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I’ve seen too many people in vocational ministry fail to launch.
Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something. Not exactly a recipe for fulfillment and joy.
I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary and know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.
The truth of a calling
Vocational ministry is a calling; it is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.
What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures:
1. Escape from a secular job.
I know a man who has a huge desire to work fulltime in ministry for a church. But the only reason he ever articulates is his hatred of his middle-management secular job. He sees a possible ministry vocation primarily as an escape from the problems of corporate work. I hope his heart changes before he makes the leap.
2. Fulfilling family expectations.
About one-third of my peers who dropped out of ministry came from families involved in vocational ministry. Don’t hear me wrongly; it is admirable to see multiple generations in ministry for the right reasons. But too many people in ministry feel compelled to enter that world because of family pressure or expectations. One peer of mine told me, “Dad called me into ministry, not God.”
3. When your spouse is not supportive.
Vocational ministry is quite demanding and can be exhausting. If ministers do not have the support of their spouses, their lives will be miserable from the very point of entering vocational ministry. For those of you who have supportive spouses in ministry—like me—count your blessings.
4. Not theologically prepared.
I recently heard a man preach a sermon that had, sadly, several biblical and theological errors. Those errors did not go unnoticed by many members in the congregation. The role of teaching and preaching in ministry is not to be held lightly. Do not enter ministry theologically unprepared.
5. Skewed views of the demands of ministry.
I was in a conversation with a 30-something pastor who came into ministry from the secular world. His conversation went something like this: “I had this idea that I would have all this free time and short work weeks. Ministry seemed like a piece of cake compared to the world I was coming from. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is unbelievably demanding. I am on call 24 hours a day, whether I admit it or not.”
For those who enter vocational ministry for the right reasons, the work can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. For those who don’t, the frustration will seem unbearable, and the failure rate is high—as illustrated by that trip through my seminary directory.
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Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, and online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including I Am a Church Member, Breakout Churches, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, Essential Church, and Who Moved My Pulpit? Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married and have 10 grandchildren.Learn More »
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