There seem to be a lot of churches anxious to dump their pastor this year. And an almost-equal number of pastors confess to being ‘half-burned out’ and are looking for a way of escape. Perhaps I’m hearing about the worst cases, but it sure looks like pastoring is tougher than it was 40 years ago. My pastor-father pretty much always expected a ‘unanimous vote.’ To him, a few ‘no votes’ meant it was time to move on. Not so today. Pastors simply expect some opposition as part of the ‘cost of doing business.’ What has changed? Why are church members more willing to criticize, oppose, or vote against a pastor today?
But we haven’t just lost this spiritual aura in the world; it’s slipped away in the church too. I sometimes wonder if it is because of the change in what we actually do now. Today’s busy pastor has more in common with a YMCA director or business manager than the preacher of the 1950’s. Many of today’s church offices hum like an insurance agency, complete with a photocopy machine, computer, office hours, and a paid secretary. The work of a pastor has changed from praying, calling, study, reading, and sermon preparation to leadership and managerial activities related to a sprawling church activities calendar. Laity increasingly see us ministers as employed ‘program managers’ or ‘church administrators’ more than ‘prophets of God.’ Does this make them more comfortable criticizing our productivity, or ‘firing a non-producer?’ Have we brought some of this on ourselves?
We ministers now swim with all the other management sharks and sometimes pay the same price for it. Many laymen on the board are better experts than the pastor at these things, and we sometimes look bad, in spite of our decade’s reading of management books. Seldom does a pastor get the boot for being a poor preacher or weak in fasting, but more often it is because he is a ‘weak leader,’ or ‘poor administrator.’ Many pastors are totally out of their own area of expertise. Certainly we can’t turn back the clock. But has this massive change in the nature of our work gotten us into areas where we have little or no seminary training, and eventually made us less effective at doing what we were not trained to do?
I hope not. But from what I hear through my email, there is a tremendous amount of turmoil in local churches. Not everywhere, mind you. But it will take a considerable amount of evidence to persuade me that pastoring is not harder today than it was 40 years ago.
But, then again, if today’s ministry is harder, God certainly wouldn’t leave us high and dry would He? Won’t He supply increasing grace to do it? He gives more grace when the burdens grow greater.
Is ministry more difficult than 40 years ago? Is it easier? How? What do you think?
© 2006, Keith Drury
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.