There is something terribly wrong going on in the American Christian pulpit today.
Feel-good talks centering on self-esteem have replaced hard-hitting sermons on sin and its cure. Quotes from famous historical figures are routinely offered more than excerpts from the Bible. The evolution of human thought is touted while the notion of an unchanging God who is Himself perfectly holy and requires holiness from those who would see Him (Hebrews 12:14) is rarely (if ever) heard.
But it’s not like those sitting in the pews are blameless. Often, if the pastor does dare to speak on cultural issues/sins there will be someone more than happy to provide an earful of advice on keeping politics and touchy social issues out of church on Sundays. Pastors find out quickly what is and isn’t permissible when it comes to sermon topics from members of the parish.
During my seminary years while student pastoring two churches in rural Kentucky I learned very quickly there were three subjects that were “off-limits” in the pulpit. I knew it would cause me great trouble if I was anything other than supportive of tobacco, horses, and U.K. basketball. End of story. So even though illegal immigrants were by and large harvesting the tobacco crop working for way less than a fair wage, and even though most of the horses had better accommodations than the people who attended to them, and even though I was told any time Kentucky played basketball on Sunday there would be no evening worship service…not a word was to be said (I did anyway).
Do you see why our nation is in the state of moral decline it is in? Many preachers don’t want to preach biblically and many who do are constantly warned to steer clear of “hot button” issues that might offend some in the parish. Consequently, few pulpits are actually preaching the Word of God either by choice or prohibition. Would you like to see what kind of effect it’s having on the people behind the pulpits of America? Here are some statistics concerning our pastors:
- 80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
- 90% of pastors feel they are inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.
- 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
- 50% of pastors are so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could.
- 80% of pastor’s spouses feel left out and underappreciated by the church.
- 80% of pastor’s spouses wish their spouse would choose a different profession.
- 70% of pastors say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
- Only 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister
Did you get that last one? Nine out of ten ministers are not going to make it to the end of their ministry. Astonishing! They will quit, get run out, or die first.
There is nothing quite like the ministry. The calling is from God but the pastor is in the hands of the people. Anyone should be able to see the built-in tension. The prophetic word is often biting, painful, and even brutal (by “prophetic” I don’t mean necessarily what the future holds; more like, ‘thus saith the Lord’). Often it includes themes such as repentance, consequences, and warnings. And who likes being told to seek God’s forgiveness? Who appreciates being told that continuing along in the same direction will have dire consequences? And who likes putting money in an offering plate that helps support the livelihood of those who speak biblical truths that make us all uncomfortable? It helps to explain why nine out of ten ministers do not retire as ministers doesn’t it?
Those who are considering submitting to God’s calling into ministry should read Ezekiel chapters 2-3. It’s the story of Ezekiel’s calling. How would many of today’s pastors respond to this: “I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels…” (2:3). That would be like being called by God today to be a missionary in Iran or Iraq. What was Ezekiel supposed to preach? God handed him a scroll “And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (2:10). So Ezekiel was tasked with preaching to a hostile people about the consequence of their sin. But at least with God’s calling and even a sermon outline from God Himself, the prophet was assured of being a smashing success, right? Take a look at 3:7… “But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.”
Who goes into the ministry if you are told upfront the way will be hard, the message will be difficult, and the response will be nothing? Only those who endeavor to be obedient and faithful!
There is a lot wrong with today’s ministry and pastor. Nevertheless, the pastoral/preaching ministry is a calling from God. And no matter how messed up ministries and pastors have gotten, God is still calling people to proclaim His Word.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month and October 13 is Pastor Appreciation Day. If you really want things to turn around in this country then it has to begin in our pulpits. I encourage you to find a way to do something beneficial for your pastor (and family) this month.
Many parishioners have no idea what burdens, weights, sorrows, and responsibilities the average pastor carries…daily. If you think it is stressful trying to walk faithfully in the Spirit as a Christian day in and day out, imagine how the pastor must feel. Not only does he have the same struggles with faithful and holy living that everyone else in the church has, he knows he will have to stand before God to give an account for the souls he had the responsibility to shepherd (Hebrews 13:17).
If you have a pastor who boldly proclaims God’s Word, is aware of and cares about the responsibilities of being His undershepherd, and actually cares about the spiritual well-being of everyone in the church and community, then you have a jewel. Find a way to encourage and empower that pastor. Be sincere. Be creative. Go back and read Exodus 17:8-13. Who is willing to be Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands so that victory might be won?