Pastors, Wimps or Endangered Species?

Body of ChristMore than 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month.

Read that again. It is not a typo.

And if you think that statistic is troubling, you should probably stop reading this right now. I’m serious. This is not for the faint of heart. If you do choose to keep reading, you may want to go grab some Mylanta or Pepto Bismol first. These statistics are very upsetting.

In the past month alone I have been asked to meet with two pastors, both of whom are seriously considering packing it in and walking away. Two, in just one month! And these guys are no slouches. They are both good men who love their families, love the Lord, and love the church. They are gifted, dedicated, hard working, passionate guys with a proven track record, both of whom have made a significant impact for the Kingdom of God. But they both look like weary prize fighters with their backs against the ropes; bruised, bleeding and discouraged, wondering how many more rounds they can endure. It’s heart breaking, and frankly, it scares the living daylights out of me. Are pastors wimps, or are the demands being placed on them so far beyond reason that they are cracking under the pressure?

Take a look, if your dare, at just a few of the gut-wrenching statistics compiled by George Barna, Focus on the Family, and other respected organizations:

  • 80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
  • 90% of pastors feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the demands of ministry.
  • 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
  • Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • The profession of Pastor is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions.
  • Over 4,000 churches closed in America last year. That’s more than 10 every single day.
  • Many denominations report an “empty pulpit crisis”. They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.
  • More than 50% of all pastors are so discouraged that they regularly consider leaving the ministry.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 85% of pastors said their greatest struggle is dealing with problem people such as disgruntled members, elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors.
  • 90% said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they began.
  • 80% of pastors’ wives feel left out and unappreciated by the church members.
  • 80% of pastors’ wives wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.

What in the world is happening? Something has gone horribly wrong. And I didn’t even bother to include all the grizzly statistics of the pastors who get involved in adultery and other horrid things, often with members of their own church. But you’ve already seen enough of that on the news, as has the rest of the watching world… ad nauseam.

I have to tell you, this stuff really shakes me up, not only for all the obvious reasons, but because I’m a pastor, and I know I’m not immune from any of this mess. I think about my family, our church, the cause of Christ, and it makes me tremble to consider what’s at stake. And I’m one of the fortunate pastors. I know that. I have the privilege of being part of a church that is genuinely characterized by love, where the leadership is truly united as one… but even with that, I still feel these statistics stalking me. I can feel them breathing down my neck at times, ready to pounce and sink their fangs into me. So if I have to be constantly vigilant to safeguard myself against these things while serving in a great church, how must pastors feel who slog away in a church filled with strife and church politics? No wonder the dropout rate is so high.

Believe me, I’m aware that writing an article of this nature might come across as self-serving — you know, be nicer to “us pastors”… but you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that my intentions are far from that. I am just so deeply troubled by these numbers, (which continue to worsen every year), and my heart aches so much when I see pastors becoming “statistics” instead of finishing strong. I also realize that pastors crash and burn for a myriad of reasons — sometimes through their own doing, and sometimes because of what churches do to them — and I know I can’t solve this crisis by writing this article. Still, I felt compelled to say something in the hopes of maybe encouraging a few people out there.

If you’re not a pastor, these statistics may come as an enormous shock to you. If you are a pastor, they don’t shock you at all. In fact, I guarantee you that you’ve already identified with several of them, and there’s probably one that is your “biggie” — the one that keeps you awake many nights. Let me just leave you with a few things to ponder.

1.            It’s easy for the demands of ministry to become so consuming that they drain you of your passion for Jesus. That sounds impossibly ironic, but it’s true. You can’t pour water out of an empty bucket, and you can’t minister to others when your soul is parched. Don’t make the mistake of allowing your “study time” for sermons to replace your own personal time with the Lord. They are not the same. Spend private time with God exclusively for your own nourishment, letting Him feed your soul. Regardless of how pressed you feel for time, your family and your ministry will reap more benefits out of your private time with God than you could possibly accomplish through any other means. Pray often. Don’t try to shoulder the burdens of the church without God’s wisdom and guidance. Take your struggles to Him and you will find uncommon grace and insight to help you through.

2.            Your wife comes before your church. The world already has enough “successful” pastors who are failures at home. Don’t be one of them. Be on your guard… I promise you that Satan is going to try and trip you up in this area! There is no ministry worth sacrificing your marriage for. None! One of my favorite childhood memories is when I overheard my mom talking about my dad to some people, and she said, “He’s the same man at home that he is in the pulpit. He lives what he preaches.” Pastors, if your wife can’t say that about you, it’s time for a reality check. Fall in love with your wife all over again. Put her needs before the needs of the church. She is your first ministry!

3.            The same goes for your children. Honestly, the statistics on pastors’ children are the ones that scare me more than anything. Pastors’ children leave the church in droves. This is an area I am constantly monitoring because it is so easy to drop the ball here! In fact, just this past Tuesday night at our men’s meeting, I asked some of the men in our church to pray for me for this very thing — that I would never make Caroline and Nick feel like LifePoint Church is more important than they are. If you want to get real on this, then find the right moment to sit down with each of your children and ask, “Is there any way I’m failing you as a dad? Is there anything you wish I would do differently?” You might be surprised at what you hear. Pastors, if we lose our own kids, was it really worth it? Let me get very “spiritual” with you for a moment… go out and buy the old song called “Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin. Seriously, do it. Then block out all distractions and listen to every word of that song. Keep it handy and listen to it often. It’s the greatest song ever written about the regrets of a busy father. Make it one of your top priorities in life to never let that song be true of you. I don’t want my church “busyness” to leave my kids feeling like their daddy was too busy for them! My prayer is that, when my children leave home, they will still love Jesus, they will still love the Church, and they will still be passionately involved in His mission.

4.            Don’t try to be Superman. You can’t do it all. Resist the urge to let your church set you up as the “big man on campus”. You’ll only be setting yourself up for a fall. Don’t even get me started on the whole “Senior Pastor” thing… it’s a dangerous trap. Lead alongside other leaders in your church, not above them. You’re not a CEO, you’re a shepherd… an undershepherd, at that. Forget what the Church has bought into with the whole “clergy/laity” thing. It’s a lie, and it’s completely unbiblical. Yes, God has ordained leadership in the church, but teach your people that you are no “better” than they are; you’ve only been called to a different role. Teach them who they really are in Christ — that they are the church. Don’t be timid — tell them the truth — that their mission as Christians is not to come and occupy a seat every Sunday so you can fill up their spiritual tank, and then they’re done for the week. Remind them again and again that they are the church, and that if the mission of Jesus is going to be accomplished, it is going to happen through them being the church. Teach them that the Church is not some place they go to watch the pastor do ministry… but that ministry is what happens through their lives. Then, (and this is critical), give them your blessings and unleash them to go and do ministry in whatever ways God burdens their hearts for… whether it has anything to do with your church or not. Remember, it’s not about your church. It’s about the Mission of Jesus Christ. I believe that church pews across America are filled with people who are gifted and ready to explode into ministry, but they’ve never been given “permission” by their pastor to do it. This will be one of the greatest things you will ever do for your church, and for yourself.

 5.            Stop comparing your church to other churches. There are only two possible outcomes of doing that — pride or discouragement. You’ll either think you’re doing a much better job than somebody else, or you’ll feel like you will never measure up. Don’t do it. It’s deadly. I know how hard it is to not get caught up in all that, especially here in America! It has reached epidemic proportions. There are Christian organizations that publish lists every year like, “The Top 100 Churches in America”. Have we lost our minds?! Pastors who never make it on that list live with a constant sense of not accomplishing anything noteworthy for the Kingdom of God. And pastors who do make it on the list — at least a few of the honest ones — have admitted how it got inside their head and started playing mind games with them. They would look and say, “Wow, we’re number 8 this year… we’re ahead of so-and-so… I wonder what it would take for us to move up next year?” Listen to me pastors, this is dangerous stuff. We don’t need to be caught up in those things. In the last few verses of John 21, Jesus told Peter what kind of death he (Peter) was going to die. Peter looked over and saw John, and he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered Peter and said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me!” As pastors, we do not need to be concerned about the ministry God has given to someone else. Jesus says the same thing to us… “What is that to you? You follow me!”

6.            Take time off. (Yes, I know… our leaders at LifePoint are rolling their eyes as they read this.) I’m the world’s worst in this area. I admit that. But I thank God for surrounding me with elders and ministry leaders who relentlessly but lovingly beat the tar out of me for not taking enough time off to rest my soul. I am doing a little better with it though, and the older I get, the more I see how important this really is. My problem is, I was raised and taught to be a faithful man, and I usually try to be faithful to the point of exhaustion. But the truth is, there’s really nothing noble or smart about burning yourself out. That’s not faithfulness at all. It’s not healthy for you as a pastor, nor is it healthy for your family or your church. This has definitely been a blind spot for me as a pastor, and believe me, I have felt the consequences. (Take some time to read Exodus 18 and see how Moses was burning himself out. Then see how someone came along and pointed out his blind spot to help solve the problem. There are powerful lessons in that chapter!) Thankfully there are people in my life who are helping me see my blind spots. So pastors, learn to do what I’m learning to do… let others preach for you at regular intervals… let others help take phone calls for you… let others help handle church emergencies for you… find time regularly where you are completely unplugged from everything to do with your church. Everything. Believe me, your church will survive for a while without you.

This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list. The burdens of ministry are so vast that they could not possibly be addressed in this format. But remember this, Jesus loves the Church more than you do; so much that He gave His life for it, and He does not expect you to serve alone. He is with you. And Jesus also loves you, pastor, and He has not forgotten where you are for a single moment! Although you may be laboring in a difficult field right now, He knows where you are and He sees your faithfulness. May I leave you with a verse that has helped me many times during those moments when I felt like I was wasting my time and that my labor for the Lord was amounting to nothing? Take this verse to heart. Think upon it often…

 Hebrews 6:10 – God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.

May the Lord bless you and encourage you in the coming days. You are doing a work that matters! That’s precisely why it is so hard. Don’t let up. Stay the course. Hopefully one day we’ll see each other at the finish line!

Phil Pike is pastor of LifePoint Church in Greenville SC, is married to his lifelong sweetheart, has two wonderful children who are the delight of his heart, and is deeply passionate about helping the church accomplish the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. (

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One Response to “Pastors, Wimps or Endangered Species?”
  1. Cal H says:

    Good article. Thanks Tony.
    Cal H.

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