Saturday Book Review: Lee and Fredrickson

This review comes to us from Mark Stevens, Adelaide Australia.

Brian Fulthorp posted some very sobering statistics on Blue Chip Pastor recently which grabbed my attention. Did you know that, “According to studies by the Alban Institute and Fuller Seminary, 50% of ministers drop out of ministry within the first five years and many never to go back to church again” (Meek et al., 2003, p. 340). Meanwhile a Duke University study also found that “90% of ministers will not stay in the vocation until retirement“. We could spend a lot of time arguing about why this is the case and that the system is broken. Of course it broken, it is full of people like us! We all know the statistics and the reality. Being a pastor is hard work. Many jobs are and it is also not uncommon for people to change jobs, vocations, or careers. However, what is unique to the pastoral vocation is how closely our faith and work are linked. Who we are in Christ is tied to what we do in God’s name.

In light of this perhaps the most sobering statistic involves how many pastors who leave the ministry never go back to church or leave the faith all together. What we need is an understanding of the reasons why this is the case and how we can best care for our souls so that we might be spiritually and emotionally resilient as well as balanced in every aspect of our lives. Many may come and go from ministry but none should leave the faith.

What do you think: Why do pastors leave the faith? Perhaps you have left ministry, has it been hard and did it help your faith?

I would never look down on anyone who left ministry for any reason. Maybe people should look at it as a 10 year plan if that is what works. Better to leave healthy than keep going and burn out completely! But it shouldn’t be the norm like it is. There has to be a better way.

I’ve read a lot of books on what it means to be a pastor. Many are good, very good in fact and there are two types of books that fit into this category. The first make up the vast majority of Ministry related books. They deal with world views and pastoral theology (Theology about being a pastor). Authors like Eugene Peterson, David Hansen, Ray Anderson, John Frye and many others fit this category.

The second category of books is equally as important but less common. These books deal with practicalities of what it takes to survive being a pastor. They are less about how we view the pastoral vocation and more about how to survive the pastoral vocation. One such book is ‘Going the Distance‘ by Peter Brain. It is an excellent book by an Australian Bishop. However, quite possibly the best book I have read in this category in recent years arrived on my desk today, ‘That Their Work Will A Be Joy‘ by Cameron Lee and Kurt Fredrickson. I was first alerted to this book by Scot McKnight in a short book announcement. I purchased the book on Kindle and now, because it is so good, I have a hard copy.

The book is split into two sections “Part 1: The Context of Ministry” which deals with the joyous and harsh realities of being a pastor. These chapters get under the skin of what it means to be a pastor. The authors take a look at the conditions in which we work. I especially liked the chapter on congregations: The Real and the Ideal. Boy, they never told me that in Seminary! The second half of the book deals with “Part 2: The Principles” and it looks at ways in which we might find our work a joy. There are no promises that the work will be easy but if we take care of ourselves (No it goes much deeper than just taking a day off) and do God’s work God’s ways we may have a hope.

What I especially liked about the book is the research focus. This is not just ideas. There are statistics, research and science. In chapter 2 on stress and burnout the authors share a detailed explanation of what stress actually is and how it affects the body, soul and mind. I found this incredibly insightful.

At the conclusion of each chapter the authors address 3 groups of people directly to bring it home. Firstly they speak to Pastors (Because it is easy to think it is other people), then to Congregations (Because clergy health is a two way street) and finally to Seminarians (Because it isn’t all glitz and glamour). Finally the book ends with a series of essays written by various people in a variety of different settings. There essays by Pastor’s Kids and Pastors Kids who are now Pastors themselves with kids. A pastor’s wife speaks to other ministry wives and those currently serving in a pastorate.

The reality is the statistics are not going to change unless we do. There is no one right model of ministry. Some will serve as pastors bi-vocationally, some will work as paid pastors in a church setting. Others will serve as part of a volunteer eldership/leadership structure. Although each circumstance and situation is different we all share the same vocational calling and often the same struggles and stresses. What we must learn to do is put into practice what the experts are telling us. We cannot keep ongoing this way. Something has to give and usually it isn’t the church, it is the pastor (Maybe we should be more willing to walk away from unhealthy church systems before it takes its toll?).

What Lee and Fredrickson provide in this book is a well written, well researched, and practical guide to how we might navigate these stormy seas. It is a book designed to get us thinking as well as get us practising. I highly recommend this book to pastors, people in the pew and especially to Seminarians.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://differentcloth.blogspot.com/ jeff stewart

    Never left *ministry* – but I put my hand to the plow and left the platform/pew; platform/passivity paradigm. My *faith* has been increased without being a “professional.”

  • Darcy Knight

    Graduating from Duke Divinity this weekend–this is going to the top of my list over at Amazon. I want to be in it for the long haul.

  • scotmcknight

    Congrats!

  • Mark Stevens

    Darcy, you will not regret buying this book or Peter Brain’s for that matter! Congrats on your graduation. :)

  • Clay Knick

    Darcy, Congrats! Duke Div. is such a great place. Get this book! Highly recommended.

  • Clay Knick

    This is a stupendous book. I recommend it highly. I’ve read it twice since it came out and still pick it up now and then and read a section or two. If you are a pastor, live with a pastor, have a pastor in the family, or treasure your pastor get this book and read it or give it to your favorite pastor.


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