Lonely & Low Risk

The last thing we need is any more sugarcoating but I am looking forward to the day when Barna gives us some good news.

Leadership Journal, Fall 2006

Lonely and Low-Risk?
by Abram Book, with survey info from Barna.org

Pastors appear to brim with self-confidence, display good communication skills, and have rigorous, demanding schedules, but many also struggle to make and keep friends. And eventually, a large percentage pull back from life’s challenges.

A new study by The Barna Group shows 61 percent report difficulty creating and maintaining personal relationships. Dr. Louis McBurney, founder of the pastoral counseling center Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, says a majority of pastors in his care cited “lack of emotional intimacy with others” as the main factor in their decision to seek counseling.

“The expectations people have of pastors to always have answers and be competent to do almost anything just tends to shut pastors out from being open about who they are with somebody else,” says McBurney. “This may not be as true as it used to be, but many pastors were taught in Bible college and seminary not to get close to their people because it can create problems of jealousy and tension in the church.”

Over a long period, this makes pastors guarded. Barna’s study found that pastors’ potential for risk-taking drops off after 20 years in ministry. Pastors who spent 20 years or more at the same church were found to be particularly risk-averse.

“Most people in most careers tend to train during the years when they’re 20 to 30 years old, try to grab the entire world by the horns when they’re 30 to 40, and then ‘settle in’ from 40 to 50, or after about 20 years. It’s no different for pastors,” says Dr. Neil Wiseman, a former professor of pastoral development at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs. “Since a pastor will have bumped up against all sorts of resistance during the years between 30 and 40, and since he’s had to deal with every new idea imaginable during that time, it’s probably not a surprise that after 20 years, he’s tired of taking risks.”

Wiseman also cites as factors the sense of career boredom and lack of motivation that some pastors feel after 20 years, and the notion they often feel that taking risks will get them fired. “After a pastor has been in ministry that long, it’s hard for him to start over again if he’s terminated. With that in mind, most pastors who’ve been around that long just figure it’s better not to take chances.”

In other words, without carefully cultivated friendship and fresh challenges, pastors can begin to resemble the Maytag Repairman.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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Fall 2006, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, Page 10

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