Get updates from Friendly Atheist delivered straight to your inbox
I wonder how many pastors find themselves in these shoes…
… and how many of them choose to stay in the pulpit despite their doubts?
haven’t you heard? Their doubts are a gift from god and the fact that they are able to have them and still have faith shows how close to god they are. Mother Theresa admitted to having doubts too and the fact that she stayed religious was offered up as a good example for other people.
The ones I respect quit after changing their beliefs (Dan Barker, John W. Loftus, Bob Price, etc). I’m certain their are many atheists/agnostics in the pulpit, though I think that not being honest about your beliefs can only lead to more dishonesty in life.
I do imagine it would be difficult to leave a job that required so much education and personal investment. It’s a bit more involved than just getting fired.
If a man of religion realized his error and recanted belief, I’d like to think that the education he has received in counseling should be usable in the real world. Just because it came with a religious twist doesn’t mean there isn’t some applicability. He should just leave the lowered jeebus out at the curb when he comes to visit.
Very often on both questions! Of course, you are supposed to die to yourself for Christ, so most pastors trudge along feeling like a martyr. For at least most of them (the average ones who do not receive huge salaries in compensation), being a pastor really is incredibly stressful and hard! No matter what you do, you never win. Half the church thinks you’re too controlling, the other half that you’re too weak, and it’s like that for just about everything. Depression is common.
They do it because their religious convictions run THAT deep. I, too, respect Loftus and Barker and the like because I know how incredibly difficult it is to get out: you have to admit that you are wrong and find a way to disentangle yourself from your entire life. Being in the ministry is more than just a job: your entire social network relies on your profession. It’s harder to get out of ministry than it is to change other careers. So it may surprise many to learn that the majority pastors actually don’t last, and those who do tend to change churches rather frequently. It is a staggering amount that DO get out of the ministry (though I have forgotten the actual statistic). Most just don’t become atheists/agnostics in the process!
Well, I am a pastor, and I can honestly say that the cartoon above doesn’t apply to me. Granted, I’ve only been serving as a pastor for 3 & 1/2 years (after a brief run as a youth pastor), so I’m pretty new to the business. I have, however, seen a few of the ministers that this cartoon depicts (I have one in mind right now, who may be close to abandoning his calling, which would be unfortunate, since he is a brilliant preacher).
As Laura noted, most pastors who leave the profession aren’t leaving b/c of doubts related to the faith, but rather, b/c of stresses associated with the job. I’m officially a part-time pastor, but I’m expected to take a call at any time; “office hours” are what I would call a pipe dream. I almost had to cut my vacation short last year due to a member’s illness as well.
If I have it rough, I can only imagine the stresses for full time ministers of larger churches.
Still, I can honestly say that I love the work that I am doing, that I sincerely appreciate my church, and that I am treated with just as much love in return. I prefer to believe that I have managed to find a church that is well suited to my personality and management style, but then again, I may just be the new guy and overly optimistic. Only time will tell.
My heart goes out to your colleague who is close to abandoning his calling. That must involve a great deal of grief and regret, and if on those rare occasions when it also goes beyond that to include loss of his faith, the initial grief and loss are so awful that I would not wish it upon anyone. However, for some it is the necessary gauntlet they must run in order to finally be true to themselves.
Wherever your path takes you, I wish you well.
I was a pastor in the Assemblies of God and some non-denoms as well. Walked away over 25 years ago. Never looked back.
that’s actually the plot line for the comic series Preacher, which is a great read for skeptics.
I think its somewhat unfair. I know a few ministers who have run out of passion for their job, and one or two who have run out of faith.
But the problem is that for many pastors, pastoring defines them in many ways: it is their skillset, a long-term job, the only thing they know how to do and the only industry they understand.
I also know a lot of people in IT with the same problem. Ideally they’d like to do something else, but it pays, their family depends on it, and there’s nothing else they feel qualified to do, or no other sector they understand well enough to know how to move into.
Its unfair to put up the few pastors who’ve jumped the fence, I think. Any more than you say to someone who is fed up with their job: “have the guts to write a novel – hey look what JK Rowling made from hers”.
“Just quit” is a naive option, even for someone with lots of doubts.
My mom is a pastor in a family of atheists. She has long since made her peace with issues of faith, and she chose pastoring as a second career after 30 years of teaching. She loves it. But she also tells me that burnout is a big deal for ministers for all of the reasons cited by jasonorlandohawk. Given that Mom survived teaching for so long, she’s got some good burnout avoidance strategies which I think she’s gonna need.
The reality of it is that pastors are “glorified” social workers. Same crappy pay scale, with the minor consideration that they work weekends and are always on call. Before becoming pastors, they met some of their best friends at church. After becoming pastors, they move to new communities (often remote ones, since that’s where churches tend to hire the newbies) and don’t have the option of finding their friends at church. Pastor plays favorites and the place goes to hell in a handbasket pretty fast.
Add to that the need to be a top-notch volunteer coordinator, manager, financial wizard, office manager/administrative assistant, and sometimes janitor. Then imagine doing it while hobbled by constant public scrutiny, second-guessing and sometimes outright vicious criticism. The realities of pastoring as a job have the potential to take all of the spiritual fun out of religion, which I think this cartoon illustrates very well.
I’m constantly amazed that my mom loves this job for its challenges. It would drive me nuts even without the religion component.
Fredrick Buechner in his book “Wishful Thinking” described doubt as follows. Whether you believe with all of your heart that there is a God or whether you believe with all of your heart that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. The keep it up and moving.
By the way. I love the stuff on nakedpastor.com thanks for sharing that.
I agree — the number of pastors who continue talking through their doubts is probably equal to the number of atheists, politicians, business owners, farmers, school teachers…(insert any occupation here) who continue doing what they’re doing despite occasional doubt.
Some mornings I even get out of bed despite my doubts that I’m completely awake 😀
Doubt is not an indication of right or wrong but of commitment.