Who’s choosing (and sticking with) church ministry?
Results of the 2006 pastoral trends survey
Take a trip to Toys R Us. You’ll find all kinds of cool toys designed to inspire kids about future professions – a stethoscope for aspiring doctors, a plastic cell phone for budding lawyers. But do companies market anything for up-and-coming church leaders? A plastic pulpit, perhaps?
When young people muse about their future careers, ministry doesn’t usually make it to the top of the list. For some, it doesn’t even come to mind as an option. For others, the job of a pastor appears thankless, stressful, and all-consuming – less than appealing.
It’s not surprising that our MB churches are experiencing a critical need for pastors. If projections are correct, the Canadian conference will need approximately 200 pastors over the next five years to maintain our current staffing, and another 150 church planters over the next 10 years to sustain growth.
The results, compiled by researcher Dieter Schönwetter, will help conference leaders better support pastors and congregations as they plan for the future.With these concerns in mind, the Canadian Conference initiated a research project, conducting a nationwide pastoral trends survey. The team set out to discover how to launch young people into ministry careers, equipped with tools for long-term, healthy service. They wanted to learn the secrets of pastors who have stayed healthy and happy in their ministry assignments. They also wanted to learn why some pastors burn out and leave ministry altogether.
Some 300 MB pastors and former MB pastors completed the survey (a moderate 28.2 percent response rate). The largest age cohort was 41–50-year-olds. Most respondents were married, with children, and nearly 60 percent were senior pastors.
|Who filled out the survey?|
|32 women||267 men|
Wading through reams of charts and graphs from the survey findings and a statistical report based on conference databases, one finds some interesting trends.
For example, the job descriptions and responsibilities of pastors have changed over the decades. Survey data indicates that ministry roles will continue to evolve as churches launch new programs and find fresh ways to reach their communities for Christ. Ever heard of a campus pastor? How about a pastor of integration or L.I.F.E minister? Churches are now more likely to hire specialists for particular areas of ministry, such as prayer, women’s ministry, youth ministry, singles, or administration.
These findings indicate that MB Bible schools and seminaries must stay on the cutting edge in order to provide the right type of training for these specialized leaders.
Is it better for a church to hire a new pastor straight out of seminary, or one with more experience? Survey results show that both have unique strengths and potential downfalls.
When pastors begin their ministry, they’re often excited and motivated. They view themselves as doers and participators, rather than watchers or observers. They’re actively engaged and enthusiastic.
For these unseasoned pastors, church and ministry often define their identity. This can be dangerous if the pastoral position is the only thing that brings meaning to their lives. Survey findings indicate that more than 14 percent of pastors feel strongly that their work is their life. Schönwetter says this type of “extreme” response indicates a potential for burnout.
As pastors move from their first term to their second in ministry, they are slightly less likely to get involved or take risks. They become less extroverted, but have a stronger self-identity (apart from the church) and are more confident in their ministry role.
Thumbing through the classified section of the Herald, it seems that churches are endlessly conducting pastoral searches. Is there any staying power in ministry?
Many of us have heard that the average tenure for a youth pastor is 18 months. This can be a destructive perception, leading people to believe youth pastors aren’t particularly committed and will bolt at the first sign of trouble.
The survey suggests this simply isn’t true. Of the 234 youth pastors included in the statistical report, 50 percent have served three or more years.
Our lead pastors also value long-term service. Of the 960 pastors included in the statistical report, 79 have served between 10–20 years, with one pastor completing 27 years of ministry in the same location! Many survey respondents say they feel they’ve achieved success in ministry.
|How successful do you feel you’ve been over the past year? (percentages in round numbers)|
At the same time, pastors are leaving. Almost 39 percent of participants say they will be leaving the MB conference for various reasons, including retirement or disillusionment with ministry. “The conference needs to prepare for the future vacancy of pastor positions within the next three to five years,” says Schönwetter.
|What will you do when you complete your current ministry term? (percentages in round numbers)|
|Renew my term in the same church||30%|
|Find employment in another MB church||22%|
|Leave church ministry||13%|
|Move to a more senior position or change roles||10%|
|Find employment with another denomination||4%|
|I have no desire to ever return||4%|
Some pastors will depart for positive reasons, such as finishing a particular goal or moving to a new city, while others cite more disheartening factors. These pastors say they’re facing challenges such as congregational and leadership conflict, family crisis or loss, fatigue, lack of support, salary issues, and unclear or unrealistic expectations.
Are there ways to address these frustrations and concerns? Survey participants provided significant feedback about what would help them maximize effectiveness in ministry (and conceivably stay longer in the job). They are asking for more affordable and accessible training opportunities, mentors, stronger spiritual support from the conference, and better peer support systems.
|Top 10 critical factors for continuing in ministry|
|Spiritual direction||Immediate family|
|Congregational factors||Professional development|
|Mentors/coaches||Church support group|
|Peers||External support group|
Survey results strongly indicate that spouses play an essential role in the life of a pastor. More than 60 percent of participants say their spouses have a large influence on their career decisions.
Schönwetter suggests that the type of work a spouse does has potential to benefit a pastor. For example, a spouse who is a teacher can provide advice, ideas, and reflection; a nurse can help the pastor develop a sense of caring for people; an administrative assistant can provide resources for organization and time management.
As the conference continues to find ways to retain its ministers, Schönwetter says spouses must somehow be “included in the support structure.”
Overall, Schönwetter believes there are a number of self-care things pastors can do to increase their level of achievement and longevity:
- Find a mentor or spiritual advisor.
- Continuously seek ways to develop professionally and personally.
- Ensure that spouse and family are a priority.
- Develop a clear set of boundaries between church work, personal time, and family time.
- Have other outlets that provide a healthy perspective on work (e.g. hobbies, sports).
Pastors need to admit that they’re human – with faults and limitations. “Some pastors fall prey to their own unrealistic expectations that they are capable of doing more than is humanly possible,” says Schönwetter. “Involving others through delegation would be of great benefit. This might mean more professional development for pastors in the art of delegation, team building, and the art of effective persuasion of volunteers.”
In terms of ministry, pastors must develop a clear sense of a congregation’s needs. This can be done through surveys, interviews, or townhall sessions. This will allow the pastor to work more intelligently and effectively. When a congregation’s needs are met, church attendees are more content, and the pastor will experience more success.
Congregations can help
Pastors regularly experience frustration around several key aspects of ministry; in fact, 67.7 percent of participants view their churches as having unrealistic expectations. They also say they have great difficulty finding volunteers.
So, how can congregations keep their pastors?
The survey shows a pastor’s success can be directly linked to the support and encouragement of congregational members. Support can take various forms:
- Get involved as volunteers.
- Be sensitive to the pastor’s personal and family time.
- Exhibit care and affirmation for the pastor.
- Communicate expectations clearly.
“The complexities of pastors working for congregations are challenging at best,” Schönwetter says, “given that each member can be potentially viewed as one of the bosses. Although many pastors felt strong support from their congregations, working for many people can encourage expectations that are demanding, unclear, and unrealistic. . . . Open communication between pastor and congregation often helps to alleviate these misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations.”
The conference needs to help congregations in the hiring process, he said, making sure all parties clearly see each other’s perspectives and dreams. For example, the conference should provide background information to the pastor about a congregation’s personality to ensure better hiring matches.
It should also find ways to address the complexities of the “letting go” process, which is often painful. The conference must create policies to support “more meaningful and amenable transitions for both the pastor and the congregation” when it’s time to leave.
Conference response to survey
As conference leaders, we’re committed to responding as best we can to pastoral needs, in order to ensure health and effectiveness. Here are some steps we’re taking: