You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:1–2, NKJV).
In 2021, René Drumm and Petr Činčala undertook a qualitative study that aimed at understanding why pastors who leave pastoral ministry within the Adventist Church choose to do so. The study gathered information from 14 former pastors who had voluntarily left pastoral ministry. The researchers asked these former pastors about the conditions that led them to their decision to leave Church employment.
In our previous blog, we looked at some of the most common issues that affected ex-pastors while they were pastoring; these issues were with both Conference leadership and church members. Other reasons mentioned for leaving pastoral ministry were difficulties with the Adventist Church’s organizational structure and traditional approaches to pastoral ministry, spiritual doubts and doctrinal differences, and a lack of adequate training to do their jobs properly. This blog will explore the last of these issues.
Participants in the study felt that they came into pastoral ministry underprepared to engage in practical aspects of pastoring such as dealing with church administration, providing emotional or social care for church members, or even conducting funerals.
“When I first came in, there really were no expectations as an intern under a senior pastor. I didn’t know what to do, and although my senior pastor was great and we have a great relationship to this day, there really wasn’t a plan for how to train new pastors, what they should expect, or what they should be doing, or how they should be doing it. So, learning on the job was frustrating . . . I don’t believe that I was prepared to be a pastor. I learned to be a pastor on the job.” (Silas)
“We studied a lot of theory and theology, and all this stuff. You don’t use that stuff in real pastoral work. I can’t think of one practical time when I had to explain the importance of “vav” to a church member who couldn’t pay their rent or had a family member deported.” (Theodore)
“I didn’t have any undergraduate experience telling me what to do to perform a funeral. Yet, I spent the first year of ministry doing upwards of 10 funerals. I was an expert by the time I was in my first year. But nobody, nobody prepares you for that.” (Caleb)
“Honestly, I think pastors need training in psychology counseling before they graduate. And also in leadership. I think those two are key because some pastors don’t know how to lead.” (Jude)
Administrative, Church Member, and Lay Leader Training
The former pastors also shared their view that church members tended to be ignorant, misinformed, or confused about what the roles and responsibilities of pastors are, leading to unreasonable demands, complaints, or violations of boundaries. All of this can drain pastors, depriving them of the energy they need to perform their jobs properly.
“I think there are Conferences that are intentional in training the church members. I think that would help pastors from getting burned out when it comes to that. Educate church members in taking care of the pastors.” (Jude)
“When I came to my church, I saw that some systems were not in place to run the church. And I needed to put certain systems in place and schedules and rotations that would minimize the burnout among church members because they’re volunteers; they are not paid for it. And only a few are really pulling the whole wagon. And it’s not fair to all members. And also the pastors not being as much solo, but able to explore a team approach to ministry.” (Leo)
In their report, the research team recommended that there be a deliberate change in pastoral education at all levels from the “theology only” model to more practical education in the administrative and leadership activities that pastors have to deal with. In addition, the report suggests that training be created for church members to explain the role and responsibilities of a pastor and how lay leaders can appropriately interact with and support their pastors and Conference officials.
When looking at these research findings, it became apparent that these former pastors felt that they were not well prepared for their field of expertise when it came to practical issues. We need to acknowledge that these are the views of the study participants; therefore, they cannot be generalized to all pastors’ experiences. However, the findings are significant and should not be ignored.
Do you know the role and responsibilities of a pastor? What do you think they are? How can lay leaders support the pastor and the programs of their local church? Are you familiar with the leadership training programs the Church offers? Contact your local Conference for more information regarding leadership training opportunities. Please check out the Adventist Leadership Certificate Program and the GC Ministerial Association website for more information and resources.
Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry
Published by ASTR on 12/06/2023
References: Petr Činčala and Rene Drumm. Former Seventh-day Adventist Pastors: Qualitative Study Report. 2021.