October is the month set aside as Pastor Appreciate Month. What is it you appreciate about your pastor? How is he doing in his role? DDCommunity exists to engage and encourage pastors and their families, so we spend quite a bit of time evaluating Christian leaders. This year we gained additional insight with ground-breaking research published by the Barna Group. With their permission, we are presenting some of their statistics about pastors here.
Statistics about Pastors
Eager expectation filled our travels from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Barna Group unveiled The State of Pastors report comprising data accumulated over three years and including over 14,000 pastors. While hunting for unknown treasures, we came away from the presentation perplexed.
We heard from Barna president David Kinnaman, Barna experts, and special guest speakers as they explored the mental, physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual well-being of today’s pastors. Based on Barna’s groundbreaking research and the words of pastors themselves, we learned how they handle challenges in their personal lives, their churches, and their communities.
The focus of the study centered on senior pastors. Would you be surprised to know that the median age of senior pastors in America in 1992 was 44 years old? In 2015 the median age of pastors climbed to 54 years of age.
In 1992 the average number of years a pastor stayed at his church was 4 years. In 2015 the average number of years a pastor stayed at a church was 11.
Those Barna facts are pretty concrete and straight forward. But an analyzation of the reports that summarized the pastors’ self-assessments revealed what seems to be conflicting data.
According to The State of Pastors report, for the most part, pastors present a positive picture.
The most common self-descriptions include
- having a good overall quality of life (91%),
- ranking spiritual well-being as excellent or good (88%) and
- being in good emotional and mental health (85%).
But, how is it that
91% can report having a good overall quality of life and
85% report being in good emotional and mental health WHEN
- During their ministry 46% of pastors have struggled with depression (The State of Pastors)?
- During their ministry 26% of pastors had significant marital problems (The State of Pastors)?
- During their ministry 27% of pastors had major parenting difficulties (The State of Pastors)?
- During their ministry 19% of pastors, one in five, say they have struggled with addiction (The State of Pastors)?
Among the one in five pastors who reports struggling with an addiction, the most common is “porn / sexual addiction” (61%). According to The Porn Phenomenon, Barna’s study on the ubiquity of pornographic content and widespread porn use, conducted in partnership with Josh McDowell Ministry, 14 percent of all senior pastors say porn use is a current struggle, and 43 percent say it was a struggle in the past. More than half report they know someone else in ministry who is struggling with porn use (53%). (The State of Pastors)
According to the Barna Trends report
In anonymous surveys conducted for Barna’s The Porn Phenomenon report, in partnership with Josh McDowell ministry,
- One in five youth pastors (21%) and
- One in seven senior pastors (14%) admitted they currently use porn.
- About half of those who use porn do so at least a few times per month, and the vast majority feels guilt or shame when they do so.
It is also difficult to understand high reporting of good quality of life and good emotional and mental health when
- More than one-third of pastors are at high (11%) or medium (26%) risk of burnout.
- Two in five tally high (27%) or medium (16%) on the risk metric for relational problems. (The State of Pastors)
And, how is it that
88% rank spiritual well-being as excellent or good when The State of Pastors reports
- 47% (almost half) of all pastors have a very difficult or somewhat difficult time finding time to invest in their own spiritual development?
- And while only one in 20 is at high risk of spiritual difficulties (5%) – giving the impression that this is a non-issue for most pastors – an unexpected six in 10 fall into the medium-risk category (61%), suggesting there are currents worthy of notice just below the placid spiritual surface.
[Previous statistics lump high and medium together. If that was done in this category, it would be two-thirds of pastors fall in the high to medium risk of spiritual difficulties.]
When this data is paired with the definitions of the spiritual risk metrics, it seems to suggest that two-thirds (66%) of pastors
- Rate their spiritual well-being as average, below average or poor.
- Say it is very or somewhat difficult to invest in their own spiritual development.
- Receive spiritual support from peers or a mentor several times a year or less.
- Say their tenure at their current church has not deepened their own relationship with Christ. [They are not growing spiritually.] (The State of Pastors)
“Those at high risk of burnout (62%) and at high relational risk (55%) also find it hard to make time [for spiritual self-care] – or perhaps those who find it hard to make time for spiritual development put themselves at higher risk when it comes to stress and relationship health” (The State of Pastors).
Overall, the Barna presentation on The State of Pastors revealed a major struggle of the ministry of DDCommunity. Pastors do not readily admit to having problems. “While most pastors are doing just fine, thank you, no leader is immune to problems” (The State of Pastors). Pastors present the image that they are fine, thank you very much, but when you can get behind the mask, the evidence does not match the report. These statistics on humility, from The State of Pastors report, might hint at the reasons why.
- Pastors express high levels of respect for others’ viewpoints, with more than nine out of 10 agreeing that they welcome different ways of thinking about important topics (92%) and that they are willing to hear others out, even if they disagree (99%).
- On the other hand, many pastors seem to struggle with over-confidence. Seven in 10 leaders say that, when they are really confident in a belief, there is very little chance that belief is wrong (69%).
- Three in 10 pastors believes their ideas are usually better than other people’s (30%).
- Another three in 10 pastors says they tend to feel threatened when others disagree with them on a topic close to their heart (29%).
In our lovely home town of Chattanooga, TN, in 2016, 52% both engage and esteem the Christian Scriptures to rank Chattanooga as the #1 Bible-Minded City in the US 9Barna Trends 2017, pg. 128). According to the American Bible Society, 4 out of the past 5 years Chattanooga has been ranked as America’s most Bible-minded city.
Would it surprise to you to know that Chattanooga, Tennessee, ranks first for active church attendance; 63 percent of its population went in the past week (Barna Trends 2017, pg. 149)? Truthfully, that statistic surprises us!
“Barna founder George Barna and Barna president David Kinnaman collaborated on the 2014 book Churchless to further examine the nation’s unchurched community. “More Americans than ever are not attending church. Most of them did at some point and, for one reason or another, decided not to continue,” Kinnaman says. “This fact should motivate church leaders and attenders to examine how to make appropriate changes-not for the sake of enhancing attendance numbers but to address the lack of life transformation that would attract more people to remain an active part.” (Barna Trends 2017, pg. 148)
A majority of all church leaders (85%) believe busyness is a major obstacle to discipleship, and one-quarter (23%) of practicing Christians call it a significant barrier (Barna Trends 2017, pg. 130).
So, how’s your pastor REALLY doing?
O Lord, as we remember our Christian leaders, may we always in every prayer for them make our prayers with joy, because of our partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Lord, we want to be sure of this, that You who began a good work in them will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for us to feel this way about them, because we hold them in our hearts, for they are all partakers with us of grace, in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is our witness, how we yearn for our Christian leaders with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is our prayer that their love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:3–11)