Stats and Stories

I continue to be amazed at the obscure stats that are now a regular part of most sports broadcasting. Athlete Q leads in homeruns while chewing spearmint instead of wintergreen gum! Swimmer X once raced against a dolphin, and won!

It was refreshing that the summer Olympic games, just concluded, tried to use some of  the statistics to interest viewers in the lives of the competing athletes, and I found it compelling. For example, a diver on the USA women’s diving team was attempting to carry on the legacy of her father and mother, who had both medaled in previous games. Those are the of statistics that matter – the ones that open the book on a life story.

Beginning this new journey has put me in touch with some rather overwhelming statistics regarding the current state of pastoral ministry in the United States. The Fuller Institute began a study in 1989 on trends in pastoral ministry. The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICLD) then picked up the study in 1998. The results were then reconfirmed in 2006 in a smaller study conducted by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir. The most recent study surveyed 1,050 pastors, and the following results were reported:

  • Of the 1,050 (100%) pastors who responded, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure. 71% (802) of those pastors stated they were burned out, and had battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.
  •  The May 2012 issue of Christianity Today reported that 76% of the pastors surveyed (National Congregations Study/ Review of Religious Research) said that they have experienced a forced exit in the course of their ministry life; 20% had experienced a forced exit twice.

These are just numbers and percentages – no names or faces. None of the families or churches who have been affected by the turmoil are identified. The staggering impact of these statistics doesn’t become apparent until we connect them with the stories they represent.

I recently posted the following question on one of the Linkdin groups of which I am a part: How many exited/forced-termination pastors do you personally know? The responses were lively, but nearly all who commented knew at least one; several had personally known dozens. Here is the story of one of those who responded:

 “In the 1980’s the youngest son of missionaries finished college where he had won all academic honors and won a preaching competition. Being my wife’s nephew, we watched with joy his rise & effectiveness. He married & took a small struggling church in a college town in Ohio about 10 miles from us. I knew the church slightly, but was not involved in the process of his coming. I would have said, “NO! Don’t go there!” 

He did & stayed about 13 months. I was with him at the family Christmas gathering and saw this wonderful man crushed in spirit and weeping before his mother and relatives. Church members had treated them with harsh criticism, and public denunciations in the assembly with visitors present. He was announcing to the family his intention to resign. We ourselves were asking God for a change after 5 years in our first church. Trials were increasing for us, so I could offer little comfort or counsel.
His brother found him a job at a machine shop. He has become a pretty good machinist, but he has never again expressed any interest in being pastor. He has taught in the church he joined, and has stayed in it all these years and has served as a deacon… I have endured painful exits two times, the first after 10 years at a church we planted. This was extraordinarily difficult because the men who turned on me were men I had led to Christ and discipled.” (D. Kline – reprinted with permission)

Statistics can initially shock us, but often they get lost in forgotten archives along with the other bits and pieces of information we encounter every day. Yet the people and churches that these statistics represent are real. Unresolved pain, ruined families, and dysfunctional churches are far too often the conclusion of these stories.

 

But, not all the stories end there. A growing number of people are peeling back the stats in order to minister to the lives of pastors and their families. PIR Ministries, and those like it, are offering hope, as well as the resources to prevent more statistics from piling up. The goal is to ensure that the next chapter in these stories is one of restoration. Perhaps a new set of statistics will be available soon…

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