4 More Things for Naïve Pastors to Know

Good Bible teaching and right theology alone will not get pastors prepared for a lifetime of fruitful ministry. That textbook knowledge has to be translated and developed into skillful practices, wise insights through healthily-processed life experiences, and gracious humility for all human kind. One research showed that most pastors and clergy don’t last in ministry for long, to the tune of only 10% of pastors last for a lifetime, with 85% of seminary graduates quitting in less than 5 years.

Aside: I wrote up this blog series to pull the curtains back for naïve pastors to know more of the reality with the pastoring life, in hopes that with a realistic eyes-open approach, pastors will better navigate the adventures of this rewarding vocation. And, seeing the timestamp of this blog series’ previous entries and approaching the end of 2019, I’m just going to wrap this series up with shorter reflections rather than waiting for me to have the time and energy to write up a longer-form post for each point I had originally outlined.

Positivity Gone Wild

It’s good to have a positive outlook and to be optimistic. It even has great health benefits, like less stress, longer life, greater achievement, and more (cf. The Many Benefits of Optimism).

But pastoring well also requires a realistic understanding of the broken realities of the world as it is and how people have both problems and potential.

Part of it may be attributed to American Christianity and its faith expression gets formed in competitive context in the free-market economy. Positivity sells; realistic perspectives not so much. Faith leaders have rightly noted the sad lack of lament in American church liturgy and worship songs. Celebration is the tune of the day.

But life often doesn’t have a happy ending, on this side of heaven. Death is an ugly certainly for every single one of us. It’s healthy for us to have time to cry, to grief, and to lament. Better to acknowledge reality as it is in the present _and_ to have certain hope in what will be in heaven one day, with some of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, but it won’t be all of it.

It’s good to not call everything a success and to be honest with brokeness, failure, and when we are wrong or have wronged one another. Confession is good for the soul.

What Happens Behind Closed Doors

I don’t like the word politics. I would like to think that things in the church and religious leadership aren’t as bad as Game of Thrones, but you know what, scandals are scandalous because posturing political moves do happen, abuse of power, resulting in thousands of people disillusioned and thousands or millions of dollars misappropriated.

Truth is, whether organized religion, disorganized, or non-religion, any grouping of people will have people dynamics and posturing of who gets to be the leader, the top dog. Whatever that’s called, the skill of navigating organizational positions, climbing a corporate ladder, it’s the accruing of social capital that does make a difference. Pretty much it is unavoidable; there may be a few exceptions. Churches might be exempt from taxes (for now?) but they’re not exempt from gaining status by knowing the right people, being part of the good ‘ol boys club, being loyal to certain people, power brokering, having guanxi (關係).

In other words, your quality of work and faithfulness to theology is a valuable and good thing, but it’s not the only thing, even though on stage and in books, what preaches is being humble, being faithful, and doing your work with excellence, whatever that means. Years of experience does not automatically mean that you will be chosen to be the next leader for an open position or given more responsibilities or a raise. Perplexing, right?

Why’s It Called Practical Theology?

Even though I’m idealistic about how things should be, so much of church live and operations make concessions to practical realities for keeping the lights on, instead of ministering to people who really need help or doing solid Bible teaching.

Statistically speaking, a minority number of churches are growing and thriving because people want finely developed theological teaching, like most seminaries are designed to produce in its graduates.

What keeps the donations coming in for churches to stay operational (instead of closing its doors, as many churches in the USA do, every year), because that’s the economic engine, are programs that keep attendees happy when their felt needs are met. This means children and youth programs that make the parents’ children want to go to church, for fun and social reasons. This explains why a majority of churches are designed for young families, and financial accounting gets measured in family units.

The majority of people who don’t fit into this demographics, like singles, widowed, orphaned, homeless, mentally or socially challenged, handicapped, childless, unemployed, or reaching non-Christians, cannot practically be the larger portion of the church budget, because the math doesn’t make sense. And yet, these are the very people with the greatest needs who need the most ministry and the good news of the Gospel.

Have You Got Passion, Burden, and Calling?

Twenty plus years after graduating from seminary and not losing my faith, by the grace of God, as some may have, I believe the X-factor for having a fruitful lifetime of ministry is having that God-given passion, burden, and calling.

Some call it passion, that undying energy to keep going through hard times. Some call it burden, having a sense of weight and intrinsic motivation to have to do a certain thing for a certain group of people. Some use the word calling, which I’ve found to be the terminology du jour, and kinda losing its meaning from over-usage.

In short, pastoral ministry has to be a more than just a job or vocation to be most fruitful. Sure there are some who can work as a pastor for a lifetime and reach the finish line without burning out or embroiled in scandal.

Fruitful ministry comes from that kind of discipleship, where a pastor’s faith and passion gets reproduced contagiously to others, who will do likewise. This may not be huge numbers and metrics, it doesn’t have to be. What I believe to be more valuable is the seeds of faith that bears fruit in the next generations and the next.

Discovering Why God Created You

At age 53, I’ve only recently come to know what I am devoting the rest of my life to. Some call it life goals or purpose. I prefer to call it my 3 things I’m committing to with the remaining days, months, and years of my life. If you don’t have this kind of clarity yet, that’s okay; it took me a very long time to get here. All in God’s timing, eh?

My sense of calling that I feel most compelled to be and to do revolve around 3 letters with this acrostic, M.S.G. I made this video to explain what my calling is.

May you too seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you. In His time.

Please add a comment and continue this dialogue. We can dig into any of these topics and unpack it some more. Contact me if I might be any help, even just as a sounding board or to pick my brain (I’m not offended if you want my time for that.)

Part of the Naive Pastors blog series