According to recent statistics, from LifeWay Research, the average tenure for a senior pastor in the U.S. is only about 4-6 years.
Translated that means that there are a lot of pastors out there with four to six years of experience many times over with very few having twenty to thirty years of experience in one place. Also, according to statistics, only 10% of those entering pastoral ministry see their career through to retirement. Around thirty-five hundred churches are closing every year in the U.S.
Why does pastoring seem to be such a drain on people of the “cloth?” What makes it so difficult? Why does it take such a toll on pastoral marriages and families? Why are many pastors just biding their time and can’t wait to finally exit the ministry feeling ill-equipped to do anything else? Why are too many pastors leaving their pulpits in disgrace? I have two words, I believe, to describe what many pastors face during their careers, “Emotional Trauma.” Emotional Trauma has a cumulative effect and if not addressed, can be destructive to pastors and their families. Hang with me here…
A Great Reward
Please don’t think I’m crazy for saying this, but I absolutely love being a pastor! Believing it to be one of the most rewarding pathwayss an individual can navigate in this life, I have found it filled with adventure, intrigue, mystery, excitement, exhilaration, challenges, and fun. On the flip side, there are many things that make pastoring emotionally lethal like potentially ruining your marriage, making your children hate you causing you to wonder what in the world ever “possessed” you to enter pastoral ministry in the first place. Can I get a witness? It’s not only a dichotomy, it’s also like a Rubik’s cube and puzzle seemingly impossible to assemble at times. People love you; people hate you at the same time! Some want to give you a raise, and others want to give you the boot! Every pastor I have talked to about the subject tells me that while Bible School or Seminary did an adequate job of preparing them to preach, teach and manage, they didn’t even come close to preparing them for all the other things pastoring brings with it.
How Did You Handle It?
So, how did you handle your first betrayal, pastor? Oh, you haven’t had one yet? Well you must be in the first year of pastoral ministry! To the rest of you who could show us your scars, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Whether it was real, perceived, intentional or unintentional, it still hurts. What are some of the first things that went through your mind after you realized you’d just been stabbed? How about: How could you do this to me? What did I do to you to deserve this? I thought we were friends? And, You call yourself a Christian? I’ll never let anyone do that to me again! After all I’ve done for you? And these are just for starters. And if you happen to be “lucky” enough to have more than your share of people who have been deeply hurt in their past….may God have mercy on your soul! More on this and our wounds from the wounded later on.
Let me change gears here for a moment and introduce you to an important facet in my life that has given me an incredible amount of insight into our lives as pastors and the wounds we receive in the course of serving those we love. I have joyfully (for the most part) been a Sr. Pastor for over 35 yrs. For the past 11 of those years, I have also served as the official Chaplain to 4 different Law Enforcement agencies concurrently. I also serve on our regional SWAT team as a drone pilot/trainer and crisis negotiator. I know, that seems like a strange combination for a full-time Sr. Pastor, but it has been both rewarding and eye opening. During this time, I have seen an amazing parallel between the emotional trauma pastors face with the emotional trauma those in Law Enforcement deal with. From that perspective, it became clear to me that pastoring is a “dangerous” vocation. It is certainly not as acutely life-threatening as law enforcement, but the emotional trauma both face can wreak havoc on one’s health, mental well-being and then eventually negatively affecting their family and their career. If that’s not a dangerous mix, I don’t know what is. Let me state, initially, there is hope! We don’t have to become a statistic or a burn out.
No Quick Fix Here
Let me be clear, the blogs that follow will NOT be a quick fix and won’t change your congregation. These words could, however, quite possibly alter the way you deal with the negative things you face striving to fulfill the role to which God called you. It might even change your outlook, your mental state, and your attitude.
So, I invite you to join this journey of discovery asking the God of heaven to open your heart and understanding. There is much more to come so read away, my dear pastor and brother or sister. For more, tune in to the Emotional Survival for Pastors podcast at PastorJohn.net.
John C. Adams has been an ordained Senior Pastor for 35 years. He holds a Masters degree from Oral Roberts University and has been serving the non-denominational New Life Church since 1997. He has been married to Diane for 34 years and has three grown sons and five grandchildren. He serves as the regional law enforcement chaplain for four local agencies teaching officers and their spouses “Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement” and also teaches that same topic at the local police academy. He received a commendation from the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association for his involvement in a protracted negotiation while assisting the SWAT team as a crisis negotiator, a position in which he currently serves. At the request of the Sheriff, he also formed the agency’s drone program and is a FAA licensed remote pilot and trainer of their agency drone pilots. Pastor John is also an avid triathlete and three-time qualifier for USAT Age Group National Championships and part-time instructor at Cuyahoga Community College at the Police Academy.
To listen to Pastor John’s podcast, “Emotional Survival for Pastors,” go to: www.pastorjohn.net