This past week, I had the unique privilege of addressing the ministerial directors of the Southern Union at their annual Administrative and Departmental Council (a huge thank you to Pastor Roger Hernandez for the invitation). The focus this year was “Young in Ministry”, where we spent two days looking at young pastors and exploring how conferences could collaborate together with their pastors to better support our young men and women in the field.
We followed the L.E.A.D. acronym (which stands for Leadership, Evangelism, Accountability, and Diversity and are four important components that we in the Southern Union believe pastors should have in order to have an effective ministry). I was asked to talk about the area of Leadership while three other effective young ministers were brought in to speak on the other areas. Because I think the information is relevant and important not only to our union and ministerial directors, for the next three weeks I’ll be blogging most of what I presented.
Every year, hundreds of young pastors begin ministry in some part of the country. Some have great experiences; others have very rough starts. Yet, I firmly believe that each of our men and women have great potential in them and the goal of this series is to identify how we can tap into and bring out that leadership potential, while striving to remove any barriers that may be hindering growth.
I was initially worried when I was asked to present this. It wasn’t because of the venue or topic. The reason was because my experience has been exclusively with the Carolina Conference, I didn’t want my presentation to come across as, “Hey everyone, this is Nelson Fernandez’s beef with the Carolinas.” So to mitigate this impression, I decided to conduct a small survey among a group of over 50 young pastors from 7 unions and 24 conferences in the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. I asked them the following question:
What have been some of your frustrations as it relates to the area of leadership in ministry, either locally or at a conference level?
A disclaimer here: I’m a leader too, and I know that the job of supervising ministry can be daunting and thankless. Overall, I think we have some fantastic leaders in our church. The comments are not a reflection on any one person, conference, or union.
Some of the following frustrations have to do with the contradictions inherent in ministry (you’ll see what I mean) and, on another level, reflect the challenge of learning something as complex and multifaceted as local church ministry. However, it’s important to take an unfiltered look at what young pastors are saying, because:
- In order to improve the situation in the church, we first must understand what needs improvement.
- You may be a young pastor and sympathize with some of these frustrations. Know that you’re not alone.
- You may be a leader who might be able to address the situation in your area.
Without further ado, here is the “best of the worst” voices of frustrations from our young pastors:
“Teach your congregations change but don’t ever make them mad.”
“If you are single you are less than a pastor, but expected to work more hours, put in more time, do more visitation than all the other pastors.”
“If you are a woman in ministry, you aren’t supposed to talk about it. Make sure your gender doesn’t cause trouble.”
“Even though the conference expects you to take a day off during the week, church members expect you to answer all days and at all times. Vacations are a luxury to be taken by everyone else that is not in ministry.”
“If you are a single pastor, good luck trying to get a date, or having a ‘dating life’ for that matter.”
“We want you to revitalize the church’s ministry to youth and young adults because they are vitally important to the church’s future, but we also want you to ensure that the older members are kept happy at all costs because they pay the bills.”
“As a pastor, you won’t become credible until your ordination; then you can speak.”
An important caveat on this point, being Young in Ministry doesn’t necessarily mean that the ministers are young. The last point about ordination was more pronounced in pastors who were coming into ministry as a second career. They felt that, even though they may have had vast experience in another field, they were somewhat looked down upon even if they served as elders or lay pastors in a church. Continuing on…
“We want you to focus on your unique area of giftedness in ministry so that you’re fighting in your own armor, but we also want you to be a master of everything remotely related to pastoral ministry, including but not limited to church history, biblical languages, preaching, chaplaincy, youth ministry, accounting, and technology.”
“You must be social, professional, and spiritual all at the same time.”
“Spanish churches from the other conference are part of the rebellion. Say hi but move on quickly.”
“If you go to Oakwood Undergrad never think about getting hired by ‘white’ conferences and vice versa. It’s never spoken about but always understood.”
“If you’re black and go to a white school, good luck getting hired by a regional conference.”
“When at the conference meetings you are to follow what others are saying. Don’t speak too much and just wait your turn until all the other ‘experienced’ pastors have finished speaking.”
“Pastors meetings are not a safe place to share your struggles. They’re a place to show how God has ‘blessed’ your ministry until that day.”
One young pastor went on a roll and by himself gave me the following points:
“Rule told to every intern repeatedly: Don’t be a workaholic and above all things you MUST put your family first, because if you fail them you will be out of ministry.”
“Truth of the rule — Yes, you must put your family first, but we don’t care about your spouse’s career or your children’s school when we move you.”
“Yes, you must put your family first but, we are going to send you on endless intern training events in addition to regular workers meetings and profession travel, and no, your spouse can’t come.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but you also better not miss a hospital visit of a member or any other service they require.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but your church needs X amount of baptisms this year and X amounts of tithe, and we don’t ever want to hear that members are not happy with you.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but if you don’t move to seminary when we tell you (without including you in the decision) we really have no room for you anymore.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but if it is your ordination interview and we request your spouse be there, we really could care less about her/his work schedule or life events, and no, you don’t get a say on when and where the interview will be.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but your kids will go to our church school if you pastor a church with a school and we don’t really care if your kids want to or if your family can afford it.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but you will work every single weekend for the rest of your life unless you use vacation time.”
“Yes, you must put your family first, but if a family member should die during camp meeting don’t even ask; nobody gets out of camp meeting!”
Pastors are pressed from expectations on every side: family, churches, conferences, unions, culture, themselves, etc. While most other careers have consistent on the job training and orientations, pastors are somewhat plunged in the field and expected to learn on the fly.
What do you think? Are these frustrations legitimate and have you experienced these as well? I know that this is a lot to take in. Which is why I’m going to stop here for now and next week will distill the responses I received to look at the following:
3 Leadership Areas Young Adventist Pastors Wish would be Addressed