At least 100,000 American pastors should be clamoring for help. But they aren’t. They seem to have dropped out. Is this one reason why 80 percent of churches remain on plateau or in decline? Why have so many pastors just given up? I have seen two likely causes.
Over the past five years, my colleagues and I have noticed a disturbing trend in plateaued and declining churches. Many of them are staffed by:
- pastors who have given up.
- pastors without hope.
- pastors convinced revitalization efforts are futile.
- pastors who ignore offers of help.
I don’t have hard numbers because to date we haven’t tracked this “indifference quotient.” It seems roughly half of those who could be helped fail to respond to offers of help.
Time and money can’t be the issue. For less than they spend at Starbucks every year, pastors have easy access to free webinars, excellent online learning (any time, any place), affordable coaching and supportive peer groups.
Off the record, denominational leaders express frustration over pastors who ignore offers of help. Peers are mystified when struggling colleagues brush off training that produces remarkable results. They are indifferent to data showing that training, discipline, and hard work leads to turnaround churches.
At least 100,000 American pastors should be clamoring for help. But they aren’t. They seem to have dropped out. Is this one reason why 80 percent of churches remain on plateau or in decline?
Why have so many pastors just given up? I have seen two likely causes: the chaplain model of pastoral ministry and learned helplessness.
Cause #1 – The Chaplain Model of Pastoral Ministry
Pastors enter ministry with aspirations to serve Christ’s mission to “make disciples of all nations.” Many eventually become chaplains, pastoral counselors and therapists. Many factors funnel them into the chaplaincy model.
The church’s compromise with the pursuit of “happiness” must be a factor. The fourth-century development of errant pastoral theology lingers with us. The way clergy are trained fails to prepare them to be church leaders. The church “farm team” system and group sociology attenuate leadership potential.
Sociology of the Small Church
Most ministers start a vocational ministry in a “farm team” church. This is a small church, 75 or fewer in attendance. Novice pastors spend several years learning the ropes. They move to larger churches when they’re ready for bigger things.
The flaw is the sociology of the small church. They see the pastor as the chaplain, a hired religious functionary who provides soul care, preaches and teaches and does anything else the board or the leading member of the “anchor family” deems necessary.