Death by Ministry, really?

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Marc Driscoll has a post, Death by Ministry, which purports to point out some of the problems with burnout on the part of pastors. He gives some interesting and alarming statistics:

The following statistics were presented by Pastor Darrin Patrick from research he has gathered from such organizations as Barna and Focus on the Family.


Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Pastors' Wives

Eighty percent of pastors' spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

His post has three parts, the first of which is these statistics, the second of which is "Some signs", and the third is "Some solutions". While I think most of his solutions are good, I am not sure I entirely agree with attributing all of these statistics and signs to burnout (or even with saying that they are sometimes due to burnout). But before I write any more on it, I wanted to solicit your comments. What do you think?


Even though he source his data, I'm still a little skeptical. The numbers he uses are pretty grim. There may be some truth in each statistic, but show a picture that is more grim than reality when aggregated. In other words, I wonder if there is some cherry picking going on with these statistics.

First, I have to say that I am not in vocational ministry so I do not opine from experience.
That said, is there biblical support for the term we use as "burnout"? Do any Puritan writers, who are often very frank and honest about living in a fallen world, speak of anything like "burnout"?

Now, about those statistics:
(1) those statistics aren't all that much different than for men not in vocational ministry.
(2) some of those statistics are simply the result of imperfect men living in a fallen world.
(3) some of those statistics are the result of men in vocational ministry who were never really called into ministry by God and thus do not have His full blessing and grace to help them.

I imagine there are lots of causes. One is the expectation for one pastor to do the jobs a team of elders should be doing, along with doing what members of the congregation should be doing. Another is the realization that one is not gifted in the ways a pastor should be. I suspect many people get through seminary and land a pastorate before realizing that. A third reason is that many pastors have no or little accountability and little peer fellowship given that people in the congregation will tend to view them as higher (and there's usually no team of equal elders for a pastor to be just one of). A fourth might simply be an unwillingness or inability to persevere through hard ministry.

John, is there biblical support for quarks and protons? Do the Puritans speak of Alzheimer's Disease?

I have nothing to say about whether those things are attributable to burn-out or not, but I'm really suspicious of those statistics. Notice how it says they were "gathered from such organizations as Barna and Focus on the Family." What other such organizations? How was each individual study done? You can't just cherry pick a result from one study and another result from another study and put them all together and think you get any sort of meaningful result.

I don't know if the statistics are accurate, but even if they are I find them unsurprising given that they conform well to my anecdotal information. I grew up as a minister's son and the job is not one for slackers. They get calls in the middle of the night on a seeming regular basis for everything from suicides, runaways, infidelities, you name it. We always seemed to get calls right as we were sitting down to dinner. I recall that one of the things that my father said was a challenge was continuing to work the Word for ones own growth and not simply working the things you thought your congregation needed to hear. He's been a full time minister for twenty-two years and I know it has been difficult for him to maintain friends who are peers. I think it is often difficult for ministers to be friends with their congregants because they have to avoid the appearance of favoritism, sometimes reprove and reconcile, and there is some difficulty in just letting your hair down with the congregants. There is always extra pressure for the family of a minister because people are usually looking to them to set the example with their lives. So, minister's wives feel pressure to be something of a model Christian wife. If they make mistakes there are people watching and extra consequences. I don't think many people are aware of these kinds of things before the attend seminary.

Another factor is that seminaries simply let in plenty of people who probably aren't qualified to fill the eventual roll they've been called too. For example I've seen plenty of young seminarians with lots of zeal, but not enough wisdom and maturity to handle the needs of a congregation. This can often lead to conflict when the congregation doesn't share the zeal of the pastor.

I could go on listing factors, but let me renew my original point that this isn't surprising. I think Driscoll makes some good points in trying to address these things. I was surprise by his remarks about exercise because they mirror remarks that my own father made. Who thinks a minister needs to be in particularly good shape, but my Dad said that when the mental and spiritual pressure mounts physical fitness becomes a factor in what you can withstand.

I am a recent seminary grad from an evangelical school, but am moving onto doctoral work. But I did youth ministry for about 3-4 years and all my college friends are now moving into fulltime ministry positions. I can believe the statistics. The things that go on in small churches are crazy. One example is a friend who has been out of seminary for a little over a year I think. He pastored a small church and the youth minister got another youth worker pregnant all the while teaching the youth about sexual purity. Then one couple was a nuisance opposing everything related to the youth after the youth minister left and one day left a youth workers house hitting the neighbor's car and driving off without a note or anything all the while all the youth were watching. Then after about a year there a group of about 5 or so leaders decided they didn't like that the church was growing and especially with those poor people who don't bring in much with their tithes and so they forced my friend to resign. All this was without the rest of the churches approval but since they give all the money nobody opposes them. Then they wanted their 10,000 back that they gave them towards a house since he left earlier than 4 years. The agreement was only if he resigned but they forced him out. Then my friend found out that a church that they interviewed at before for a position the pastor had to resign because he was caught in sexual sin. Oh yeah and during that year my friend was a fulltime pastor but to make ends meet was having to wake up and do a paper route for some extra money. So all that in little over a year out of seminary and that doesn't include all the little surprises along the way.

I have been in churches all my life. I have seen ups and downs. Many, many bad things have happened. I've been there. Been in Music Ministry since 12 years old, I am now 33. I have been right in the thick of it, But my point is they are human. We tend to put them up on some high position, and forget that they need our prayers and support. I am not excusing their behavior, but putting perspective on it. Please, please pray for them and work hard for the Lord, to ease their burdens.

I saw some of these stats and engaged in some discussion over here, if you are interested:

I too suspect the stats, but the view in general is consistant with the Biblical history of Israel's priesthood, prophets, and apostles in terms of apostasy, difficulty, sin, and death. The priesthood in particular was the hardest hit by personal sin, according to Isaiah and Jeremiah. Nor did kings and judges fair well in spiritual or moral leadership. "Many are called but few are chosen". I have told others that I didn't know temptation until I became a pastor.

WOW! It makes SENSE! These statistics MAKE SENSE! I am a fighting statistic that is refusing to be a statistic. You can't tell me that none of you have never contemplated something else other than the Ministry! Everyone does. If we didn't - we wouldn't be a threat to the Devil. Of course we will be threatened. How could we not? If we are noth threatened, we are not a threat to the Devil. If we are not a threat to the Devil - then what are we doing for the Lord?

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