Is Ministry Harder today than it was 40 years ago?
by Keith Drury
There seem to a lot of churches anxious to dump their pastor this year. And an almost-equal number of pastors confess to being ‘half-burned out’ and are looking for a way of escape. Perhaps I’m hearing about the worst cases, but it sure looks like pastoring is tougher than it was 40 years ago. My pastor-father pretty much always expected a ‘unanimous vote.’ To him, a few ‘no votes’ meant it was time to move on. Not so today. Pastors simply expect some opposition as part of the ‘cost of doing business.’ What has changed? Why are church members more willing to criticize, oppose, or vote against a pastor today?
1. Loss of spiritual respect.
Thirty years ago my pastor-father’s primary job was to pray, call on people, study, and preach. The pastor was considered ‘godly,’ and even respectfully called ‘preacher’ or ‘Reverend.’ My dad pastored the largest church is his area, but he didn’t even have an office in the church—he had a ‘study’ at home, and that’s what he did there – study. When people in town discovered that he was a minister they responded in an almost hushed respect, and often with a discount. Not so today in the post-Swaggart/Bakker era. Many ministers hide their identity now that the general respect for the profession has sunk closer top the media, congressmen, and lawyers.
But we haven’t just lost this spiritual aura in the world, it’s slipped away in the church too. I sometimes wonder if it is because of the change in what we actually do now. Today’s busy pastor has more in common with a YMCA director or business manager than the preacher of the 1950’s. Many of today’s church offices hum like an insurance agency, complete with a photocopy machine, computer, office hours, and a paid secretary. The work of a pastor has changed from praying, calling, study, reading, and sermon preparation to leadership and managerial activities related to a sprawling church activities calendar. Laity increasingly see us ministers as employed ‘program managers’ or ‘church administrators’ more than ‘prophets of God.’ Does this make them more comfortable criticizing our productivity, or ‘firing a non-producer?’ Have we brought some of this on ourselves?
We ministers now swim with all the other management sharks, and sometimes pay the same price for it. Many laymen on the board are better experts than the pastor at these things, and we sometimes look bad, in spite of our decade’s reading of management books. Seldom does a pastor get the boot for being a poor preacher or weak in fasting, but more often it is because he is a ‘weak leader,’ or ‘poor administrator.’ Many pastors are totally out of his or her own area of expertise. Certainly we can’t turn back the clock. But has this massive change in the nature of our work, gotten us into areas where we have little or no seminary training, and eventually made us less effective at doing what we were not trained to do? Hmmmmmmmmm…
2. Increasing expectations.
People’s expectations have changed too. Members today expect excellence, quality, – even perfection. A pastor should be likable, funny, a good organizer, great office manager, excellent people skills, have good looking well-behaved kids, stay slim, dress well, be a ‘good communicator,’ and be willing to work for considerably less than some of the board members. Anything less, and some members get dissatisfied. The trouble is, we ministers aren’t perfect. (Neither is Robert Schuller if you saw him all week.) People expect more today. And when they don’t get it, they are willing to oppose the pastor, maybe even try to ‘run ’em off.’ A pastor needs to be better today—just to survive. If you aren’t really good, you might not ‘make the cut’ with some people. Its hard to be perfect when you’re not.
3. Pace of change.
Many pastors get ousted because they, ‘made too many changes too fast.’ We are right now going through a period of massive change in worship styles. The wise old-timers always said, ‘You can change a lot of things, but when you mess with the worship style you’re asking for trouble.’ Well, we’ve been messing with the morning worship service a lot during these last ten years. And lots of people don’t like it. Some of them are willing to get even. They like the fact that you’ve changed what they’ve done in worship for a thousand years (actually they’ve only been 15 years, they just *think* their style was permanent.) Today’s consumer-member knows what flavor ice cream he or she wants, and if you can’t serve that flavor, down the street they’ll go… or, more likely, down the street *you’ll* go. We are seeing a lot of this unrest because we have introduced too much change too fast.
4. The carnality factor.
Sure, we’ve always had carnal church members. And, I know some people think the level of godliness is at an all-time high in the church. I don’t. So, I suspect that the general level of spiritual shallowness and worldliness in the church has produced a good crop of the quack grass of carnality. And its not all lay-carnality either.
5. The ‘moral majority factor,’
I know, Jerry Falwell’s ‘moral majority’ evaporated long ago. But the Moral Majority mothered a dozen other movements committed to change society. For more than a decade evangelicals have trained our people in the fine art of how to get your own way. We’ve taught our people to use war terminology, power tactics, and organized protests to attack the enemy. We’ve trained members how to organize, sign petitions, boycott products, write congressmen, protest, organize and wield power to get what they want. Could it be that they’ve learned the lesson too well? Is it possible that we didn’t recognize that we were teaching them a *method* of getting what they want? And now this dog has turned and bit us in the rear end? I fear that many churches have gotten better at effecting change through petitions, protest letters, and power blocks than by engagement, discussion, compromise and prayer? Are we now more at home with boycotts than the Bible? Organizing a ‘no’ vote, than organizing a VBS?
I hope not. But from what I hear through my EMail, there is a tremendous amount of turmoil in local churches. Not everywhere, mind you. But it will take a considerable amount of evidence to persuade me that pastoring is not harder today than it was 40 years ago.
But, then again, If today’s ministry is harder, God certainly wouldn’t leave us high and dry would He? Won’t He supply increasing grace to do it? He giveth more grace when the burden s grow greater…
Is ministry more difficult than 40 years ago? Is it easier? How?
By Keith Drury, You are free to transmit, duplicate or distribute this article for non-profit use without permission.