What marks most pastors who speak with us is their brokenness. In every case, pastors resigning from their churches are broken, beaten, and discouraged. Pastorless churches are a paradoxical development in the United States. While plenty of clergy abound in the US, fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. Many churches fail to keep a pastor more than a few years. Usually, congregations blame departing pastors of some lack of dedication.
Their stories, along with my own experiences in the pastorate, attest to several common traits among pastorless churches. Churches who struggle to keep pastors possess similar characteristics and cultures within their congregations. Here are ten observations:
Clergy Competence. For various reasons, a point is reached when a pastor simply is no longer competent to hold this most trusted position in the church. Often, it is a matter of disqualification due to sexual conduct, mismanagement of funds, or some other issue. Surprisingly enough, emotional breakdown, depression, and mental incapacity affect many resigning clergy.
Continual Criticism & Abuse. One pastor shared his dread of Monday mornings. With head in hands, he cried, "I know when I look at my emails, there will be at least a dozen messages criticizing just about everything I said in yesterday's message. Then there's social media." Many pastors share their fear of continual lambasting by members who've never pastored. Another pastor shared, "It's as if one Precepts Course or Bible Study Fellowship class makes them an expert." An ex-pastor shared, "The cruelest people I've ever known are Christians. I hate Christians."
Congregational Combat. Members in the pews are in a continual state of war with each other. An Interventionist pastor friend of mine tells of trying to right sinking pastorless churches. His words are haunting, "It's hand to hand combat when I'm called into the situation." The Apostle Paul's words to the church at Corinth resonate, "For you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn't that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren't you living like people of the world?"
Complete Consensus Leadership. Many churches' Elder or Deacon Boards set an environment of leading by 100% approval. Every member of the church must sign off on every issue. First, this is not possible, and second, it's problematic. When this occurs, individual leaders are nothing more than the elected representatives of special interest groups in the church. Board meetings attend to petty complaints of members unable to see the big picture. One pastor shared, "If there is ever a complaint, the board wants to stop everything and start over." That church did not survive.
Compromised Consecration. Consecration is an old word for holiness. Holiness is grossly absent in our churches and among leaders today. One of the churches I previously served at as Senior Pastor lacked holiness among some of its leaders. The previous pastor possessed a high level of pornography addiction. One elder who now serves a prison term for sexual assault added to the confusion. Questionable sexual conduct by another elder elect remained an unanswered issue. Added to this was hundreds of thousands of dollars unaccounted for with no existing receipts. This marked just a few of that church's problems. None of these issues were known upon accepting the pastorate. Once discovered my exit was assured.
Another church I served at disposed of an elder prior to my arrival. The removal of that elder required a Herculean effort among those desiring to remove him from the chairman position of leadership. It divided the church. The problem: the elder was accused of stealing the 401k retirement plans of his employees. Some of the members of that congregation worked for him. He was sentenced and served time in prison for the offense.
The Bible is pretty clear, "An elder must be above reproach." Leaders serving on Church Boards with strong sin deficits, unethical behaviors, or questionable actions should not sit on leadership boards in the Church.
Closed Church Mentality. Simple truth is that many churches are plagued by a membership thinking, "This is our church." Nothing is further from the truth. The Church clearly belongs only to Jesus Christ. He paid for it with his blood, started it, and founded it it upon Himself. An inclusive attitude makes it impossible for many pastors to lead a church to obey Christ's command to, "Go and make disciples of all nations."
Core Member Centered. Many churches suffer from too few families controlling the life of the church. One of my members once said, "It's hard to get in here, but once you're in you're in." To which I replied, "And the Spirit of God weeps."
Competing Boards. Another pastor shared the plight of his church. Within the church existed an elder board of eight members and a deacon board of eight members. The church barely averaged 300 people in attendance. For years, these two boards refused to communicate, cooperate, or coordinate. Any wonder their church chewed through six pastors in ten years?
Consumed Clergy. Most pastors are just plain worn out. In a recent survey, 802 or 71% of pastors surveyed stated they were burned out, battle depression, and feel highly fatigued on a daily basis. Pastors usually keep 60 hour work weeks, are on call at all times, are required to perform multiple tasks beyond their abilities, and put up with a host of abuses from members claiming to be Christians. Once I took a two week vacation. Upon returning from vacation, several members accused me of looking for another church to pastor during my absence.
Clueless Compensation. Many churches regardless of the size of the congregation require at least a Master's Degree before considering a pastoral candidate. Many clergy hold high levels of qualifications and credentials. Compared to their secular counterparts, they earn far less in wages and benefits.
I'm not making this up. Once a pastor friend of mine was presented a Christmas gift by two of his elders before they left for Hawaii on Christmas vacation. I was there at church, with My pastor friend, when he opened his card. In the card, was a fifty dollar gift card for a local restaurant, and a $15.00 off coupon torn out of a newspaper. The look on his face communicated his hurt, struggle, and disappointment.
In all this, I ask two probing questions, "Where are the leaders of the church? Who protects the pastor?" Or, "Who loves the pastor for cryin out loud?"
If you want to keep a pastor; protect your pastor, provide for your pastor, and value your pastor. Without a caring nurturing environment, most pastors will not stay. Why would they? Why should they? They are human too. So, it's up to you the congregation! The membership must set a loving caring safe environment for a pastor and family. Highly valued pastors highly value the churches they pastor.
If your church struggles to obtain or keep pastors, perhaps the problem is not in the pulpit, but rather in the pews.
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.