Why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry? This is a question that many people ask especially today. There used to be a time when full-time ministry, or becoming a pastor, was considered a noble aspiration. During the Middle Ages, it was considered an academic pursuit that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford to get a formalized education. The culture of today seems much different and many factors contribute to the less than lofty stature full-time ministry now occupies. So, why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry?
For me, I consider it to have been a limited choice. Why I state it in such a manner is because long before I would “choose” to enter full-time ministry, a sense of call was placed upon me. I come from a denomination which emphasizes the understanding of a call. The church culture in which I grew up, and would eventually seek ordination from, felt that every person has a call placed upon her or his life by God. Some are called to be teachers, some business leaders, some lawyers, some medical professionals, and the list goes on through every form of employment and volunteer opportunity that comes to mind. I was taught that each person has a call, or often multiple calls, placed on them by God. Just because God places a call upon a person, the person is not required to fulfill the call. In fact, many individuals pursue other courses in their lives. However, after years of resisting the call into full-time ministry, I chose to respond reluctantly in the affirmative.
General themes of why a person answers the call to full-time ministry exist. One of the reasons some give is a desire to help others on a daily basis experience the love of God. Another reason is to assist others in developing answers to their questions regarding their faith. Other responses might include a fulfillment in walking through life’s challenges with another person. For me, it was a strong desire to open for others the wonder of what a relationship with the Lord might mean in their life.
Whatever the answer to the question of why a person has gone into full-time ministry, a sad reality exists…the church is crushing pastors at a very alarming rate. What I mean by this is that in too many conversations with colleagues and those who have exited from full-time ministry, I have heard too often that the demands of the congregation and the denominational hierarchy crushed their passion and desire to continue in full-time ministry. Too often these demands distract the pastor from their role as a shepherd, teacher, companion, and spiritual leader. I would say that the demands actually prohibit the pastor from fulfilling these other roles. Yet, these are usually the roles which lead the person to enter full-time ministry.
Let me share a few examples of these demands. The first one which quickly comes to mind is the demand of being the referee. What does refereeing have to do with being a pastor? Well, it really should not have anything to do with it but often the pastor is the one expected to enter conflicts within the church and reduce or eliminate the conflict. Imagine being a parent who has over one hundred kids who have a tendency to enter squabbles over toys, control of the television, or who gets to play the Xbox next. This is often what a pastor feels like when trying to maneuver through all the he-said, she-said arguments which arise out of situations such as who decides what to serve at the Fall Festival Dinner.
Another example of the demands which crush a pastor is the endless amount of discussion and input from a variety of individuals in order to make a decision. Churches love to have committees to discuss and plan everything from what coffee to serve during fellowship time to what songs to sing during the Christmas season. While there is indeed value in seeking input from various voices and creating an atmosphere of participation among the members, these groups often get bogged down in details and personal opinions. These details and personal opinions frequently lead to the squabbles I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other issue which arises is that little progress is made in making a decision and it all is very time-consuming.
A third example which is too frequent is the financial stress the pastor absorbs. When it comes to church finances, the same story exists in some level in every church, there never seems to be enough money for anything. This leads to many different burdens placed on a pastor. One is the idea that a pastor should be the chief fundraiser of the church. Some members view it to be the pastor’s responsibility to find creative ways to bring money into the congregation and then lead those fundraising efforts as spokesperson and arm twister but do these things in a very unintimidating manner. The other side of the coin is that the pastor is often charged with the responsibility to reduce and maintain spending at the lowest level possible. The pastor is left to rely on volunteers and donated monies to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished from repairing the leaky flat roof to having weekly activities for youth from age 0 to 35. Of course the use of volunteer labor will also require being flexible and understanding that they have real lives so cannot accomplish what they commit to doing for four to sixteen weeks. Yet the pastor gets the blame when things are not done correctly and in a timely manner.
The list of examples can grow with each exhausted pastor with who you have the chance to speak. Horror stories and tears are in abundance as pastors tell of the demands placed upon them and the way in which they are often treated. Besides the personal anguish and abuse, yes, I will call it abuse, the issue that tears most pastors hearts the most is that they do not have the time or the energy to live out the passion which called them to full-time ministry in the first place. Every once in a while they are fortunate to see a glimmer of their call fulfilled in the life of another person but these occur like shooting stars at night which are fleeting and way too infrequent.
The congregations and denominations of the church are crushing the pastors who feel God calling them to full-time ministry. It is the congregations and denominations who are losing out on women and men who would love to shepherd, teach, walk alongside, encourage, and spiritually lead in the example of Jesus. Until the church wakes up to this reality and does something meaningful about it, you will continue to see pastors step out of full-time ministry, pulpits remain empty, and seminaries have fewer and fewer students.