Pastors Are Dying, Churches Are Dying and You are the One Killing Them Both

   Some ministerial personnel, pastors and staff, deserve our approbation. Simply put, some people get into this work for a series of bad reasons.

   Ministry as a job is as hard to define as it is to talk about church as a business. There are business aspects to church. We have budgets and bills and buildings to paint. The church where I currently serve has about a half million dollars in various banks, some of it so tied to stipulations by the givers it can only be used two days after the parousia and the parousia itself must be previously authorized and properly confirmed before the money can be accessed. The vote to use will have to be a simple majority and I feel  we will be able to get a quorum even after the parousia.

   There are "job" aspects to ministry positions. We have offices, salaries, benefit packages, conditions of employment, federal regulations to keep and taxes to pay. We work a certain number of hours but we are always on call. Almost everyone who wants to know knows our salary figures and our cell phone number.

   Ministry is a job.

   You have to show up for work.

   The work ethic of some ministers is shockingly bad. Sitting in your office working on your fantasy football team does not count as work.

    Ministry is more than a job. It is an adventure, a romance, a comedy and a tragedy. We get to see people at their very best and at their absolute worst.

   MInistry is a vocation. That is, it is a matter of a divine call and  human response. The key is the call. Are you called to this work? Understand this is a life-style. You are not a minister nine to five. You are a minister because that is what you are, not what you do. You are called. You could get rich doing other things, you could have less stress, you could be home more but you cannot not do this if this is your calling.

   If ministry is not your calling, please go find something else to do. We are choking on volunteers.

   Which, of course, brings me back to the reasons for disqualification from a shrinking employee pool, i.e., ministers. We are a dying breed and there is not a lot coming up after us.

   Who is getting us our 10,000 hours? What should those 10,000 hours include? What is this work and how shall we prepare to do this work in the 21st century?

   I will now enter the PG-13 portion of this blog post. Keep the children away and forewarn the faint-hearted.

   There are some wonderful psychological evaluation tools extant. We ought to spend part of our time making use of them for ministers. Part of your 10,000 hours should be taken up in testing and evaluation and, if necessary, treatment.

   Ministers live in some level of depression. For every really good Sunday morning, there is a Sunday afternoon wherein some frustrated ministerial wanna-be wishes to dump his fierce love of mediocrity on your day. Nothing is ever good enough and nothing is ever finished. Sunday morning is over and you are less than seven days from the next one. It better be good.

   Testing for depression is not that difficult. Treatment is fairly routine. Depression does not have to be a common part of your life. Nor should you feel guilty about seeking treatment, though some prosperity gospel church member will be glad to pile the guilt on you. Sniffle and you lack faith, have trouble getting by on your modest stipend and you lack faith, have your child act up at school and you lack faith; face it, you just lack faith.

   Now, cheer up and praise the Lord.

   At some point, you have to tell them to depart, warmed and filled and do what is vital for your own well-being. Understand, your well-being, oh, minister has some relevance to the welfare of your church.

   More than testing for depression or IQ points, look for ways to test your practical intelligence and determine your mental ability to think. This is not intelligence only. A lot of smart people founder in ministry. Practical intelligence is the ability to know what to say, when and to whom for maximum effect (Malcom Gladwell, Outliers, Page 100-101).

   Ministers need theological education. We also need testing to see where we are in practical intelligence, as defined by Gladwell in the instrument above.

   Let me illustrate.

   Last week, my youngest son got a duplicate Christmas present. Receipt in hand, he tried to return the product and get a refund. Receipt in hand.

   He was told, very rudely, the product had already been returned. He was holding the product in his hand, so he was pretty sure this was incorrect. He was dismissed rudely, very crassly and told to come back in a few days or call the customer service line. He did so, got his mother (who had bought the gift) involved and they were both treated very poorly.

   In telling me about it all later that day at dinner, Jordan got as far as "…and they were really rude to mom…" before my practical intelligence armed and went ballistic. Soon I was in telephonic communication with the company's corporate office in Minnesota. Soon, I was talking to the supervisor's supervisor.

   The sticking point was I wanted the refund, now, not after a mail-in, from the store where we bought the product and I wanted a really sincere apology; a really sincere apology, from the fellow who committed the act.

   It took me about an hour, including the drive time back to the store. The little manager gave me the money and a drippingly syrupy apology. I never, ever raised my voice. There was no name calling on my part. We got to maximum effect pretty fast.

   Oh, the corporation is also sending me an apology letter with a nice coupon in it, as well.

   What is your practical intelligence quotient? Really, seek out a good counselor, at least an LPC, and get this tested. Work on your practical intelligence.

   Oh, and your church should pay for it. You will be a more effective minister if you make this a part of your 10,000 hours and your church should invest in your 10,000 hours.

   I am a basketball referee. It is my guy thing and every minister ought to have a guy thing to do or a girl thing to do if you are a girl. The beginning of being a referee is to be in condition. If you cannot get up and down the court, you have no business being on the court. Conditioning is vital.

   Ministers ought to get into emotional, psychological shape to be in this calling. If you are an emotional mess or are just emotionally immature, you need to work on yourself. This is a part of your 10,000 hours. Your church ought to invest in your 10,000 hours, even if you will not spend all or most of those 10,000 hours with them.

   If your denomination or school offers this help, take advantage of it. However, it would be better for all of us if churches owned up to their responsibility to nurture their ministerial staff. Most churches do not do this. Many churches do not care much for or about their ministerial staff. These churches will die and the sooner the better. Really, the only good thing about massing a group of mean people together is that it keeps them from meaning up another group of people.

   Now, the moral of the product return story is simple: if you have or can develop practical intelligence, you can work with people who are willing to have you work with them.

   Sorry to say, there are church members, beloved, with whom you simply cannot work. They are unwilling to work with you or with anyone. Their communication with you is based on their simple need to feel like that have told you off, put you in your place and then they can go report to their gene pool group that they confronted you and wore you out.

   Let me pretend that happened to me. Let me make up a name for the fellow.

   Let's call him Melvin.

   Let's say Melvin came to my office one day. He spent three hours telling me about all the preachers he had gotten fired or made miserable. He bragged about it.

   I began to ask him some basic questions about his upbringing, his salvation experience, his churchmanship. After about ten minutes, Melvin swelled up and began to cry. He wept until I was embarrassed for him. I ran out of tissues for him and still he wept. I finally put a tarp under him and called for a mop.

   After a long while, I made some suggestions and offered to meet with him again. He hugged me and consented. We prayed.

   Melvin went straight of my office to his coffee club and told them he had boldly confronted me and told me off in my office. So much for reconciliation.

   The point is, you have to be in emotional condition to handle this kind of abuse. It is not fair, it is not honest, it isn't even sane but you do get to see it a lot. How you handle the load depends a lot on your conditioning. If you are not in shape, the court will kill you as a referee and the game will suffer. If you are not able to deal sanely with insanity, the church will kill you as a pastor and the church will suffer.

   Pastor, minister, you have to do conditioning as a part of your 10,000 hours to master the work. In the same way exercise done ten years ago is only effective as a building  block for your exercise today, strengthon strength, you have to stay in emotional condition today and your church ought to provide for it.

   Your church ought to produce a document on mental wellness for the vocational staff. If you do two funerals for friends this week, you ought to be required to take off from Sunday night's homily. Your church ought to be thinking of ways to help you thrive. If not, they are about typical and probably do not deserve to survive to kill another set of ministers.

   We are running out of ministers.

Tomorrow: Pedophiles, Liars, Church Killers and Petty Thieves





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