quitting church: reason #4

the fourth reason people are quitting church: EMBITTERED PASTORS (AND PEOPLE)

No one in the American church is more fragile–or bears the brunt of more frustration–than the pastor. Laity are unhappy with their leaders, and their leaders are leaving in droves.  According the a 2008 Pew Foundation study, half of all ordained ministers quit within their first five years, often because of burnout.

in this chapter, julia duin interviewed several pastors who had left the ministry for a litany of reasons: institutional rigidity, unattainable expectations, power-hungry antagonists, spiritual/emotional burnout and decreasing memberships (to name just a few).  on the other hand, she also spoke to many church members who left the church because of pastoral abuses: foment division, sexual sin, betrayed trust, financial misdealings and hypocrisy (again, a small sampling).

duin interviewed eugene peterson whom she describes as “one of the wisest men I’ve ever met.”  peterson says:

Our culture says you go after the winners, you get the glamorous people.  You find the people who are going to help you develop a church.  So spend your time with the leaders…but wha

t did Jesus do?  He hung out with losers.

in the midst of one of his three building campaigns, an elder urged him to pay special attention to the big givers.  peterson continues:

I decided not to do that.  For the next six months, I didn’t visit anybody who had any leadership ability or ability to give.  I spent my time with the widows, the unemployed, just to break the seduction of that.  As it turned out, the money came in anyway.

It’s the job of pastors to know about their sheep and not dump that job on a subordinate.  People deserve to have their name known, they deserve to have somebody who is a spiritual guide and a preacher and a pastor to them, and who has had a cup of coffee in the kitchen.  There is so much alienation, so much loneliness around us.  Classically, that is what a pastor does.  We’ve lost that.  We don’t do that in America.  We do something big and influential and cost-efficient.  Well, a pastoral life is not cost-efficient.  You don’t spend three hours in a nursing home and come away feeling cost efficient.

duin also interviewed parishioners who expressed deep frustration with institutional churches and their leaders.  one lady said, “It was a system that gave the impression it had all the answers and there was no room for questioning.  It was always, ‘You don’t question the leadership.'”  other church members pointed to the high-profile excesses/failures of leaders like jimmy swaggart and ted haggard.

ms. duin argues that a solution to the current problem might be to move to an eldership form of church governance.

Too many people are crashing and burning under the current pastor-does-all system. Of course, the pastor has to agree to share power, something all clergy are not willing to do.  If the minister insists on doing it all, he or she must accept the inevitable burnout that comes with maintaining tight control.

duin concluded the chapter by quoting elder-statesman pastor and seminary president, haddon robinson:

The pastor of a growing Protestant church is one of the most difficult jobs in Christendom because it demands so much variety in order to do it well.  Three years in seminary can’t begin to prepare a person for this multi-faceted job.

A lot of pastors are all circumference and no center.  If you are going to preach well, you have to spend time studying.  Time alone, time spent with God, time spent in the Bible–pastors who fight for this time not only produce better sermons but also keep their personality centered on God.  When they slip off that center, that’s when the worst problems arise.

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6 thoughts on “quitting church: reason #4

  1. Thanks for summarizing the book for us, Randy. But what are YOUR thoughts on this section? I’m curious…

  2. thanks for the question, fran.

    the answer is quite simple (and a little bit embarrassing). robinson nailed it:

    “A lot of pastors are all circumference and no center…When they slip off that center, that’s when the worst problems arise.”

    when i remember what i’m doing and why i’m doing it and for whom, i love my job. the frustrations are all minor. but when i allow distractions to get me “off center” (notice, i did not say “when distractions come” because that’s a given) then people–even people that i love dearly–get under my skin. sometimes to the point where i want to quit.

    but when i am “centered” (in the word, hearing the voice of god, enjoying intimacy with him) then not even the devil himself (or a backslidden deacon) can bother me.

    sounds cliched, but it’s true.

  3. LOVE the transparency and honesty!!! Thanks for opening your thougts. I’ll try to remember not to backslide if I ever become a deacon :)!!! ( not an aspiration of mine, I might add)

    I think both robinson and duin have great insight and speak the truth.

  4. This so spot on randy. I, for one, don’t want nor relish to be the pastor-does-it-all type. I prefer an eldership that works with me to keeps things moving. I also loved Peterson’s response to the request to visit the influential. I am tired of that political game as well. Love these summaries.

  5. Is it possible – the reason “Pastor/Leaders” are “Embittered” and ”Burnout”
    is such a problem for **Today’s** “Pastor/Leader” is they have found themselves

    with a “Title” and “Position” NOT found in the Bible?

    Did anyone have the “Title” “pastor” in the Bible?
    Was anyone ordained a “pastor” in the Bible?
    Were any congregations “led” by a “pastor” in the Bible?

    And every “pastor” I’ve met also had the “Title” “Reverend.”

    Does anyone have the “Title” Reverend in the Bible?

    Does anyone have the “Title” and “Position” – “Pastor/Leader” – in the Bible?

    Jesus taught “His Disciples” NOT to be called “Master/Leader”
    For you have “ONE” “Master/Leader” The Christ. Mat 23:8-10 KJV

    Ezekiel 14:1-7, speaks about “Idols of the Heart,”
    and now God will speak to us according to the “Idols of our Heart.”
    Has that “Title” become an “Idol?” “Pastor/Leader?”

    In my experience…
    Ministering healing to the “Spiritually Abused.”
    Both those who thought, and taught, they were “Leaders.”
    and those who believed them, and became – their “followers.”

    Titles become Idols.
    Pastors become Masters.

    Heavy weights on shoulders NOT easy to lay down.

    And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:
    them also I must bring, and they shall “hear my voice;”
    and there shall be “ONE” fold, and “ONE” shepherd.
    John 10:16

    One Fold – One Shepherd – One Voice.
    If Not Now, When?

    Be blessed in your search for Truth… Jesus.

  6. A.Amos.Love hit the “nail on the head” and I would like to add,

    Jesus never said to go and construct seminaries for the purpose of graduating professional theologians and ordaining them as ministers.

    I think Jesus was opposed to the religious establishment of that day. He threw the money changers out of the temple and I recall he said something like woe to you scribes and pharasies.

    What do we have today? A church system run by professional theologians, seminary graduates who believe they are entitled to be a pastor of a congregation, never ending publications of books, seminars and conferences, and churches using marketing techniques to grow the congregation.

    I don’t believe you will find this church system in the Bible.

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