Assault on the Ministry Family: It's Only a Matter of Time.

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He is a college senior.  He has devoted 4 (or more) years of his life to biblical study and classes.  His grades have been relatively good and he's a responsible student.  He has invested tens of thousands of dollars into his education at a Bible college or seminary.  He has interned and volunteered and worked with various churches and camps.  He has been extremely popular on campus--well received by both the student body and staff.  He is friendly, outgoing, and has a heart for Jesus full of good intentions.  He might even have a serious girlfriend or fiance who is on board with becoming a minister's wife.  She's cute and helps make them the total package.  They are set to be married the summer after graduation.

He has nothing but high hopes for his future.    

And then life post-graduation happens.  

In reality, our young man now has the following scenarios staring him in the face:

1.  He finds a great, new, and exciting church.  It is relatively well-established, it has a great congregation, it has financial stability, and is a good launching place for the young minister.  He (and the Mrs.) have been welcomed and are introduced to the church.  Folks are more than happy to say hello, pass along a dozen ideas of what they would like to see/how the previous minister failed/invitations to dinner.  The young minister is treated well initially and his wife is invited to several women's events.  

Life is good for about a year and then the pressure starts to set in.  This is a vibrant church full of high energy.  The hours are constant, but not 9-5.  The newness of the young minister has worn off and people are starting to feel more comfortable sharing what they believe needs to be worked on.  His wife is starting to receive offhand comments about her husband's job performance--and that it would be great if she would also step up her time in the nursery/women's groups/teens/hospitality.  

The demands begin piling up--a big church requires a big commitment.  The young minister is not used to working with such high-demands.  He has overcommitted himself during the first year trying to please all of the congregation members and to establish himself as a person worthy to lead at their church.  His wife is starting to get annoyed when his cell phone rings again while they are out on his day "off"--and even more annoyed when he takes the call.  He has not done well with taking care of their new marriage for the sake of their ministry.  

Burnout is imminent. 

2.  He finds employment at an older church who is in need (again) of a new staff member.  They are well-established and have run through several ministers in the past few years.  The young minister is welcomed with his wife into the church.  They are enchanted by the sweetness of the older ladies who give them desserts and things for their home.  They may be blessed with a "pounding" or a parsonage to live in that is somewhat furnished.  The salary is modest, but enough for the two of them to live comfortably.  

The style of the worship service may be slightly outdated, but they have high hopes of making changes.  They meet a few families with similar ideas of what the church should look like, and become very close with them.  They have fresh ideas and can't wait to try them out.  The couple is full of energy and smiles.

Life is good for about a year and then the pressure starts to set in (anyone else see a trend here?)  The young minister is starting to feel discouraged from being told "no" repeatedly.  His ideas haven't been well-received lately, and he's starting to hear some backlash from his advisory team, older staff members, and elders.  They complain about his lack of experience.  They try to clue him in to how it's always been done at their church.

His wife begins to feel very lonely in the new town.  Her family is not around, she has a few friends, but she really misses her college friends (and her husband).  She becomes desperate for his attention, but feels the pressure of being the good minster's wife.

Burnout is imminent. 

3.  He can't find a full time job at a church.  He finds something part-time that requires him to supplement his income with another part-time job.  The church only pays him for part-time hours, but expect him to produce full-time results.  They get angry when his other job (which pays more) interferes with the church's schedule.  He is always busy and never at home.  His wife is annoyed that he never has any down time.  This does not bode well for his marriage or his future in the ministry.  

4.  He can't find a job at a church.  He finds a minimum wage job that barely covers their monthly bills.  His student loans are staring him in the face, and it doesn't help that he's got a shiny degree that he can't use.  He frequently applies to jobs, but none are good fits.  The more desirable churches want someone with more experience.  The less desirable churches aren't worth the money or their reputation.  He considers going back to school--perhaps a secular university to find a Plan B so that he can provide for his family.  He is so disappointed and begins to feel his self-esteem chipping away.  This does not bode well for his marriage or his future in the ministry.

Don't think for a moment that these situations never happen.  
And, don't be fooled into thinking that your church is not part of the problem.  

What is the church doing to help these young men and women stepping into ministry?  I see a lot of churches talking about how much they support the newest members in the ministry, but I do not see a lot of them standing next to them as they take on a new ministry.  I do not see men and women stepping up to be mentors to these young church employees. Every successful senior minister I've talked to could name their mentors who helped them along the way.  But, sometimes these very ministers are unable or unwilling to spend the same time assisting their fledgling youth minister.     

But there is a whole lot of pointing fingers and bad evaluations and firings--and it's killing off the next generation of church leadership.    

I imagine that the senior minister often sees the new staff member as a puppy.  Very cute, very fun, and full of energy--but a pain in the behind to try to train.  They often become so exasperated and frustrated when the new minister doesn't seem to follow their advice or suggestions.  They may not see eye to eye on issues within the church, and the senior minister or church leadership likes to pull rank on the young minister.  Sometimes, they are threatened by the enthusiasm and way members of the church value the freshness the young minister brings to the church.  The senior minister begins to feel like the old dog without a new trick.  Or, communication breaks down to merely a barking of orders and "this is what needs to happen" rather than exchanging ideas.  And, often, as a result, the new minister is sent packing before too long or he/she leaves because they are sick and tired of being treated like an incompetent child.  

But, what if the church and leadership were willing to commit to training the next generation of church leaders?  What if they were willing to stand next to the young minister, encourage him to succeed, allow him to fail, and pick him back up again?  What if they decided to provide care and protection for the new minister--instead of constantly berating him?  What if the minister knew there were men and women within the church who were on his side, rather than feeling like he was constantly in front of the firing squad?  What if the church committed to caring about the person, his marriage, and their well-being?

Many other jobs provide mentors and training for their newest employees.  They give frequent evaluations, they provide materials, and they understand that there is a learning curve.  They value new ideas and fresh materials.  Most companies are not content with the status quo--they welcome change.  

How long will our youth choose to step into ministry when they see their home churches chewing up and spitting out ministers left and right?  Who in their right minds would want to pay tuition for a degree that can't guarantee them steady work?  Many of them will choose to minister through volunteering at their local church or in the community, rather than dedicating their lives and careers to the church.  Others will choose to leave the church because they never had a steady minister who invested in them.  They found that every time they became attached to a minister, he or she left and a replacement was found.  It takes time to develop relationships--especially those of the eternal nature.  And often those Life and Death discussions will not occur with the brand new minister who started a week ago.  I'm not suggesting that we stand by and allow men and women who are involved in illegal behavior or found in serious offense to be allowed to corrupt your church.  But, there are ministers who have left (or have been made to leave) the church for ridiculous and petty reasons.

Church, when are we going to recognize that enough is enough?  When will our congregations stand up to the leadership who is unwilling to lend a hand to the newest staff member?  When will our existing leadership decide to grow and strengthen the new generation of leaders--including the ones that will one day replace them?  

When are we going to step up and take care of all of the members in our congregation--including the ministry family? 

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