It’s interesting what standing in front of people can do to you week-by-week when you have regular preaching responsibilities. If you don’t watch out, the Bible can become nothing more than a text for your next sermon. Your relationship with God can be reduced to sessions of begging, pleading, and bargaining for something for next Sunday Morning. Such is the life and weekly grind of the preacher. That weekly grind can take its toll and claim you as its next victim if you don’t watch yourself. Have you been there?
Work done by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir at the Francis Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development (FASICD) indicates a clear lack of personal transformation at work in the lives of American preachers today. What are American preachers experiencing today? Let’s take a quick look at some statistics. Krejcir did two separate studies at separate pastor’s conferences in Orange County, California, in 2005 and 2006, involving a combined total of 1,050 pastors; the studies aimed to gauge the pastors’ health and vitality. The results show how badly preachers themselves need renewal:
- 100% of the pastors surveyed stated that they had a close associate or friend from seminary who had left the ministry due to burnout, conflict in the church, or moral failure;
- 90% stated that they were frequently worn out on a daily or weekly basis;
- 89% had considered leaving the ministry, and 57% said they would leave the ministry if they had a better place to go, including secular work;
- 77% said they felt they did not have a good marriage;
- 72% stated that they only study the Bible when they are preparing for sermons or lessons;
- 38% had been divorced or were in the process of getting a divorce;
- 30% admitted to having an ongoing affair or sexual encounter with a parishioner;
- 26% had regular devotions and felt adequately fed spiritually;
- 23% felt happy or content with who they are in Christ, at church, and at home.
Another study showed similar results:
- 1,500 pastors left the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches;
- 70% of the pastors did not have anyone they would consider to be a friend, and almost none had anyone they would consider to be a close friend;
- 70% of the pastors continually fought depression;
- 60% to 80% of those entering ministry would not be in ministry ten years later, with only a fraction involved in lifetime ministry.
The need for personal transformation in preachers’ lives is obvious.
What do all these numbers mean? The statistics point to a pattern of ministry that must be broken in the Western church and in its ministers. We need transformative change in the heart and soul of God’s people, beginning with their shepherds. Look at the statistics—preachers are struggling with ministry to the point where they get worn out, burn out, or flame out, with some desperately looking for any way out possible. Along the way, marriage vows are broken, and ministers and their families crash and burn. These are but symptoms of a need for personal renewal.
The state of the personal devotional lives of ministers is more telling. The preacher’s personal relationship with Christ is the essence of a transformational Christian experience. These statistics suggest that many of us are going through the motions without any deep transformational power at work in our prayer lives. A lack of intimacy with God in our prayer lives eventually impacts the lives of those to whom we preach and then the church as a whole. How ironic it is that preachers hold the very source of God’s transformational life in their hands each week yet often lack transformational power in their own lives.
When our lives don’t match our words, it is a matter of character deficit, demonstrating our need for deep personal transformation in order to build an inner life that will sustain the weight of our calling. God does not use people—He partners with them in ministry. His desire is to do a deep transformative work in preachers’ lives so we can model what we preach and so our lives can withstand the pressures and rigors of ministry. This paradox suggests we need to re-envision our approach to ministry to restore its transformational impact in our lives first. Physician, heal thyself – the transformation of those to whom we minister to will follow.