Saying Goodbye to Our Pastors

According to 9marks.org, every month over 1,300 pastors are terminated from their jobs;  Over 1,700 leave the ministry altogether;  Only 1 in 10 professional ministers will actually make a life-long vocation out of pastoral ministry, and one day retire from this profession.

Personally speaking, as somebody who went to Bible college and has been engaged in various forms of ministry for over a decade, I have a lot of connections with pastors, who, for one reason or another, are no longer engaged in vocational ministry.  Sometimes the reasons are good, and sometimes the reasons are bad.

But, one thing that I have noticed that is common to most situations, whether the reason for separation was on good terms or bad, is that when a pastor or "staff" member at a church is no longer employed at their church, they almost always end up leaving their present church, and going somewhere else to fellowship.  

Even for those pastors who continue to live in the same town or city, and don't gain employment in another church, without fail many of these individuals will never darken the door of their former church, and whatever fellowship they had with anybody in that church will be largely (if not entirely) severed.  At best, any contact that remains exists largely through social media.  There are exceptions to this of course, but this tends to be the general practice.

There are a lot of "professional" reasons for doing this.  Some of it is to avoid the personal awkwardness of the entire situation, and some of it is to avoid possible leadership conflicts, especially one's that would "undermine the authority" of the new pastor.

Whatever the reason, it is altogether heartbreaking stuff, and I don't think things should be this way.  I think things are this way, however, because our approach towards pastoral ministry is way off theologically, and does not reflect the heart of our heavenly Father.

In our churches, pastors are seldom seen as "one of us."

Many pastors aren't truly "part of" the local church.  They may preside "over" our communities and lead them, but they often do such as "outsiders."  They are "the man of God" who goes up the proverbial mountain to hear from God, and return to speak the message he has.  Many often minister out of a sense of being a "professional" or "trained specialists," who function more like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company than they do as spiritual fathers taking care of the family of God.

CEO's can resign from their jobs or be voted out.  If a father attempts to leave his family, he is still the father of his family, whether he shows up or not.

The Biblical model of pastoral ministry is one of fatherhood, not corporate America.  Sadly, as a church we have largely embraced the model of ministry and church government that makes the church function more like a corporation instead of a household and family.

Think about it:  How many pastors at your present church grew up to pastor at the same church they went to as children?  Pastors are seldom home grown and nurtured.  They go away to Bible college and seminary, and then get sent somewhere remote and foreign to them and their families.  They seldom return to pastor in the city they grew up in, let alone the church they were raised in.

Pastors move around and are treated like professional sports athletes.  Some don't live up to their potential and eventually get cut from the team.  Others are traded away for a replacement to be named at a later time.

The vast majority of our pastors are imported from another region of the country, and often get hired by people they hardly know, to labor among people they will seldom develop meaningful long-term personal friendships with.

Statistics report that over 70% of pastors report not having a close personal friend at their church.

And why should they make friends?  They are hired professionals there to do a job, and within a couple years they will likely be traded away to simply work somewhere else.  According to a research poll conducted by Lifeway Research, the average pastor stays at any given local church a mere 3.6 years.  Other research shows the average tenure to be 5 to 7 years.  Either way... not a very long time.

No wonder so many pastors are so lonely.  They are alone and don't have many friends because we have created a church system in which pastors are largely treated as temporary hired hands, imported from distant lands, brought in to do a job for a short season, only before moving on somewhere else.  Apart from their spouses, they have few people they can lean on for spiritual counsel and support.  If they are struggling in an area of their life, very few people they pastor would ever know it.

When I read the New Testament and the writings of the early church, I see a very different way of "doing ministry."  Pastors were home grown members of the local church family.  They cut their teeth on the teachings of Jesus Christ among their brothers and sisters, only to one day grow into the very men who could provide spiritual oversight to that same family.  People knew them very closely.  They were loved as fathers of the faith, and had real and deep relationships with the people they pastored.  So much so, when persecution struck, many often sacrificed their very lives out of love for their Christian family.  And when they died, their churches took it to heart.

Sure, there were itinerant ministers like Paul, Timothy, and others that frequently traveled.  But, such men were the exception, not the rule.  And, even when they did travel to work in other churches, when we read the letters they left behind, we see that they treated the churches they ventured to merely as distant family members with whom they were visiting.  And, they were received as such.  They made close friendships and connections with the people they ministered to, and they longed to return to the church they grew up in.

Sadly, this experience in the modern church is very rare.

There is often a great gulf that exists between the pulpit and the pew, and this is not how God designed the church to function.  Pastors have become increasingly distant professionals, and less like a part of the family.  God's desire and will for the church is not only that we would have a close and personal relationship for Him, but that our churches would be known for the great love that exists between us, and that we would function not as a corporation, but as a family.

How we handle the hiring, firing, and resignation of pastors/church staff says a lot about our theology of the church as the family of God.  And it not only says a lot about our theology, but it says a lot about where we actually are spiritually in our walk with God.  If we are truly close with God, we must be close with one another.

What do you think?  Did I miss the mark, or am I spot on in my analysis?  Besides talking about these things on the internet, how can we as individuals in the church help bring meaningful change to the church, and return to a family oriented model of church life and ministry?  

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