The American church is suffering and pastors are hurting with them.
If the statistics are true, then 70-90% of churches in North America are either plateaued or declining. Many churches close their doors each year; others struggle to keep the church afloat.
The typical congregation is greying. With the greying comes a greater demand for care and bereavement ministry at the expense of evangelistic and outreach efforts. Faithful members attend less frequently, due to travel, sports, work, and leisure. Monies once used for ministry are now expended for building upkeep and maintenance. Pastors are performing additional work brought on by fewer staff and volunteers. And, with the financial shortfall, many pastors are taking pay cuts and having benefits reduced or totally eliminated. And, all the while, the church continues to decline with the prospects of improving fading as the sunset.
Pastors often feel as if they are pushing a heavy ball uphill, exerting energy, only to be slipping backward on the slippery slope of decline. The problems, demands, frustrations, expectations are endless. Is it any wonder that many pastors leave the ministry each year; while others face forced termination; and others live with constant fatigue and depression?
How can the pastor remain healthy in the midst of such pain?
- Understand that the church’s problems are not all the pastor’s fault. While, like in all professions, some lazy and unethical pastors give the rest a bad name. Most pastors are hardworking, faithful, diligent, caring, and called to their post. They labor long and hard, week in and week out. They launch new initiatives and new outreaches. But nothing seems to work. Is the pastor to be blamed? Not always. Peter Drucker wrote, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” The church’s culture is often enmeshed in tradition, values, and hierarchy contrary to biblical truth and pastoral authority. These forces trump vision, strategy, and leadership. It will take a miracle to move engrained and deep-rooted practices and people so God can work.
- Be responsible to your people; not for your people. In other words, the pastor is responsible to teach, train, equip, performing assigned tasks, duties, and obligations. The pastor is not responsible for the people’s response. For example, the pastor teaches each week in a way that engages, equips, and exhorts people to live more Christ-like and to grow in their discipleship and personal ministry. But the pastor is not responsible for how hearers respond, anymore than a chef is responsible for people eating the food she has prepared. Not everyone followed Jesus or responded favorably to him. If the labor honors God, the pastor has done his part.
- Leave the results to God. The pastor presents Jesus’ message in the Holy Spirit’s power, leaving the results to God. Pastors must disconnect themselves from the results. The Apostle Paul understood this fact: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Cor. 3:6 NIV). Most churches (if not all) grow because God placed his blessing on them. Sometimes they grow in spite of the pastor and the strategy. After a season of growth, some churches will verbalize their success through webinars, conferences, or books. In all honesty, they should admit that God was at work and they got out of the way.
- Remember, pastor, the church is not yours; it’s God’s. Pastors and lay people need to execute care with the personal pronoun my when referring to the church. The church has never been yours. God instituted it; Jesus shed his blood for it. The church should be treated like financial resources. Manage what God has entrusted to you, leading, serving, and caring for the church as if it were your own until God moves you elsewhere.
Finally, no panic exists in heaven. Yes, the statistics are staggering and unnerving. Yes, pastors are struggling and stressed. But, God is still on his throne. He is not pacing the heavenly floor.