I have a solution to the “Great Pastor Resignation.” In March 2022, Barna’s national survey revealed that 42% of pastors considered quitting and many already have. There’s no question in my mind that we ask too much of pastors today. They have to be theologian, therapist, CEO, social media star, and an expert on complex political and ethical questions. The expectations keep piling on.
But pastors share a bit of the blame.
In the 40 years since I became a believer, I’ve seen a shift in church leadership. Pastors increasingly act as rock stars rather than servant leaders. Instead of being one of many who serve the church, they sometimes act as the star everyone else supports. No wonder they’re burning out.
When I was a baby believer, I attended the church Ray Stedman founded and served for over 40 years. What allowed him to stay so long? That church had an organizational structure I’ve never seen since. Of course, the church had problems and weathered its share of storms. It wasn’t perfect. But I think more churches would do well to adopt the church philosophy that Ray outlined in his classic book Body Life.
At the time I attended, the church had sixteen pastors and two services. There was no Senior Pastor. Although Ray was often treated as such, he consistently refused to act as Senior Pastor.
Every pastor had a definable flock. There was a pastor for high school, junior high, careers, children, seniors, Z-folk (in-between) and so on. With sixteen, the list was creative. No one was something ambiguous, like “associate pastor” or “pastor of spiritual growth.” Everyone shepherded a specific flock or ministry.
Within their ministry, every pastor had a leadership team of 12 or more adults. The pastor discipled his team and taught his flock. The team ministered to the flock by leading small groups, running programs, teaching, and discipling. Team members often led and taught their own teams and small groups. For example, while I was in college, I served on the team that ministered to high school students. I met weekly with the pastor and the rest of the team and co-led a small group Bible study, as well as attended Sunday youth group and various special events.
On Sunday mornings, the various pastors took turns preaching through a book of the Bible. Each pastor taught his own series. One pastor took the pulpit for 4-6 weeks teaching, say Galatians. Then another took over teaching 1 Samuel. He might start from chapter one or pick up where he last left off. We finished 2-3 books each year that way.
Before preaching to the congregation, each pastor taught his sermons to the other pastors during their weekly bible study. He listened to their feedback and then rewrote his sermons. By the time he stood in front of the congregation, he had studied the entire book plus polished and perfected his sermons. No one had to squeeze in a few hours on Friday in order to teach Sunday. Teaching from the pulpit was an honor and a joy they took seriously.
With this model, no one pastor did it all. The congregation self-selected into communities and flocks with a pastor or sometimes 2 serving them. When a new flock emerged, a new pastor was found, often from within the group.
Leaders pushed responsibility down into the congregation as far as it could go. They expected the congregation to do more than sit and listen Sunday mornings. They encouraged all attenders to be part of a community and exercise their gifts.
There was no one at the top who acted as the focal point, bottleneck or rock star. We had servant leaders, teams and co-laborers. When you needed help, there was always someone to turn to other than the “Senior Pastor” because discipleship ran deep. Maybe that’s why Ray stayed and served for so long.
If you’re a burned out pastor who’s considering quitting, I suggest you read Body Life before you make a decision. Maybe you could make some changes instead.
Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash