Chances are, your minster won’t tell you what I’m about to.  In no particular order, eventually, I want to share some insights with you into the inner world of being in ministry.  

Before I get started, let me say, I’ve been preaching for over 25 years and I love the church and I enjoy the role I have in ministering.  I can’t think of anything more rewarding than ministry. The road I’m on has been bumpy at times, smooth and extremely blessed at other times.  I have no axe to grind here, but I do want raise your awareness on some areas we usually remain silent on.

Why do I want to articulate this?  Congregations all across the nation are faltering, but one key component to a healthy church is stable leadership.  The longer most preachers remain in a congregation, the greater their influence in the community can be. I simply want to help out here, and help you know what goes on in the mind of the minister so that maybe you can understand us a little better, and maybe something good can come from these points.  

This is not a rant, I’m not angry, and I do not think negatively of the church. I simply hope to help you minister to your minster more effectively than perhaps you have in the past.

“But, aren’t we all ministers, aren’t we a priesthood of believers?”  If this is really your first question, I hope you’ll keep reading. When I write “minister” I’m referring to someone who has dedicated their time and energy to full-time church work and occupationally they earn their bread from ministering in a local congregation.

Here are some insights into the mind of the minister for your consideration:

We are more introverted than you assume.  It’s hard to imagine how a life of study and hours of reading wouldn’t attract introverted individuals.  Yet, many members are surprised when we confess our introverted leanings — but since there’s a stigma attached to being introverted, we mainly keep quiet about it.  We aren’t shy. It’s not that we don’t love people, and we aren’t hermits, it’s just that an overexposure to people leaves us sapped and drains our emotions and our ability to be creative.  We are recharged and energized when experience the blessings of solitude. We relish the time we have to study quietly. I wish I could’ve been like Marvin Phillips, but that’s not how I’m built and more than likely, neither is your minister.  

Often, we feel alienated and misunderstood.  When we went to Bible college and Seminary, we were surrounded with “like minded” people who deeply shared our passion and our goals.  Serving in a congregation, we are surrounded by people who have full time obligations like raising kids, working jobs, and commitments that stretch beyond the church.  We don’t always make the transition into the local church without carrying this tension of being between two worlds as well as we should, and sometimes this keeps us from forming deeper personal relationships with you.  

We frequently worry about how ministry impacts our family.  There’s a memorable song from another generation that goes something like, “The only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man…” Worry about the stresses and strains of vocational ministry and its impact on your home go far beyond being concerned “will our children rebel?”  The “fish bowl” analogy is real but it pales to the notion that the church expects far more from the minister’s family than it does most of the rest of her families. What we’d like to say is, “You ‘hired’ me, not my family,” but we don’t want to rock the boat too much. We need help guarding our family at home more than we let on.  

We aren’t experts, but we have special skills you should utilize.  It can be awkward having a room full of volunteers deciding your next pay raise, but it’s extremely frustrating when your ideas are neglected on a whim because someone doesn’t like to change.  Forget that you’ve had a few courses on the subject and the time to study it out, and the good fortune to meet with other church leaders who’ve implemented the idea. Hear us out, we only want what’s best for the Kingdom.

We have real financial needs.  Sadly, the average preacher spends more time in school than in the pulpit.  The last statistic I read concerning this said preachers quit ministry before their fourth year.  Yet, many of us rack up tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to get the training we need to serve.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard the saying, “We keep’m poor to keep’m humble,” but still many ministers languish with lower than usual salaries.  Ministers would like to be ample providers for their families too. No, we don’t go into ministry to get rich, but we don’t pursue the ministry to struggle either.

We are workaholics.  Unfortunately, we suffer from burnout long before anyone notices.  We need, not want, but need sabbaticals. When the average person goes home from work, they leave their responsibilities at the office.  Not us. We are on call 24/7, we “work” most holidays, and even when we are not in person-present serving, our minds never shut down. Every four or five years, beyond our vacation time, bless us with a month or two off to recuperate, the dividends that would pay are immeasurable.  

There’s probably more I could add, but please think on this: Your minister needs to be ministered as much as anyone else in the congregation.  We are constantly trying to feed the flock, and sometimes we end up malnutritioned ourselves. No one wins when that happens. For the sake of the Kingdom, if you haven’t already I hope you’ll consider meeting the needs of those who minister to you and mutually blessing each other.  

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for your leveled comments and the bravery necessary to begin this conversation. I offer in partial response the reminder that every major church reform since the vernacular scriptures where first mass published has had at its core a form of revolt against previous clergy abuses against parishioners. Paul said “we are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes”; unfortunately, that cannot be said of the US church. We must know our history on a global scale.

    1) US Christianity is overwhelming actually Nationalist Churchianity, which worships the god of the military-industrial complex (he used to be called Aries, Baal, Mars, etc. but I call him USA-El these days [ please see ] ). #BonhoefferMoment

    2) US Christianity overwhelmingly cowtows to the diabolical multinational unbridled corporatist CSuite class, while ignoring their 300x compensation [James 5:1-6; Poor People’s Campaign Presidential Forum C-SPAN & Facebook ; ]

    3) US Christianity overwhelmingly understands “the Bible” as some magickal grimoire while being mostly ignorant of its contents.

    4) US higher education was allowed to hijack the seminaries and supplanted training in discipleship, building community, evangelism, missiology and networks of spiritual gifts (think LinkedIn profiles for every Christian in your congregation) with (very expensive) scholasticism. Lausanne Movement says 95% of its leadership network has no formal theological training.

    5) Everybody is playing the game injured (my spouse is in the nonprofit social safety net “biz”). There is not enough balm in Gilead. Until we are willing to adopt radical honesty (scripture says “confess your sins one to another” and “pray for one another” and “encourage one another”) and invest meaningfully in one another’s lives, we’ll all keep posing with our Jane Jetson masks while rearranging chairs on the Titanic.

    Please… keep this conversation going. There are people who do care. 7000 knees unbent to Baal but bent in prayer to the Most High God. The Holy Spirit continues to move… but we have to be willing to set our sails to catch his breeze.

  2. With all due respect to the author, this is a problem of our own making. For the past 10 years or so, I have spent a lot of time looking through Scripture and historical writings, other people’s research etc. to find a Biblical justification for “our” ministry model.

    “Congregations all across the nation are faltering, but one key component to a healthy church is stable leadership. The longer most preachers remain in a congregation, the greater their influence in the community can be.”
    Healthy, stable leadership should never depend on the presence/absence of a paid minister! healthy stable leadership rests in strong local elders, men of influence in their community.

    We have created a “leadership” position that was not in Scripture. Apart from that, we have created, slowly but surely, a clergy system, where more and more work is taken over by the people who “Bible college and Seminary…” In the end, they seem to be the professionals, so why would the member assume any kind of responsibility?

    From my first introduction to the church of Christ through Wil Goodheer about a 1000 years ago or so, I was told that one of the main differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ was the clergy system. They had it, we did not.

    And now? We have it, just like “they” do. We even started using the term “Pastor” for the local preacher.

    When there is a plurality of elders, spiritual leaders, a ‘minister’ should realize that he is as much a part of the flock as any other member of the congregation. Not ‘the’ leader, not even ‘a’ leader. Yes, he may have the more directed education, but he is not “the”leader of even part of the ‘leadership’ team.

    When we go back to a Biblical leadership team. a lot of other problems are solved. THEY are responsible for the spiritual direction and growth (shepherds, remember – feed my flock). They are the ones setting the direction for the congregation – overseers, oversee) and they are the ones with the expected wisdom (elders, eld!).

    Hiring someone to feed the flock does not seem like much of a biblical idea. Supporting a full time elder is much closer to the biblical idea…

    Using that model takes a lot of stress away from people who go to school and take a job as a full time minister at age 22… My time at Harding was spent with a group of men, older then I was. The next oldest in the room was 7 years older. Many of these men have passed away since graduation. But they brought something with them after graduation: Experience in life as a “regular” worker.

    They knew, some of them, what it meant to lose a job; miss out on a promotion; live off small budgets; be accountable both for and to people. These men had seen life’s struggles from a personal side. Me? My grandmother passed away a few years before, and while at school, my parents divorced. That was the ‘misery’ in my life.

    My salvation, so to speak, was spending two years with a man who had worked many years as a missionary in my country, both as a young man (two millennia ago), and as an older man with a family. The value of his guidance and advise cannot be expressed appropriately.

    Maybe we should use that biblical model more often: Apprenticeships. Some of our N.I. brethren follow that model.

    But what is more and more obvious? The current minister model does not work well, not for congregations, and more important, not for the people filling that role.

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