Some of my closest friends are pastors — and some are former pastors who gave more than 20 years to the task before needing a change of scenery. I admire them all.
Pastoral ministry, I am convinced, is more difficult today than in decades past. There are a variety of reasons for such a strong claim.
First, there are simply more options (religious and secular) vying for people’s time on the weekends. And less guilt about what God will do if you don’t show up to church, tithe and check at least 90 percent of the boxes on the offering envelope.
Second, population shifts and unprecedented pluralism are obvious factors too. In most church settings, it is simply more difficult now to bring people in and keep them engaged.
Third, the embarrassing public image of this humble profession is fortified daily — and especially on Sundays — by the pulpit showboats of the airways.
Fourth, and more locally, there are always those members who think their favorite pastor in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s would have no problem doing successfully today what he did back then. So the current pastor — though equally or more gifted and committed — is constantly being held to an unfair comparison.
Fifth, denominational conflict has taken its toll on many Baptist pastors. Systems and structures that once felt like home to them have radically changed. Finding a place to belong — and one that the congregation affirms as well — can be challenging.
The historic Baptist principles of freedom and personal responsibility that many pastors were taught to embrace and advance — from Training Union through seminary — are now being repudiated by the very leaders of their denominational powerhouse.
Yet churches are slow to recognize and react to such fundamental — and in the case of the Southern Baptist Convention, fundamentalist — change.
As one talented but burned-out pastor friend told me when he threw in the towel a few years ago: “I’ve just concluded that, regardless of what Southern Baptists do, this is always going to be a Southern Baptist church, and I’m not a Southern Baptist pastor anymore.”
A sixth reason for my conclusion is that, within many congregations, worship wars continue with the pastor caught somewhere between the battling parties. Finding compromise between congregational subgroups with very strong but differing opinions about what constitutes “true worship” is difficult and costly.
And, seventh, regardless of church size or theological bent, most pastors spend way too much time and energy on trivial pursuits that have no significance in Kingdom matters. This is not their desire. But hearing and attempting to pacify a few high-maintenance church members seems to take up a significant amount of a pastor’s attention.
While the number seven is symbolic of “completion,” this list could surely grow. But there is a strong enough case here for me to conclude that the pastoral task is more difficult today.
Sure, there are those rare times when a pastor fails to fulfill the basic responsibilities of the job. In such cases, dealing with valid concerns over pastoral leadership is needed.
But in most cases, we need to simply give them a break. Heck, we might even want to show a little appreciation instead of nitpick everything they do or say.
How would you like to attempt to satisfy such opinionated and inflexible people as you and me? And, remember, this is the person who answers our crisis calls in the wee morning hours with: “I’ll be right there.”