Where are the Happiest Pastors?
by Lyle E. Schaller
The Clergy Journal (March 1977): pages 36-38
Do you agree that all four of these statements describe contemporary reality?
** A larger proportion of adult Americans are employed as psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, and psychologists today than ever before in American history. (Between 1960 and 1990 the population of the United States increased by 40 percent, the number of clergy increased by 67 percent, the number of lawyers increased by 260 percent, and the number of psychologists increased by 1,667 percent!)
** A larger proportion of the American population, age 14 and over, are the recipients of professional counseling than ever before in American history.
** More self-help books are in print than ever before in American history.
** More Americans are regular participants in twelve-step and other mutual support groups than ever before in American history.
If those four statements are true, that raises an interesting question. Are these increases a product of rising demand or has the increased supply sparked a greater demand?
A fifth, and more subjective statement also can be offered. There are more unhappy parish pastors than ever before in American history.
If that last statement is true, another question is raised. Why? Is this increased number of unhappy pastors primarily a product of the times in which we live? Or is it a product of a complex set of factors that vary not only among the many religious traditions, but also among pastors?
After 35 years of conducting consultations with congregations, leading workshops for pastors, and studying more than two dozen research reports on clergy morale, several patterns keep recurring. These patterns can be arranged in two different settings. The first is where one is more likely to encounter a happy pastor.
The Happiest Pastors
1.The pastor is in the tenth or subsequent year in that pastorate.
2.The pastor is married to a spouse who is
a) delighted to be married to a parish pastor,
b) actively supportive of the pastor’s ministry)’
c) happy to be residing in that particular community.
3.The pastor has been married to that spouse for at least 12 years.
4.The pastor is Black or a member of an ethnic minority group and/or is serving an immigrant congregation.
5.The pastor enjoys a close personal relationship with God as Creator and Jesus as Savior.
6.The pastor can easily name at least two or three close personal friends from among the members of that congregation.
7.The pastor founded this congregation.
8.The pastor was born in 1952 or later.
9.The pastor is not a graduate of a university-related divinity school.
10.The pastor did not spend more than two years in any other vocation between school and the parish ministry.
11.The pastor is male.
12.That congregation does not carry any denominational affiliation or carries it very lightly and or that denomination was created since 1900.
13.If this is a denominationally affiliated congregation, the denominational structure
a) is horizontal, not hierarchical,
b) does not place the regulatory role high on the list of essential functions,
c) places resourcing congregations at the top of that list of functions,
d) challenges the laity to be engaged in doing ministry.
14.The pastor chooses one of these four roles as “my number one responsibility here”:
a) shepherd of the flock,
d) visionary leader.
Absent from that list are:
b) counselor to troubled persons,
c) chief administrator,
d) leader among leaders,
e) administrator of denominational affairs.
15.The ratio of worship attendance-to-confirmed membership is above 70 percent.
16.At least one-half of the current adult membership of that congregation have joined during the past ten years.
17.At least 70 percent of the members of the governing board have joined since this pastor’s arrival.
18.The governing board includes 12 or fewer members and they all agree that 5 of their most important responsibilities are:
a) to expand the number and variety of entry points for newcomers;
b) to challenge believers to become disciples of Jesus Christ (to move from admirers to followers), and to provide a variety of opportunities to facilitate that transformation;
c) to challenge, enlist, train, nurture, and support lay volunteers to be engaged in doing ministry;
d) to serve as a long-range planning committee that evaluates every policy question by this question: “What will be the probable long-term implications if we take that action?”
e) to support the pastor’s sense of urgency about doing ministry.
19.The number of adults meeting weekly in adult Sunday school classes and/or in small face-to-face groups is equal to at least 40 percent of the adult membership.
20.When asked about the morale of other clergy, the pastor often replies, “I don’t know about all the clergy, but among the ministers who are my close, personal friends, nearly all display a high level of morale.”
21.The pastor is serving a church west of the Mississippi River.
22.When asked about volunteer lay leadership, the pastor usually declares, “My congregation has a far above average number of deeply committed and highly competent volunteer leaders.”
23.The pastor enjoys a happy personal life as well as a fulfilling professional life.
24.At least two of the most widely respected and influential leaders in that congregation were born after 1955.
25.The denomination is not perceived as “one of our major problems” by either the pastor or the volunteer lay leaders. Where Are the Unhappy Pastors?
The unhappy pastors usually identify with at least a dozen of these characteristics:
1.The pastor describes the community context as a disadvantage or handicap in doing ministry.
2.That congregation has been served by at least 12 pastors (or senior ministers) since 1950.
3.The congregation was founded before 1970.
4.The pastor is convinced that low morale among the clergy is one of the most pressing issues in contemporary American Christianity.
5.The congregation places institutional survival goals at the top of the local agenda.
6.At least 50 percent of the adult members joined more than 15 years ago.
7.The ratio of worship attendance-to-confirmed membership is below 40 percent.
8.It is a rare Sunday when that worshipping community includes as many as five first-time visitors who are complete strangers to all the members.
9.If this is a denominationally affiliated congregation, that denomination (or the predecessor denomination from which this congregation comes) was founded before 1900.
10.The current denominational affiliation is with a religious tradition that was involved in a major denominational merger since 1950.
11.The ministerial placement process in that denomination either is
a) controlled by the staff of the regional judicatory, or
b) heavily influenced by that staff.
12.The denominational system requires a seminary degree for ordination.
13.The pastor is of European ancestry.
14.The pastor is not married.
15.If married, the pastor’s wife does not enjoy the role of being married to a parish pastor.
16.The pastor was at least 40 years of age on the day of seminary graduation.
17.The pastor lives in a church-owned house.
18.The governing board includes more than 15 Members and accepts as its central responsibility a permission-granting and permission-withholding role.
19.It is widely assumed by denominational leaders that a high priority for congregations is to send money to denominational headquarters. This may even be the number one yardstick in evaluating the performance of congregations.
20.The pastor identifies the parish ministry as a profession, career, or job rather than as a calling or a vocation.
21.The focus in sermons, in the hymns, and in the prayers places a much higher emphasis on God than on the second or third persons of the Trinity.
22.The pastor is highly critical of what often are described as “success models” for the evaluation of ministers.
23.The pastor recalls those days from the past when cooperation was the theme for inter congregational relationships, and regrets the current emphasis on competition.
24.The pastor feels, “I was not trained to do ministry in the environment in which I am now serving.”
25.The pastor is serving in a full-time role in what really is less than a full-time assignment. Underemployment can be a powerful source for low morale for any adult.
Three Cautions In reflecting on these two checklists, three cautions should be kept in mind.
No one checklist can cover all the variables for any one subject.
Second, every setting includes factors that lead to low morale and also conditions that reinforce high morale. This is not a simple black-and-white world.
Third, every generalization includes exceptions. You may be an exception!