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The future of our pastors

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Results of the 2015 CCMBC pastoral survey

It seems like only yesterday when the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches initiated a nationwide pastoral trends survey (see MB Herald Vol. 45, No. 15) to identify who is choosing and sticking with church ministry. Those findings established a benchmark. Now, nearly a decade later, L2L undertook a second survey of several hundred pastors. The second set of data provides the beginning of trend lines. The results, compiled by researcher Dieter Schönwetter, will help the stakeholders better support pastors and congregations as they plan for the future.

Pastors-SurveySignificant differences between 2006 and 2014

1. There was an 11.39 percent increase in the response rate, a 3.1 percent increase in women who responded, a younger overall age representation (M = 46.9 years vs. 51.8 years) and a larger percentage without children.

2. The average duration of ministry assignments has increased (2006 M = 5.9 years vs. 2014 M = 7.0 years).

3. The significance of a supportive congregation increased to become one of the top three factors for continuing ministry.

4. The retention rate has increased by 9.3% since 2006 (71.1% 2014 vs. 61.8% in 2006).

Systemic issues replicated between studies

There are a number of systemic issues that continue from the 2006 study. For each identified, participants provided meaningful solutions which are summarized as recommendations below.

1. Ongoing development of new and experienced pastors

Training must include mentoring and coaching, best practices, specialization, networking and lifelong learning through various training modalities. Experts with experience and passion should teach pastors to deal with stress and crises and to develop resilience, healthy marriage and family relationships.

Furthermore, pastors, both new and experienced, need authentic learning opportunities that include not only the theoretical grounding, but also the practical application through apprenticeships, internships and field education. Opportunities to try and even fail in a safe environment with timely encouragement, mentoring and coaching are key to helping the next generation of leaders identify their gifts and develop further in the context of local congregations.

2. Unclear expectations regarding the role of the pastor. 

Participants acknowledged a discrepancy between perceived and expressed expectations around the role of the pastor in relationships among pastors, congregations and church leadership. Recommendations include proactively working with the congregation and church leadership to provide written clarification of a more manageable set of ministry expectations for the pastor, the congregation and church leadership. This should be documented, reviewed and updated annually.

3. Transparent assessment of pastor’s and congregation’s strengths and weaknesses.

As part of the candidating and hiring process, pastors are often required to be transparent with regards to their gifts and liabilities from previous ministries. Suggestions include that the pastoral candidate also receive a profile of the congregation and church leadership that provides a transparent look at the congregation’s history along with any assessments that give a glimpse into the congregation’s strengths, weaknesses, culture and relationship with previous pastors.

4. Active congregational participation supports pastors. 

During the pastor’s tenure, congregational members are less likely to volunteer in church positions. It is important that the pastor be provided with accommodating congregational leadership and willing members who actively participate and volunteer at all levels of ministry.

5. Transitional ministry requires special care.

The transitional period is often fraught with regret, disappointment and hurt to all parties involved. It is critical to develop and implement processes, resources and personnel to resource leaders and churches with confidentiality and excellence during times of pastoral transitions. It is also important to find ways to equip pastors, congregations and church leadership on the nature and benefits of intentional transitional ministry.

6. The pastor’s spouse needs support. 

The pastor’s spouse often feels “second in line” when it comes to the congregation’s and church leadership’s unrelenting expectations of the pastor.

A solution would be to provide a meaningful support structure for the pastor’s spouse through mentoring, coaching, retreats and professional development opportunities.

7. The pastor’s time with family needs to be valued. 

Supporting and protecting the pastor’s time with his/her family is critical as the spouse and/or children often struggle as second-class citizens to the demanding expectations of the church and church leadership on their parent/spouse. Congregations should value, respect and encourage the pastor’s personal and family time by providing times of rest and regular sabbaticals.

As seen above, systemic issues are best resolved by the stakeholders’ (e.g., pastors, congregations, church leadership, area ministers, provincial and national denomiational offices, mentors and coaches, and the schools) investment in the pastoral ministry, whether directly or indirectly supporting the pastor.

Resources and resource people being utilized

Another important difference between the two studies is that the 2014 cohort of pastors (in comparison to the 2006 cohort) are beginning to use more of the current resources and resource people available to them through the provincial and national conference offices to address many of the systemic issues identified above.

Of most value are the care, listening, support and encouragement that pastors receive from their conference ministers.

Resources also include the pastor and spouse retreats; opportunities to connect and network with colleagues; L2L’s church leadership experts, program and coaching; and access to the rich online resources and training available through the conference offices.

While many are maximizing these resources, some are unaware of these resources or how to best access them.

The way forward in helping pastors, congregations and church leadership take steps toward greater health and effectiveness that will positively impact pastoral retention among Mennonite Brethren congregations involves addressing the recommendations above and utilizing the resources and resource people from the provincial and national conference offices.

For full details of the study, download the Pastoral Trends Report, the CCMBC Pastoral Trends Executive Summary, or view the Pastoral Trends Report Video here

—Dieter J. Schönwetter is a social psychologist who works in the faculty of health sciences at the University of Manitoba. He also conducted the 2006 pastoral trends survey of Canadian Mennonite Brethren pastors.

Conference response to survey

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