own, no matter how good his benefit package is. Furthermore the picture Scripture paints for us is a “one another” ministry, not a “one and all the others” model. If you truly want to honor your pastor, come alongside him and shoulder the burden of ministry.
That kind of summarizes where I am on this, nothing new of course. The problem with the professional clerical system is not in how we “honor” our pastors, it is the system itself that is flawed and unscriptural. I am grieved to read statistics like those Thabiti referenced because it was never supposed to be like this. Is ministry hard, frustrating work? Absolutely but it is infinitely more so when you try to shoulder the burden by yourself. Until we abandon this whole system and start equipping, empowering and encouraging every Christian in the church to do the work of ministry, we will continue to see the tragic fallout in burned out men, neglected families and apathetic congregations.


Aussie John said...


I continue to read your blog with great pleasure. I don't comment much because I would find myself continually repeating my agreement with what you write. So be sure that you are appreciated by this old feller.

Regarding this present article, having been a "preacher",being mindful of what Dave wrote:),since I was 17 years old, and later a "full time pastor" until ill health forced retirement, now having passed my three score years and ten, I again find myself in thorough agreement with your reply to Thabiti.

Arthur Sido said...

Thanks John!