Where Have All the Pastors Gone? (Part 2)

In my last post, I lamented the loss of pastoral integrity, as I observe it from the viewpoint of the Namibian church. In this brief blog, I want to focus on the other side of the coin—namely the contribution of church members to the attrition or loss of men from the pastoral ministry.

Pastors in Namibia, as elsewhere are greatly tempted by various spiritual, emotional and physical temptations. That is not unusual in a sense, for the devil, the world and the flesh conspire against the shepherd leader. Pastors struggle with the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (1 John 2:16) as much as do the members of their respective churches. They, like everyone else, must learn to overcome various temptations by the grace and with the help of God. But pastors have a greater burden to bear in this regard, for their moral and spiritual failures have greater and more far reaching consequences upon the flock. (See the warning in James 3:1.) Churches frequently fail to understand this and they do not help to protect their churches and their pastors from such moral and spiritual challenges.

There is a guilt that is borne by the church, contributing to the drop-out rate of pastors. There are at least three sins that churches regularly commit in relation to their pastor:

  1. an insufficient investigation into the suitability of the man for their ministry;
  2. a lack of prayer for the man; and
  3. a lack of adequate provision for the man.

An Insufficient Investigation into the Suitability of the Man for their Ministry

I have seen it with my own eyes in my thirty years of pastoral ministry. The drop-out rate of students, having graduated from theological seminary, and having entered the pastoral ministry, is high. Many drop out of the pastoral ministry after only a few years. Some may have misunderstood and underestimated the terms of the divine call to the ministry. They may have underestimated the rigours and the self-denial that comes with such a calling. That is a real possibility. There are also those who have seen the ministry as a means of finding employment or for financial gain (1 Timothy 3:3b; Titus 1:7b; 1 Peter 5:2), in the words of John 10:12–13, mere hirelings that care nothing for the sheep who abandon the flock when the pressure is on. It is the work of the church to discern this by prayer. In our congregation, prospective elders are tested over a period of two years before they are recommended for ordination. Calling a full-time pastor-elder from elsewhere should receive even more urgency in prayer.

Many churches simply do not apply or take seriously the biblical criteria associated with the calling of a pastor. The Bible sets clear standards for the calling of such a man in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. The scope of this essay limits a discussion or exposition on the relevant texts, and I would encourage my readers to study these texts at face value and apply them to the calling of a full-time pastor. Many churches are guilty of calling men into their midst who are not qualified to meet these minimum standards, and this on account of failing to prayerfully search the Scriptures in these matters. These churches must not be surprised if such pastors leave them after a short time.

A Lack of Prayer for the Man

“The Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2–3, ESV)

“… praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for the saints, and also for me, that words may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18–19, ESV)

Having already mentioned the importance of prayer, we now turn our attention to the lack of prayer on behalf of the church for the choice and maintenance of their pastor-shepherds. To begin with, many church members entrust themselves into the hands of a pastoral search committee whose task it is to find a pastor, and when he is found, the church would accept him uncritically and without prayer being made on behalf of the entire congregation. In a sense, then, a church will always get such a pastor as they have asked (or not asked) for, from God. It is unthinkable that a church at large should not be involved in faithful prayer and petition to God to give them a pastor after God’s own heart, a man who is himself called by the Great Shepherd of the sheep, a man who shall love them for his Master’s sake and feed them on the Word of God (John 21:17; Ezekiel 34:23). Let the prayerless church not be surprised if she gets a person who is not truly committed to their spiritual welfare, and who would soon leave them because of some spiritual weakness, or ineptitude or moral failure!

Another aspect pertains to the continued prayer for the pastor or pastoral team. Battle fatigue in pastoral ministry is a real thing. Pastors are in the forefront of leading the church against the battle against Satan and sin and unbelief. They need our sustained prayer and encouragement. This is the congregation’s duty under God, and nothing like a sustained congregational prayer habit will keep a man, humanly speaking, in the pastoral ministry. Read Paul’s letters and observe how much he depended on the prayer of others (Romans 15:30–31; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:18–20; Colossians 4:2–4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1–2; Philemon 22). Prayer is God’s means for our spiritual survival in this fallen world. Do not neglect to pray for your pastor, lest he becomes discouraged and you ask, why did our pastor leave us?

A Lack of Adequate Provision for the Man

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” and, “The labourer deserves his wages.’” (1 Timothy 5:17–18, ESV)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over yours souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17, ESV)

A third reason for pastors leaving their congregations pertains to the matter of a fair remuneration. I know of very few pastors in my circles that get a fair wage for their labour. This fact, I believe, contributes greatly to the discouragement, despair and discontinuance of many a man’s ministry. A number of men have to look for additional sources of income in order to meet the monthly bills. Biblical teaching is urgently required at this level, and I know of at least one church that consulted with our congregation on this matter. They have responded well to our biblical counsel and exhortations on this subject. They took immediate steps to alleviate the very real financial needs of their pastor and are continuing to work on the backlog that they have created over many years of neglect in this area.

It is a dishonour to God when members have homes and comforts and the pastor whom they have called in the name of God has none of these. Although any pastor worth his salt will tell you that his trust and hope are in the Lord for his daily needs, the God-ordained channel of provision is the local church which he serves, and if that church does nothing to care for the material needs of its pastor, then the church sins against God, the pastor and his family. So, do not let your pastor leave on account of the poor material reward that you offer him. Do something about it.

I have submitted these three reasons as a challenge to our churches to examine themselves and to see whether these things be true. Pastoral leadership in the church is a God given thing. It is vital and when churches are leaderless they generally do not do well. Churches must choose well, pray well and provide well in this matter. This, on a biblically practical level, will lead to their pastors staying and persevering considerably longer.