We hear a great deal about the huge number of persons who leave the ministry each year. This is a little scary.
We should, perhaps, be more concerned about many who do not leave. So many of the fellows I talk to each week report to me their shattered faith. They are functioning as atheists but maintaining their pulpits, hoping against hope to rediscover some kind of faith.
Of course, I will not violate any personal confidences. It is not needful to name names. You may sit in the pew (or stadium seat) each week, not guessing the sermon you hear is delivered by one who is going through the motions, running on fumes, operating on minimum life support systems.
I contend pastoral ministers take little or no time for reflection and suffer as a result. The system under which most of us minister rewards activity, not reflection. We get persons who are enormously effective at two or three vital tasks. However, the effective fellow is so close to the fire, burn out is inevitable. He fears, correctly, a tail-off in production will end his tenure. A younger, stronger, better looking fellow will have his spot.
Meanwhile, the hollow man collapses in on himself. He becomes a functional atheist.
Honestly, when is the last time you asked your minister about his prayer life? You have no idea what he does or what it costs him. In point of fact, you ask him how many meetings he has attended, usually meetings important to you. Or, you ask him if he has heard brother so and so's message on eschatology and when he plans to give his views on the subject. Or, you ask him if he has seen Sister So and So, whose bladder affliction is the raging topic on the church party line.
For this, he went to Bible college and seminary. For this, he works sixty to eighty hours per week. Little wonder he is an atheist. He is a hollow reed. You can blow in a hollow reed and produce any sound you are capable of making. The reed only catches the sound and echoes it.
On Sunday, you may listen to an functional atheist.