I found these statics in a file recently. The findings are unsettling to me. According to a study of pastors:
· One thousand five hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
· Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
· Eighty percent of seminary graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
· Seventy percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after three years in ministry, only fifty percent still felt called.
· Eighty percent of pastors surveyed spend less than fifteen minutes a day in prayer.
· Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Scriptures is when they are preparing their sermons.
I read these figures with sadness and relief. I’m sad because I have friends who are no longer in the ministry because the work was too discouraging or they flamed out morally. I know other pastors who are so bitter that I don’t want to spend much time with them. With others I hear one horror story after another about the people they serve. My older brother Scott is also a pastor. When he was newly ordained, he used to attend meetings with other new pastors. Each meeting Scott heard complaint after complaint. My brother didn’t share their frustrations. He loved his congregation; and he loved being a pastor. He still does and so do I.
Like any job, the ministry comes with challenges. There are days that are long and seasons that have been trying for me. But I’m so grateful that I’ve never lost my sense of call to be a Pastor. And I’m especially grateful that I look forward to getting here each day, particularly when it’s Sunday.
What has kept me in the ministry for nearly thirty years? For starters I learned early on that I had to take care of myself because no one else was going to do that for me. So I figured out early on that I need to spend time in prayer and reading the Bible each day for my own spiritual nourishment and not to write a sermon. I need to exercise about four times a week. I need to eat well and sleep well. I need to take days off regularly and enjoy vacations faithfully. I need time with my wife and children and with my friends.
I’ve also learned that I need to receive God’s grace day by day if I am to keep on going. I know that God’s forgiveness, kindness and faithfulness to me all come as sheer gifts. God gives me these things because He loves me and not because I’ve tried to be a good pastor or a good Christian. On many days, I’m neither.
I once heard of a daily faith practice recommended by Martin Luther. Martin Luther recommended that believers should begin and end their day reminding themselves of their baptism and then go to work joyfully or to sleep cheerfully. When Luther was beset by doubt, discouragement, guilt and frustration he would cry out: “But I am baptized!” That’s me: a baptized Christian who happens to be a man who still loves to be a pastor.