A little while I back I posted a link to Thom Rainer’s proposed sketch of the “life of a pastor” and a pastor-friend of mine wrote me an insightful, substantive letter. I’ve delayed this until today for a simple reason: it’s Monday, it’s the first week of Advent when pastors can often feel like they’ve about had enough — and lots of new sermons to prepare and Christmas services … and, well, I thought today was a good day for pastors to think about the “life cycle of a pastor.”
Questions: Pastors, what were your major transitions? What got your through? Were you prepared for this in seminary?
I found Rainer’s timeline for pastor’s interesting. I wonder what data he is using, or if it is personal observation. There’s actually a fair bit of research on this, and the time lines I’ve seen are a bit different and more complex.
In time lines I’ve seen, the crisis comes at years 4-7, and it’s personal in nature. Am I really called to this? Do I have what it takes? I think everyone I know well enough to know that graduated with me from seminary had a crisis of this sort in this time frame–folks like X, Y, Z and others. I’ll never forget Matt’s words as he considered quitting the pastorate–“I’d just like to enjoy a little success again,” he said. I knew exactly what he meant, because I was feeling the exact same thing (even though in many ways I was very successful–just didn’t match the models I was using or the scale I was used to). Maybe because I have a pretty high pain tolerance, I made it to year 8.If one makes it through this, then I think years 8 to 12 are probably years of growth, or maybe more specifically years of healing towards the end of growth. Then in the studies I’ve seen (I forget the specifics and sources–maybe Alban Institute?) somewhere between years 10 and 14 you can expect a major pastoral crisis, different from the personal crisis earlier. This will generally be parish related, and congregational in nature.
A lot of times at about this point a pastor will again be losing confidence in himself. He may well wonder what if any real fruit has come from his ministry–and from what I’ve read, mega pastors are not exempt from this and in some way perhaps particularly vulnerable to it. The really interesting thing is that if a pastor makes it through this crisis, people’s confidence in him will actually grow. So he is in a structural position to do his best work, but personally may lose the will to do so. There can be a fundamental disconnect, and a loss of both vitality and effectiveness.
I’m not sure what it looks like after that. I do know that right now I face probably my second biggest crisis of calling. Am I called to pastor a church larger than 400? The more I read about what it takes to do so, I’m not sure why anyone would want to (ie, bigger churches take a lot more money to run, so the “sr. pastor”–I think Jesus would hate that name–has to focus on hob knobbing with a very specific set of moneyed folks which now by his success he most naturally relates too… I’ve heard it from one megapastor after another for years now and it just feels so… icky. So un-Christlike. IMHO). But I’m in a position where I need to do that or move on, and my dear wife doesn’t want to move on, and having just built a big building with more debt than I’d like I can’t really leave because the ensuing instability could sink the congregation.
So I guess the process probably repeats itself, which would make a lot of sense.