I was talking to a young pastor this week who had been trying to get his parishioners to confront the impact of declining giving to the church. He pointed out that unless giving increased, the church wouldn’t have enough money to operate within a few years and would have to close. I asked him about the reaction he received when he shared this news. He said the people didn’t deny that they needed to change. What they wanted to know was “why he didn’t like them.” What he said next was very insightful. “I’m sure people would like me if I never had to tell them things they didn’t want to hear.”
I’m coming up on seven years in ministry, and it seems like a kind of milestone to me, because at seminary I was taught that seven years is about the average length of time people stay in ministry. (I recently read that the number today is down to five.)
People go into the ministry to serve God and to make a difference. They know intellectually that people resist change, and that they’re going to have to work hard to overcome it. (My young friend’s church actually called him because they wanted him to lead them to change.) What he didn’t expect was to be attacked in a personal way for doing what he was called to do. What he discovered was that people don’t necessarily disagree with calls for change; they are offended by calls for change. But since their reaction seems so natural to them, it doesn’t even occur to them that their reaction might be hurtful to their pastor.
Only a small percentage of people who enter ministry make it to retirement. There are lots of studies and anecdotal evidence to suggest why, but the answer, in a word, is burnout.