And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…
A few years ago I was at a ministry leadership conference where the speaker asked the audience full of pastors and lay leaders this question: “How many of you pastors are in full-time ministry because you dreamed of being a pastor since you were a little kid?” No hands went up. Then the next question came: “How many of you pastors in full-time ministry are in ministry against your will because God CALLED you?” Then the hands of nearly every pastor in the room went up…including mine. I learned two things that day at that conference:
- Jesus has to “call” pastors into full-time ministry because the calling will keep them going when they feel like quitting. (Every pastor has secretly thought about quitting at least once. If he claims otherwise, he’s lying.)
- Jesus has to “call” pastors into full-time ministry because the sacrifice that is required keeps others from volunteering.
As I reflected at that conference on the nature of calling, I discovered that there are at least five deeper, more practical reasons why clergy work isn’t showing up on the “10 Hottest Careers For Graduating College Students”.
1. The responsibility. (Heb. 13:17) The author of Hebrews says that pastors keep watch over the souls of their flock as men that will give an account to the Lord for their leadership. Most people don’t like being accountable to other people let alone God. And honestly…I have enough to worry about when I give an account for my own soul…let alone the souls of others.
2. The hours. (2 Cor. 12:15) In a massive research project published by Thom Rainer of Lifeway Church Resources several years ago, he found that pastors do a lot more than read books and play golf all week. More than half the pastors in declining churches work 50+ hours per week. If the church was growing and reaching the lost, the number of ministry hours worked each week jumped up over 60.[i] This is because the work is never done. There’s always another need, another meeting, another sermon to prepare, etc. Most pastors share Paul’s mindset: “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” Despite ministry being emotionally and physically exhausting pastors work long hours because the spiritual is more important than the physical.
3. The pay. (Phil 4:12) For the most part, ministry is not like the marketplace where hard work is rewarded with upward mobility on the career ladder. Ministers don’t receive commission for the number of people they have led to Christ or homerun sermons they have preached. For most pastors, the pay is modest. In fact, many ministers have transferrable skills that could earn them more if they worked in the marketplace. But they don’t because they’ve been called and because the eternal is more important than the temporal. Another sacrifice that comes with the call is not being able to pick the part of the world you’d like to live in. Pastors must go where the Lord sends them. Thus, some get assigned Florida while others get deployed to Alaska.
4. The pain. (2 Tim. 4:14) Like Paul and the Apostles, ministers of the true Gospel all have stories of extreme criticism, rejection and betrayal they can share. In this verse, Paul describes someone that wounded him deeply. In a survey done several years ago, 23% of ministers reported having been fired at least once and 43% said that a faction forced them to resign.[ii] Based on my own experiences, I suspect these numbers are even higher today. Regardless, full-time ministry is for the resilient…not the faint-hearted.
5. The loneliness. (2 Tim. 4:10) Jesus and the Apostles all had to deal with loneliness. Ministers still deal with this today in part because few lay people understand the burdens of ministry leadership and not every member wants to walk as closely with the Lord as the pastor does. Why? I sometimes wonder if it’s because they are afraid of what Jesus might ask them to do if they did get serious about their walk with him (see Jn. 6:60-66). I’ve written about the loneliness that pastors suffer from here.
Just in case this list sounds like it should be in book titled 5 Reasons Not To Enter Ministry, allow me to clarify my goal in writing this blog entry. My desire is to educate church members and those considering serving the Lord full-time about the realities of gospel ministry. Despite having experienced all the above challenges in full-time ministry, I can also say that serving the Lord has been a privilege. I have been able to see the Lord use me more than I ever imagined possible and I have seen him do amazing things that the average church member does not usually see. Those two benefits alone makes the five items listed above all worth the sacrifice.
[i] Thom S. Rainer, Surprising Insights From The Unchurched & Proven Ways To Reach Them (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2001), 191.
[ii] A 1996 Leadership Magazine survey quoted by Guy Greenfield, The Wounded Minister (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 15-16.