One More Reason to be a Pastor

From Forbes:


In my article on the Ten Most Hated Jobs, there were some surprises.

There are also some surprises in the ten happiest jobs, as reported a General Social Survey by the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago. (I am indebted to Lew Perelman for drawing my attention to the Christian Science Monitor article.)

1.  Clergy:  The least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all

2. Firefighters: Eighty percent of firefighters are “very satisfied” with their jobs, which involve helping people.

3. Physical therapists: Social interaction and helping people apparently make this job one of the happiest.

4. Authors: For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.

5.  Special education teachers: If you don’t care about money, a job as special education teacher might be a happy profession. The annual salary averages just under $50,000.

6. Go to the link above to see the rest of the list.

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  • As a card-carrying clergy-person since 1975, I am a little surprised looking at #1 from the angle of what I know about evangelical pastors. From the ’80’s on *pastoral burn-out* and depression began to spark the creation of pastors retreat centers, clergy counseling programs, and other ministries designed to keep pastors from bailing out of their calling. I’ve had my own issues at times. Yet, this dissatisfaction may be a small percentage even in the evangelical segment of clergydom. I don’t know. I’m not sure “happy” is the best word for clergy–maybe “the thrill of the hunt” would be better.

  • Scot McKnight

    John, what surprised me when I was sent this link was that this is the GSS and Univ of Chicago stuff. In other words, serious social scientific information.

  • Given the high levels of stress, and oft-reported feelings of being alone, I have to admit that I am rather astonished that clergy were among those (let alone #1 on the list) who are “happiest” in their jobs. Thanks for passing this information along!

  • CGC

    Hi Scot and all,
    Two things (1) I believe 80 percent of clergy quit within their first seven years (so I am not sure the results is simply on those who have stayed in it for the long run?); and (2) I have seen so many sociological studies in my life that Pastors have lower self-esteem after becoming a minister than before. So again, I am like others and not sure what to make of all this?

  • RJS


    What should define self-esteem for a pastor? (Or for that matter, for anyone?)

    Success according to Christ’s church is foolishness according to the world – and I think this is a fundamental root of conflict for many (for me) but ten-fold greater for clergy. For one thing we’ve recast success in the church in worldly terms.

  • The notion of “happiness” is a slippery one. It would be interesting to probe deeper to find out what folks mean by “happy” and why they consider themselves such.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I think you make a great point about how success is often more defined by the world (even for Pastors). What I was thinking about when it somes to Pastor’s self-esteem is how many Pastors are the walking wounded. Often they deal with disgruntled members and harsh criticisms from others in the church. It often only takes one leader in the church to make the minister feel like a failure. Then there is the aloneness and forsaken feeling within ministry, the blame game (whatever problems in the church, its not the leaders fault, it’s the minister’s fault), and finally the firings and forced resignations (or the sheer volume of frustation that nobody makes the minister resign, he or she simply does out of sheer exhaustion!).

    Maybe ministers are supposed to be like strong prophets where nothing really effects them negatively (even when these things may make someone stronger). What I have seen is many ministers collapse under the strain and weight of mnistry and sound like whiners like the prophet Jeremiah. For everyone of us “pastors” who are made stronger by the adversity we deal with within the professionalized ministry, there seems to be a whole lot of others who are not better, but unfortunately, bitter.

    I say all this knowing that firings and suffering are some of the chief ways God builds character and perseverance in us. I’ve always joked that every minister needs to be fired at least once but one of my good friends just got fired (his first time), and I am reminded of how much pain people can experience when they go through these kind of difficult situations. I suspect if it weren’t for the strong sense of “calling” many Christians ministers have, there would be a lot more defections of ministers leaving the so called “ministry.” There is a beautiful and wonderful side of ministry but let’s not kid ourselves, there is a dark and ugly side as well.

  • Scott Gay

    The McKnights have happiest jobs covered here( not stretching too far to say 4 of 10). Clergy, psychologists, teachers having to deal directly with people’s issues is my suspicion for getting crispy around the edges long term. Definitely put a lot of faith in the renewal of mind and spirit that could be imprinted for life in a person after having a rebirth type experience.

  • Bill

    I agree with a couple folks here. First, the issue of “happiness”. Not sure how was that judged? It’s slippery for sure and I agree with #6.

    Second, I think the survey is almost a year old. While that doesn’t completely negate its findings, it’s old material.

    Third, we really don’t know all the questions asked and how they defined happiness for the respondents (or if they did therby introducing some subjectivity).

    Anecdotal material: Here’s a run down of some of the pastors I’ve had over the last 17 years and I wouldn’t define these people as particularly “happy”. There was only one in this time period who was “happy” because God got a hold of him and radically changed his life and he is still pastoring. But here’s that sordid list:

    Pornography addiction and an affair
    Unsure about calling and gifting, depressed, and so was his wife
    Burned out and in denial, confused, his wife hated him being a pastor and she was angry
    Power crazy, angry, control freak (probably burned out)
    Denominational politics took a toll, favoritism, nepotism

    Only one out of six over the last 17 years that I would call happy.

  • RJS


    These kinds of conversations always leave me torn up – the message, whether intended or not, is that lay Christians are the cause of pastoral stress, and our “Christian” reponse and duty should be passive followers.

    But this isn’t really what I meant here. I don’t think pastors are supposed to be strong prophets where nothing effects them, or charismatic leaders, or CEO’s. I think a pastor is more like the father (or mother) or perhaps older brother or sister of a family (mixed with some teacher). The purpose isn’t to build a large institution, but to help Christians grow and mature with the goal of creating peers in Christ not followers of a human. This can involve a large church or not, I am not sold on small churches, and have known some very healthy churches of 1000 or even 2000.

    When power and control and status and prestige come into the picture, we’ve bought into success in the terms of the world.

    I’m looking forward to the series by John Frye, because I think he has important insights. And I’m willing to listen, even if he convinces me I’m wrong here.

  • Scott


    In my opinion your view of the pastor would be encouraging to most of the pastors I know. In his book “The Contemplative Pastor,” Eugene Peterson describes his feelings of frustration as a pastor who feels abandoned by other pastors to become “shopkeepers” (i.e. CEO’s, marketeers, etc) instead of pastors. Go to most pastors conferences and you are just given more techniques on “how to grow a church.”

    Now obviously we do want churches to grow as we see more people become followers of Jesus and we want to make disciples of these converts. But many congregations have been conditioned by all things church growth and worship the god of success (Kent Hughes has written a wonderful book called “Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome). Success is usually defined as “butts and bucks.” When this is the scorecard pastors get depressed.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I like what your saying, much of what I am saying is one side of the coin and what you are describing is another which is so important. And my explantion on why some Pastors are not feeling happy has nothing to do with anything you have said. I am just describing either what I see or how other Pastors often feel. I could write a longer post on how Pastors are their own worst enemies or how many of their own stupid or bad leadership decisions get them rightly into trouble (which always hurts the happiness quotient). Maybe I suspect that lay people often end up being abused by its leaders, particularly some of its Pastors and respond from that. All I am saying is much of what happens to Pastors happens from the other direction. Power plays from either lay people over pastors or pastors over lay people will end up damaging people’s emotional well being.

    Hi Scot,
    My Pastor friend got fired because he was not keeping up with the expectations of a cutting edge-growing church syndrome even though he was trying to do many things that RJS described.

  • Huh, here I was under the impression that being a pastor wasn’t a job.

  • Rob Henderson

    In spite of the difficulties, the problem-solving that doesn’t always work out and the “endless, glamorless, thankless job that’s gotta be done” (Joe Friday- Dragnet) I would choose to do nothing else, nothing more and nothing less than being a pastor.

    I didn’t choose to be a pastor but God chose me and I have been more than happy and blessed to fulfill His calling.

  • Ben Zabel

    They must have interviewed pastors while they were working. We have to pretend like we’re happy then! 🙂

  • Steve Robinson

    After over 40 years of dealing with clergy and being clergy (and now not clergy), I know the ministry attracts all manner of damaged people. “Happiness” is not a good guage of “healthiness”. I’m just sayin’…..

  • Kipp Wilson

    I wonder if there is any variance between evangelical pastors and mainline or Catholic clergy? Could it be that the pressure, burnout, high standards and expectations are exclusive to evangelicalism?

  • Any list of happy jobs that does not include “Pork chop on a stick vendor” is complete bunk.