Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of friends and colleagues who are hanging up their ministry cleats and heading off into other professions and industries. I am not going to lie, it has been pretty depressing to watch so many gifted leaders come to the awful conclusion that the cost/benefit analysis of vocational ministry is coming up wanting.
Why is this happening? What is going on in the church and in the culture that is making vocational ministry completely unappealing? I am sure there are a number of reasons for this. But there is one reason that I have been mulling over and wondered if you agree.
I think that a number of Gen X and Millennial leaders are fleeing vocational ministry because the basic deal between pastor and congregation has become untenable for the pastor.
The simple way I see the past is this: Ministry has always been difficult. It is a high calling, a calling from God, a call to selfless service to the church and to work of expanding the Kingdom of God. It was ok to have low salaries, crazy work hours, committee meetings, and always being on call. It was even ok that it was mostly a thankless job and often pastors had little fruit to show for their years of faithful service. Planning and watering was the faithful call, and trusting that God would use their efforts to cause faith to grow was their hope! It was hard and thankless work, but a noble calling!
In exchange, the pastor, called by God and by the congregation would be the prophet and priest, shepherd and leader of the congregation. There was a recognition and submission to this distinct call, and congregants would allow space for a pastor to care for their congregation, even for their community. They saw the pastor as the spiritual leader for them and their family and treated the pastor with dignity and respect.
Having this noble calling and important role made the worldly glories that many pastors gave up to serve the church well worth it. Pastors worked hard, went to school, wrestled with God for the very souls of their congregations, and the congregations appreciated them for it.
But something has changed!
While most pastors I know take their call very seriously and do the hard spiritual work to be the noble and godly leader God has called them to be, the congregation has forgotten its end of the bargain. My colleges who long for God to move in the lives of their congregations, who wrestle with God and stand in the gap for the very souls of their congregation, are being evaluated like CEO's and judged by impossible standards. (Like judging the economic output of a taco truck with the juggernaut of Taco Bell.)
I get that we live in an age of anti-institutionalism and deconstructionism. This is the exact wrong time to be part of any brick and mortar institution. There is no trust, they are self-preserving, and most are behind the times. It is in the cultural air we breathe to not trust our leaders, especially "spiritual" leaders. And because of this reality, the grand bargain between pastor and congregant is being shattered and many are leaving vocational ministry.
Where do we go from here?
This is the question. I am not even sure this is what is going on. If this is one of the contributing factors to the massive exodus of young leaders away from vocational ministry than we must drill down into the problem, address it head-on, and equip our leaders appropriately so they can tackle this new challenge head on!
God has not abandoned the church, or our culture or our context. It is just changing faster than we can get our head around it. There is no need for fear. But there is a high need if clear yes! (And full hearts!)
I would love to know your thoughts. And if I am way off, then praise God! And then Oh Crap! Because there are other reasons that need to be considered.