The title I will explain later. First, some eye-opening statistics about pastors. This from the Barna Research Group: 1500 clergy leave pastoral ministry each month; 70% of pastors report struggling with depression; 50% would leave if they had another way to make a living; 61% of congregations have forced a pastor to leave; 83% of clergy spouses want their spouses to leave pastoral ministry; and 80% of pastors report that they receive no support from peers.
Alarming statistics. Surprising. Well, on the other hand, not surprising. I’ve been in a few of those categories myself for a time. Many of you have as well. And I have been alongside a fair number of clergy in the heart throes of such anguish. This data can, indeed should, wake us up to the widespread pain among pastors, which includes, lest we forget, some long-suffering lay leaders as well.
But the shock of these dismaying statistics sent me in a surprising direction. In my imagination, I pictured myself in an African-American congregation. There the preacher was, in the pulpit, reading these startling statistics, saying, “Now, brothers and sisters, this is bad news, real bad news! We gotta’ hear and heed what’s happening in our churches.” Then the preacher adds: “ But, beloved ones, I’m asking, is that the whole story? Is this an epidemic spreading among all pastors? I’m wondering, is there some good news out there about pastors and churches? Is there any hopeful news? Do I have a witness?” And, in my mind’s eye, I spring to my feet, saying, “Yes, I’ve got a witness! I see more than these alarming statistics. I have a witness.”
My witness is this: There are a host of pastors out in church-land who know the joy, feel the privilege and find the courage to serve the church — let’s say, at least 75% of the time. Mostly they love what they do.
Yes, I have a witness. For the last fourteen years in “retirement,” I have come alongside, as elder-friend, to sixty or so clergy on a sustained basis. Calling on Paul’s metaphors, each pastor or priest is an “earthy, cracked, clay jar” for sure, but they carry the treasure of “good news” with extraordinary chutzpa. I have been up close. I’ve seen it. I have experienced the “afflicted,” “crushed,” “perplexed,” but not driven to on-going “despair,” and, more often than not, they continue to “make the life of Jesus visible” in their ministry.” (II Corinthians 3:7-11) I have observed it. I have a witness.
But having just written this, I wonder: What’s common among these — most of the time — alive and life-giving pastors? Are there a few mutual threads characteristic of them all? Here’s a few that come to mind: They all . . .
- self-define themselves as leaders and work at it.
- have spiritual practices that nurture and deepen soul.
- are being transformed by the challenges of their work.
- cherish a few soul friends with whom they can be out of role, yet who understand the role.
- laugh a lot.
Gladly, I stand up as a witness to these pastors, and others like them, who are mostly unnoticed, under-valued, and under-appreciated. Do I have a witness?