Great is Thy Effectiveness?
There's danger in rooting our identity in ministry rather than in Christ.

Something's wrong. We pastors are the stewards, the spokespeople, the advocates of a message of hope, life, and peace. And yet so few of us seem to be experiencing these qualities in our own lives. Something's wrong. In a world saturated with fear, insecurity, and stress, we are to show a different way. And yet those at the center of the church are burning out and leaving ministry at a rate of 1,500 per month. If that's what's occurring at the heart of the church, why would anyone on the fringe want to move in closer?

I've just read an article by two Christian counselors about the soul-killing impact of church ministry on leaders. (The statistic above comes from them.) They note that the pressure to grow the church is a significant factor leading to pastoral burn out. And some pastors "admitted they promoted growth models that were incongruent with their values because of a desperate need to validate their pastoral leadership." It seems too many of us have our identities wrapped up in the measurable outcomes of our work rather than in the life-giving love of the Christ we proclaim. Something's wrong.

I spent last week in western Iowa and met many wonderful pastors and church leaders. These men and women don't lead megachurches. They're not in chic urban or suburban communities where new cultural trends are born. In other words, they're not the people you're likely to see on the platform at a ministry conference. More than one church leader approached me during the week holding back tears. Each confessed he was on the verge of mental/spiritual/emotional collapse. The cause sited by all: the pressure to perform.

Some might say these leaders have failed to nurture their souls sufficiently. We usually want to blame leaders for their own burn out, but when I see the pervasiveness of this problem I wonder if there isn't also a systemic factor. Could contemporary church ministry itself be the problem?

When I peruse ministry books, websites, magazines, and attend conferences I'm bombarded with one overwhelming message: great ministry results are the product of great ministry leadership. If a church is growing, if lives are changing, if budgets are burgeoning - it must be because the leader is doing something right. Conversely, if the church is shrinking, if lives are struggling, if budgets are busting - it must be because the leader is inept. As a result, a pastor's success and self-worth is inexorably linked to his/her measurable performance. Stewing in this toxic brew is it any wonder why pastors' souls are shriveling. Something's wrong.

August 12, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 46 comments

Stephen McGhee

October 11, 2008  5:21am

To the extent that there has been real conversation happening throughout this comment section, I have really appreciated it. This is a significant topic to discuss at our current place in church history.

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September 07, 2008  7:55am

Thanks Skye. It was a perfect timing to find this week in my journey and I just wanted to say thanks for writing what so many feel and needed to read and that included me. God Bless Regards

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Jim Kane

August 27, 2008  9:43am

Thank you! While I do not battle with this expectation as much as I used to, I am grateful that the Lord is helping me come to a better and clear place of faithfulness to Him and that He does not care about our 'success' but our faithfulness to Him and the church He has called us to...

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August 26, 2008  3:39pm

I feel this way too. Thanks.

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Seahawk Lun

August 26, 2008  2:32pm

Paid or not-paid pastorate is not an issue. The culture and climate dictate what is the best for the congregation. The key is pastor that is called to shepherd his flock with integrity and character. Not for their own personal gains (finance, frame, and power). Too many pastors are getting paid by the congregation and yet are not called to shepherd the same congregation.

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August 22, 2008  9:08pm

We left our church due to the "megachurch wannabe" attitude of the pastor. In his eagerness to grow the church and collect things that would make people want to join (big media screen, remodeling, etc), he has succeeded in a constant stream of people leaving. We have always said his church is failing because he has forgotten about doing God's work first. Remember in Acts? They kept busy. And GOD added to their numbers.

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August 22, 2008  12:29pm

Great article – great conversation. Two observations: 1) Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be successful. Many places in Scripture we are commanded to be faithful. Do the math. 2) I have seen several pastoral Terms of Call (in the Presbyterian Church (USA)) that begin, "In order that you might be free from financial concerns to perform ministry among us..." This is not to suggest that paid pastors should be more shielded from economic realities than their flock. However, it does mean that there is no equation between "pay" and "performance," but rather between "support" and "need." I have tried mightily to educate the Session on this point in every church I have served – even to the point of making waves because I wouldn't go along with the "raise" that my senior pastor wanted.

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August 21, 2008  12:42pm

There have been only a few comments on the government of the church contributing to the division of church and laity. I believe that the congregational form of government is the biggest contributor to the pastor performance-congregation expectation model discussed. The pastor is voted into position, then has a term of X years before he/she is retained or rejected by some majority of votes from the congregation. If the congregation does not get behind the pastor's vision, they have the "power" to control his future ministry. The pastor may choose to either: 1. Settle and do ministry to please his congregation; 2. Take a "damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead" approach and hope for the best or 3. Become a "salesman" and sell his vision to those who oppose him. Giving power to the congregation that doesn't get conferred to their leader is one of the biggest causes of burnout for pastors.

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Tim Aagard

August 19, 2008  11:28pm

Skye I appreciate your willingness to post contrarian views to "the system" in this blog. There is no comparison between a few short blog blurbs and thousands of articles written to beef up "the system". I am pleased to hear that Neil Cole will have an article. To what extent he is willing or is allowed to substantively challenge the majority modus operandi is yet to be seen. There are hundreds of shallow excuses to justify "the pastorate". "Would we support nonpaid amateur doctors? Would we support nonpaid amateur electricians even? Hardly" is one of many. I have a sermon ready to answer this one, but this isn't the place for that. The web of rationalization wrapped around "the pastorate" is very thick and tightly woven. The commands of God that are "nullified" by these rationalizations are tragic realities and have deep "side affects" on all the people of God, both now and in our eternal reward. LJ is a fundamentally a business. There is money in supporting the majority system. Centuries of history tells us there is little or no money in calling for substantive reformation. A fundamental of "leadership" is that it follows the truth beyond comfortable and profitable traditions of men. I'll continue to watch and exhort in the ways allowed for me.

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August 18, 2008  10:33am

"So the sole function of a bishop...was...what? Many of the Fathers/Doctors were trained for their positions and that was their "sole function"." Well, he was a Bishop, and like his brother, he shepherded the church. I would be curious though what his "degree" was in ... biblical studies? Athenian rhetoric? Socratian logic? Platonian theology? But I think you get the idea... "...there ARE people who are in a better position to lead than the average pew sitter." Agreed, and Travis Greene, couple posts up, actually articulated my viewpoint much better than me, so I will quote him... "Does ministerial experience and teaching matter? Of course. But our obsession with credentialism is killing us."Not sayin' that's YOU, sheer...just say'n... I'm a historian/scientist, Nathan, not a pastor ... thankless job that it seems to me in my viewpoint, but I do have my gifts and as a church we should use all of our gifts for the glory of G-d. The reason a lot of pastors are burning out is because they're trying to be everything: Pastor, Preacher, Healer, Prayerer, Counselor, Prophet, Walk-on-water-walker, and they're burning out. Duh! And yeah, I would too. So it begs the question, why is that? Well the reason being is that a lot of the denizens of the pews like being part of the frozen chosen. They pay their, tithes, and they expect the pastor to be the be-all-end-all of all things christian. And to be honest, the pastoral denizens standing behind the pew are kind of midwifing that's a vicious cycle. Pastor burns out? Congregation gets a new pastor, and then burn him out. And so goes the cycle, rinse, and repeat.

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