01 Self-Leadership

Self Leadership


Before he or she is a church leader, a pastor is a human being. And nothing about being a pastor precludes church leaders from the full human experience—good, bad and ugly.

Part I examines who pastors are and how they cope with being human. How do they rate their overall well-being? How many are at risk of burnout, relational breakdown or spiritual problems? What spiritual disciplines help them pursue a deeper relationship with God? How hard is ministry on their families? Do they have close friends? How do they see their financial situation? How do they deal with mental illness or addiction? Are they humble enough to change their minds? And how confident are they in their call to ministry?

The good news is, the vast majority of pastors are personally content and spiritually motivated toward growth and transformation—yet almost every pastor needs greater support in some way from the community of faith. And a small but significant percentage of pastors is at risk in some critical dimension of their lives.

Let’s take a look at how pastors perceive their inner lives and closest relationships, and find out how the body of Christ can offer help to shepherds who are hurting.

Most pastors start early on their path to ministry.
More than half sense their calling between ages 14 and 21. Overall, 85% of pastors attended church as a child and 8 in 10 were part of a youth ministry.

A sense of calling deepens with time and experience.
Two-thirds say they feel even more confident about their calling today than when they first entered ministry.

As a cohort of leaders, pastors are getting older.
As other careers woo Millennials and older generations struggle to hand the baton to younger pastors, the median age of pastors has risen from 44 to 54 over the last 25 years.

It’s not uncommon for spiritual leaders to face doubt.
1 out of every 4 pastors has experienced a period during their ministry when they significantly doubted their faith.

Most pastors are faring well, but 1 in 3 is at risk of burnout.
More than one-third of pastors are at high or medium risk of burnout, and three-quarters know at least one fellow pastor whose ministry ended due to stress.

Nearly half of pastors face some sort of relational risk.
43% of pastors are at high or medium relational risk, whether they are experiencing challenges in marriage, family, friendships or other close relationships.

Families usually weather the challenges of ministry.
Pastors report greater marital and parental satisfaction than the general population, though half say their current church tenure has been hard on their family.

Pastors are not immune to mental health struggles.
One in five pastors has struggled with an addiction—most commonly, to porn—while almost half have faced depression.

Even when earning less, pastors thrive in other ways.
Pastors earn below their education level, but most feel financially secure. High relational, emotional and spiritual satisfaction are found among those making less than $40K a year.

Worship helps pastors stay resilient.
Pastors who experience meaningful worship at their own church are at lower risk of burnout, relationship trouble and spiritual difficulties.


1. Identity

Who Are Today’s Pastors?

Is the aging of pastors a problem?

America’s pastors are getting older. When George Barna published his 1992 findings in Today’s Pastors, the median age of Protestant clergy was 44 years old. One in three pastors was under the age of 40, and one in four was over 55. Just 6 percent were 65 or older. Twenty-five years later, the average age is 54. Only one in seven pastors is under 40, and half are over 55. The percentage of church leaders 65 and older has nearly tripled, meaning there are now more pastors in the oldest age bracket than there are leaders younger than 40.

The upward climb did not begin in the 1990s. In 1968, 55 percent of all Protestant clergy were under the age of 45—that is, the majority of all church leaders were in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.5 In 2017, just 22 percent are under 45.

There are numerous reasons for this well-documented trend, and it may be impossible to know which are the biggest factors. At the most basic level, people are living longer: Average life expectancy for men in 1968 was 66 years old; today it’s 76.6 More specific to church ministry, the percentage of “second-career clergy” has been increasing over the past two decades, particularly in non-mainline churches* and historically Black congregations; more pastors are coming to ministry later in life, having first pursued a non-ministry career.7 Additionally, the economic crisis of 2008 impacted pension plans, 401(k)s and home values, and many “senior” senior pastors are not yet financially prepared to forego a regular paycheck. 8

On the other end of the age spectrum, an insufficient number of young would-be pastors is likely a factor, too. As we explore in “Mentoring” (see p. 86), a majority of current pastors say even finding future leaders—much less mentoring them—is a challenge. It’s no surprise that seasoned leaders find it difficult to track down and train their successors when we consider the declining percentage of practicing Christians in each successively younger generation. In addition, even faithful, kingdom-minded teens and young adults are increasingly attracted to vocations other than full-time church ministry, where their desire to make a difference can have a more entrepreneurial expression without the (real or perceived) institutional baggage of church.

All these factors and more are contributing to the “graying” of America’s clergy—a phenomenon with more cons than pros. It’s surely an upside that older pastors often have wisdom that comes only with long experience; the Church is in desperate need of such wisdom in this era of unparalleled complexity. Yet God’s people also need younger leaders preparing today for an uncertain future. Older pastors are uniquely situated (and called) to raise up, train and release godly, capable and resilient young pastors.

The bare facts of the matter are that even the wisest of older pastors is not here indefinitely, and his wisdom will be lost to the community of faith unless it is invested with the next generation. Even more urgent, however, is the prospect of a massive leadership shortage in the coming decades. In the best-case scenario, Bible-literate, Spirit-filled, missional lay leaders will rise up in the place of a shrinking professional clergy, living as the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:5) on a scale rarely seen before. This is certainly a possibility, but is it the most likely outcome?

*For Barna’s definitions of mainline and non-mainline, see Appendix B. Definitions.

2. Wholeness

How do pastors rate their overall well-being?

Barna asked pastors to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of their well-being, including their spiritual, physical, financial, emotional and mental health. Pastors reported how often they experience a range of feelings associated with contentment or dissatisfaction. This table is a snapshot of how different groups of pastors think about the various dimensions of their lives.

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%). About three-quar-ters of pastors frequently feel motivated to be a better leader (73%).

Few report frequently experiencing the negative experiences and emotions Barna explored in the study. For example, the vast majority does not often feel inadequate to their calling (88%), lonely or isolated from others (86%) or emotionally or mentally exhausted (79%). The areas of health that show some “softness” include physical well-being (67% say excellent or good), finances (69%), feeling well-supported by people close to them (68%) and feeling energized by ministry work (60%). Most pastors are relatively satisfied in these dimensions but, in comparison to other aspects of their lives, contentment is less widespread.

3. Risk

How many pastors are at risk of burnout, relational breakdown or spiritual problems? While most pastors are doing just fine, thank you, no leader is immune to problems. To understand the challenges to pastors’ well-being, researchers posed a series of questions to assess the risk of burnout, relational difficulties and spiritual setbacks. Questions included pastors’ self-assessment* of their emotional and mental health; their satisfaction with their vocation and confidence in their ability to minister effectively; the strength of their family and friend relationships; and how they feel about the spiritual dimension of their lives. Researchers then used pastors’ self-assessments to formulate risk metrics for burnout, relationship problems and spiritual issues. The items for each metric are shown on page 21.

Numerical values were assigned to all possible answers and, when responses were tallied, researchers found most pastors are doing well, ranking low on two of the three metrics. This underscores one of the major findings of Barna’s The State of Pastors: Contrary to conventional wisdom, most pastors are faring well.

Still, analysis shows that many are dealing with some level of risk.

  • 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.
  • 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.

*Even if there is some self-deception (possible) or aspiration (likely) in pastors’ self-assessments, how pastors think about themselves is valuable information.

Using these metrics, Barna analysts were able to segment pastors into high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk groups in order to see what they might have in common. A lot, it turns out! A substantial part of the analysis that follows in The State of Pastors is based on these metrics, because they prove to be helpful in understanding pastors’ sense of their overall well-being (Part I), their experience leading a church (Part II) and their perceptions of cultural change (Part III).

The Risk of Burning Out

Throughout Part I we’ll explore various components of pastors’ well-being, including the health of their relationships and their spiritual habits. But since a higher risk of burnout seems to play a role in how pastors assess these other areas of contentment and satisfaction, let’s take a closer look at the burnout factors at work in some leaders’ lives.

Compared to the general U.S. adult population, pastors more often rate their mental and emotional health as excellent (39% vs. 25%) or good (46% vs. 38%). That’s more than eight out of 10 pastors who report better-than-average mental health. Leaders of churches with growing attendance (47% excellent) tend to rate themselves higher than those with flat (34%) or declining attendance (22%). This likely indicates that at least some pastors depend on the trajectory of their church’s growth for personal affirmation.

Length of ministry tenure also seems to have an effect on pastors’ assessment of their emotional well-being: The longer a pastor has been in ministry, the higher they rate their mental health. Conversely, leaders in ministry less than 15 years are twice as likely as the norm to say their mental health is merely average.

Ministry tenure also corresponds to how frequently pastors have felt emotionally or mentally exhausted in the past three months. Pastors with 30-plus years in ministry are less frequently exhausted (37% seldom or never) than those who have been in ministry less than 15 years (13%). Gender is also a factor: Female pastors are almost twice as likely to frequently feel exhausted (38%) compared to male pastors (20%), and are less likely to be frequently energized by ministry work (44% vs. 61% men).

The larger the church, the more frequently its pastor feels energized by ministry, and the more likely it is for the pastor to report an increased passion for ministry during their tenure at the church. Once again these findings indicate that growth trajectory is a factor in some pastors’ positive feelings about themselves and about ministry.

Researchers also found that a church’s size and whether it is growing correspond to a pastor’s vocational satisfaction, to how satisfied they are in their current position and to whether ministry at their church has disappointed them. Pastors of small and / or declining churches are much more likely than their colleagues to say their tenure as leader of their current church has been a disappointment. About one-third of those who lead churches of less than 100 people (34%) or between 100 and 250 people (37%) say it is completely or somewhat true that their current ministry is disappointing, compared to just 15 percent of large-church pastors. Even stronger than church size is the connection between decline in attendance and disappointment: More than half of declining church pastors say they are disappointed with their current ministry (54%), compared to just one in six of those who lead growing churches (18%).

Pastoral dissatisfaction and disappointment seem to be associated with a church’s trajectory of growth. And since dissatisfaction and disappointment raise a pastor’s burnout risk, church decline seems to play an outsized role in a pastor’s chances of actually burning out.

Given the unique stresses and complexities of leading a church through periods of intense growth, researchers expected a larger percentage of those who pastor growing congregations to fall into the high and medium-risk categories. (And it’s important to note that a significant three in 10 do so.) Yet the overall direction of burnout risk seems to run counter to what we might expect: Many leaders appear to thrive on the challenges that come with growth, rather than feeling overwhelmed or inadequate.

Burning Out of Ministry

Barna asked pastors how many fellow pastors they personally know who have left ministry in the past five years because of burnout or stress-related problems. Just one-quarter of all leaders don’t know any (24%), leaving three out of four who say they know at least one fellow pastor whose ministry has ended due to burnout (76%). The average (median) number of former pastors known to have left because of stress is two, but one in three current leaders reports they personally know three or more (37%) and one in seven says they know five or more (14%).

Even if we suspect some of these self-reported findings to be on the high side, these numbers are daunting. When we consider than one in nine U.S. pastors is at high risk for burnout based on their own self-assessment, it’s not farfetched that most senior church leaders know someone for whom the risks have proven to be too much.

4. Practices

How are pastors growing spiritually?

Considering David Kinnaman’s interest in the faith journeys of the Millennial generation, and the degree to which dealing with doubt shapes their lives and faith, Barna researchers wanted to understand what role, if any, doubt plays in the lives of pastors. One out of every four has experienced a period during their ministry when they significantly doubted their faith (24%).

Spiritual doubt seems to go hand-in-hand with the period of adjustment pastors experience at a new church. Among pastors who have led their current congregation for three years or less, one-third says doubt has been a factor in their lives (34%).

Of course, while it is often uncomfortable, doubting one’s faith may serve as a catalyst for deeper spiritual growth and more consistent religious practice. For example, pastors with longer overall ministry tenure are more likely than shorter-tenured leaders to report they find it fairly easy to make time for their own spiritual development. The shorter a pastor’s ministry tenure, on the other hand, the more difficult it is to find time in their ministry schedule for spiritual self-care.

Those at high risk of burnout (62%) and at high relational risk (55%) also find it hard to make time—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.

Spiritual Practices

Researchers asked pastors what two or three spiritual disciplines or practices are most essential for their own spiritual development. Eight out of 10 say prayer (81%) and seven out of 10 cite reading the Bible for personal devotions (71%). After that, there is a massive drop off. “Silence or solitude” (13%) is statistically tied with worship (12%) and “serving others without recognition” (10%) for third place, followed by committing scripture to memory (7%) and fasting (3%).

Demographically speaking, there are not huge variations when it comes to these disciplines; that is, roughly similar percentages of pastors among all ages, ethnicities, church sizes, regions of the country and so on engage in them. Likewise, there does not seem to be any particular discipline associated with greater satisfaction or lower risk metrics.

However, the greater difficulty a pastor has finding time for their own spiritual growth, the less inclined they are to consider reading the Scriptures an indispensable spiritual practice; instead, they are more likely than the norm to value silence / solitude and serving without recognition. Conversely, pastors who say it’s simple to find time for soul care prefer Bible reading.

While the specific discipline doesn’t seem to have a discernable effect, the consistency of one’s spiritual practice correlates to overall satisfaction and low risk metrics. Pastors who are very satisfied with their vocation and very satisfied with their current ministry, or who rate low on spiritual or burnout risk, are most likely to report practicing their top essential discipline (usually prayer) every day or more often. By contrast, those at high spiritual or burnout risk are less prone to practice every day, and more inclined to do so only a few times a month or less often.

In addition to being the most common spiritual practice, prayer is also the first thing most pastors do when facing a crisis. More than half say they pray first, before taking any other action, when a ministry crisis (59%) or family / personal crisis (52%) arises. This habit is especially common among those who are low on the spiritual risk metric: Two-thirds pray first in a ministry crisis (64%) and nearly six in 10 pray first in a family or personal crisis (57%).

Meaningful Worship

As previously mentioned, only one in eight pastors says worship is an essential discipline for their own spiritual growth (12%). Yet a pastor experiencing worship at their church as personally meaningful tends to correlate with a lower risk of burnout, relationship trouble and declining spiritual well-being. Again, it’s not clear which way the causal relationship goes—whether higher risk leads to infrequent meaningful worship or less frequent worship leads to higher risk—but the correlation is undeniable.

Similarly, pastors who are very satisfied with their vocation (90%) or very satisfied with their current ministry (91%) tend to report that worship at their church is personally meaningful for them nearly every week.

Find the Time

If pastors and those who support them should take anything from these findings, it’s that consistent spiritual practices matter.

They matter to the quality of pastors’ lives and leadership. They correlate to vocational satisfaction and contentedness with one’s ministry. They impact emotional, spiritual and relational well-being.

Pastors can mistake the attention they receive for being a spiritual leader for spiritual maturity. It’s not uncommon for congregants to project their unlived spiritual lives onto their leader and call it spirituality. Then, constant praise for inspiring messages and caring deeds can tempt leaders to believe the projections placed on them and call that spirituality. This can lead to narcissism that ends in spiritual abuse of the flock, characterized by power and control instead of care and guidance.

It’s not wrong or evil for people to look to pastors as spiritual examples (the apostle Paul, after all, told the Corinthians to “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ,” 1 Cor. 11:1). But the best defense against the worst possible outcomes of “spiritual projection” is a direct, personal, living encounter with God’s Spirit, who “leads into all truth” (see John 14:16). When pastors attend to the Spirit’s leading, they are free to live out their calling to lead people into their own encounter with God.*

Pastors who find it hard to make time for soul care are in good company—but that doesn’t make the problem any less urgent. It is difficult, if not impossible, to lead people into a transformative relationship with God if leaders aren’t engaged with the Spirit in their own transformation. Without the sense of connection with Christ that comes with regular spiritual practice, spirituality can become a job rather than a calling.

Q&A with Pete Scazzero

Founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens

Pete Scazzero is founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, a large multiracial, international church representing 73 countries. After being senior pastor for 26 years, he now serves as a teaching pastor / pastor-at-large. Pete and his wife, Geri, are the founders of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, a ministry that equips churches with a discipleship paradigm to deeply transform people transforming the world. He is author of two bestselling books, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church, and most recently released The Emotionally Healthy Leader. His next project, The Emotionally Healthy Relationships Course, will release in late summer 2017.

5. Family

How hard is ministry on pastors’ families?

Being a member of a pastor’s family has potential benefits and unique challenges. For example, a pastor’s child may grow up surrounded by a rich community of believers and mentors, but also may face the scrutiny that often comes with being raised in the public eye. A pastor’s spouse may share in the blessings of a nurturing church family, but also may be involved with difficult administrative and relational aspects of the ministry. Barna wanted to know, How do the spiritual, social and financial pressures of leading a church weigh on a minister and, inevitably, their family? And how do pastors feel about their most intimate relationships?

Before we dig in, it’s worth reminding readers that these are findings from research among pastors only—not among their spouses or children—so what follows is not a 360-degree view of ministry families. The objective here is to understand pastors’ perceptions and experience of their home life, which is one important dimension of their well-being.

Let’s start with marriage. Overall, there’s very good news. Most pastors—96 percent of whom are married—are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse. Seven out of 10 say their relationship is excellent (70%), and one-quarter considers it good (26%). By way of comparison, less than half of all married U.S. adults rate their marriage as excellent (46%), and one-third says it’s good (35%). So, by and large, pastors report greater marital satisfaction than the general population. (They also divorce at lower rates: About 10 percent of Protestant pastors have ever been divorced, compared to one-quarter of all U.S. adults; 27%.)

Financial constraints can be a relational burden, yet pastors with leaner resources—perhaps paradoxically—tend to report a stronger connection with their spouse. Those who receive a lower salary are more likely than those who are financially better off to be satisfied in their marriage. Eighty-three percent of those earning less than $40,000 a year rate their marital satisfaction as excellent.

Pastors with children under 18 (about one-third of all pastors, 35%) are also enthusiastic about their relationship with their kids. Three out of five view it as excellent (60%), and one-third report it as good (36%). Pastors once again rate their relational satisfaction higher than the national average: Among all parents in the U.S., less than half say their relationship with their children is excellent (46%) and three in 10 say it’s good (32%).

In a previous study among pastors, Barna asked what, if anything, they would change about how they parented their children. A significant plurality says they wish they had spent more time with their kids (42%), whether that means finding a better balance between ministry and home life, traveling less, being more involved in their day-to-day lives or taking more trips as a family. In some cases, pastors connect these regrets with specific unwanted outcomes: One-third of senior leaders with children ages 15 and older says at least one of their kids is no longer actively involved in church (34%), and one in 14 has a child who no longer considers themselves a Christian (7%).

Not surprisingly, when it comes to both marriage and parenting, pastors who rate higher on Barna’s risk metrics report lower satisfaction with their relationships. For example, pastors who are high on burnout risk are more likely to rate their marriage as average or below average, and to say their relationship with their children is merely average. Likewise, pastors at high spiritual risk are more prone to say their marriage is average or below average, and eight times more likely than the norm to say their relationship with their children is average.

Family First

Even among pastors low on the risk metrics, strains of ministry life surface in the findings. Most pastors seem to be doing well overall, but they are not immune from challenges.

Roughly one-quarter of today’s pastors has faced significant marital problems (26%) or parenting problems (27%) during their ministry tenure. Pastors 50 and older are more inclined to report either or both types of problems, likely by virtue of their comparatively longer marriages and the fact that many are weathering or have lately survived their kids’ teen and young adult years.

When asked whether it’s true that their current church tenure has been difficult on their family, two out of five pastors acknowledge it’s “somewhat true” (40%). About half say it is either “not very” (33%) or “not at all true” (19%), and just one in 12 says it’s “completely true” (8%). Interestingly, these percentages are similar to data gathered by George Barna in 1992 and published in Today’s Pastors, suggesting symmetry of pastors’ family experiences across generations.9

A negative impact on family seems to go hand-in-hand with lower ministry satisfaction: Those who report low overall vocational satisfaction or low satisfaction with their current church ministry are much more likely than the norm to say it’s true that ministry has been hard on their family. Pastors high on the burnout risk metric also assess higher-than-average negative family impact.

Since the Barna metric of relationship risk is based in part on questions about family life, leaders who rate as high risk obviously tend to report lower family satisfaction. The leading factor that pushes pastors into the relational high-risk category is that ministry at their current church has been difficult for their family. Three-quarters of those at high relational risk say this is completely (41%) or somewhat true (34%), compared to less than half of all pastors. Not coincidentally, relationally high-risk pastors are less likely than those at low risk to express overall satisfaction with their current church ministry: Just three in 10 say they are very satisfied (30%) compared to two-thirds of low-risk leaders (65%).

The data are clear: The effect of ministry on a pastor’s family, whether positive or negative, is tied to the pastor’s ministry satisfaction.

6. Friends

Pastors and Friendship

Compared to their high levels of family satisfaction, pastors’ feelings on friends are more mixed.

Do pastors have close friends?

Previous Barna studies have indicated some difficulties for church leaders, historically speaking, when it comes to making and maintaining close friendships, so researchers were pleasantly surprised to hear mostly positive reports from pastors: Two-thirds are happy with their friendships, rating their satisfaction in the friend department as either excellent (34%) or good (33%).

However, there are some areas of concern when it comes to pastors and the friends they keep. First, note that only one-third of pastors expresses the strongest level of satisfaction with their friendships. Second, around one in three indicates comparatively low satisfaction in this area. And third, pastors’ satisfaction with friends is on par with or only slightly better than U.S. adults overall (28% excellent, 33% good)—which raises the question why people in such a relationally driven vocation are not any better than the norm when it comes to intimacy with friends.

Further analysis also shows that robust and healthy friendships are not evenly distributed throughout the pastor population. Overall, older and more seasoned ministers report higher levels of satisfaction than younger and greener pastors. Those 50 and older are more likely to rate their satisfaction with “having true friends” as excellent and less likely to rate it below average or poor. Similarly, those who have been in ministry 30 years or longer or at their current church 10 or more years characterize the state of their friendships as excellent more often than the norm.

It may be that younger pastors, who are establishing not only their ministry but also their marriage and family, have limited relational resources to invest in close friendships. Older and established leaders, on the other hand, may have more relational availability, a clearer sense of their own identity and more opportunities to form friendships based on shared interests, rather than life stage or convenient proximity.

Leaders making less than $40,000 per year are also more likely to report high satisfaction when it comes to friends—in-terestingly, this group also tends to be more satisfied with their family relationships than their higher-paid peers.

When it comes to having true friends, there are dramatic differences between pastors who say they are satisfied with their church and vocation and those who are not, and between leaders who fall at various points along the spiritual and burnout risk metrics. The correlations between higher friendship satisfaction and lower overall risk make a compelling case for the necessity of genuine friendships among pastors.

Support Network

Barna also asked pastors how often they receive personal spiritual support, either from peers or from a mentor. Again, there was better news than expected. Most pastors are not left alone to fend for themselves: Nearly seven in 10 say they receive direct support at least monthly (68%), and more than half of those do so “several times a month or more often” (37%).

As with pastors’ reports of satisfying friendships, there are some differences when it comes to ministry tenure—only on this question, younger and greener pastors tend to say they receive more frequent support. (Perhaps this is because older, veteran leaders are more likely to be mentors than mentees.)
Once again, however, the greatest disparities can be found between those who are high and low on the Barna risk metrics. Low-risk pastors receive personal spiritual support far more often than those who qualify as high-risk.

As with other questions from the study that strongly correlate to high measures of risk, it’s difficult to determine whether a lack of healthy, spiritually supportive friendships leads to greater spiritual, relational and burnout risk, or the other way around—or whether the dynamic is more complex than one or the other. In an interview with Barna (see p. 50), family therapist and former pastor Jim Hawkins contends that close, authentic relationships are both preventive medicine and restorative antidote for a host of emotional wounds and mental illness, including depression and addiction. So, as a practical matter, it’s all but irrelevant whether being high risk or lacking deep friendships is the causative factor. The point is, pastors need friends.

7. Money

How do pastors see their financial situation?

Average annual income has risen for U.S. pastors by more than 22 percent since 1992, from $53,419 (adjusted for inflation) to $63,314. (For comparison, median personal income in 2015 for U.S. adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was $71,221.10) But while more pastors are earning a salary roughly in line with the national average, how confident do they feel about their financial resilience?

Barna research partner Thrivent Financial developed what it calls the “5S question,” an assessment of a person’s perceptions of their financial situation. It is not an inventory of a person’s actual financial situation, but instead reveals their emotions surrounding money and security. People with incomes far above average may report feeling they struggle to meet their expenses, while those with lower incomes may feel secure—and vice versa.

The question is a self-assessment: Which of the following best describes your current financial situation?

  • Surviving: I require financial assistance to get by.
  • Struggling: I am struggling to keep up with day-to-day expenses.
  • Stable: I am fairly stable, but just making ends meet.
  • Secure: I am fairly secure, able to make ends meet and have some left over.
  • Surplus: I have more than I need for myself and my family.

In research sponsored by Thrivent, Barna surveyed church planters about the state of their finances—a study that included the 5S question—and published the results in the report Church Startups and Money. 11 Barna and Pepperdine also included the 5S question in the national study of senior pastors. The good news is most pastors perceive themselves to be in better financial shape compared to church startup leaders and U.S. adults overall.

Eleven percent of pastors in the survey report annual compensation of $40,000 or less, and these pastors are more likely than higher-paid colleagues to say they are surviving or struggling, and less likely to think of themselves as having surplus. Pastors of smaller churches and of churches with annual budgets under $100,000 are also more prone to say they are surviving or struggling. So, for many pastors, lower income and smaller ministry budgets correlate to feelings of financial insecurity.

For others, however, financial uncertainty is more closely related to discontent with their ministry: Pastors who express lower levels of satisfaction with their vocation or with their current position are more likely to see themselves as struggling or merely stable and less likely to say they have a surplus of financial resources.

Financial Preparedness

In order to understand more thoroughly pastors’ perceptions of their financial circumstances, researchers asked them to rate the accuracy of three statements:

  • I am confident that I will be financially secure when I retire.
  • I am financially prepared for unforeseen expenses, such as a health crisis.
  • I have a trustworthy, knowledgeable person to turn to for financial advice.

Overall, seven in 10 pastors say it is completely or somewhat true that they’re confident about their retirement security (71%); two-thirds say they are prepared for unexpected expenditures (64%); and three-quarters have a trusted advisor from whom they can get reliable financial guidance (76%). Similar to their answers on the 5S question, however, pastors who earn a lower annual income are less confident in their financial preparedness, while those with higher incomes tend to feel more secure.

Lower-income pastors report higher levels of satisfaction at home and in their friendships, and tend to rate their spiritual and mental / emotional well-being more highly than colleagues who earn a higher income. Yet on questions related to finances, it’s clear that fewer resources are no guarantee of a worry-free life or ministry.

In addition, confidence related to personal finances appears to affect spiritual leaders’ overall contentment and well-being— so helping them deal well with money matters is one way the faith community can help them thrive in ministry.

8. Disorder

How do pastors cope with mental illness or addiction?

Nearly half of pastors report struggling with depression at some point during their tenure in ministry (46%). A smaller but still significant proportion, about one in five, says they have struggled with an addiction (19%).*

Depressed Leaders

Depression correlates to several factors. First, lower vocational and ministry satisfaction are related to depression. Pastors who are not very satisfied with their work are nearly twice as likely as those who report the highest level of satisfaction to say depression is or has been a part of their lives (69% vs. 37%). Likewise, those who are not very satisfied with ministry at their current church are more likely than the very satisfied contingent to report depression (54% vs. 40%).

Second, smaller church size and declining attendance correlate to reports of pastoral depression. Roughly half of pastors who lead churches of fewer than 100 (51%) or between 100 to 250 people (56%) have experienced depression, compared to one-third of large-church leaders (32%). Pastors who report declining attendance numbers are also more likely to say they are or have been depressed (62%).

Addicted Leaders

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%).12

Generally speaking, the younger the pastor, the more likely he or she is to report an addiction of some kind. And addiction is more common among male than female clergy; this makes sense, given that porn seems to be the most significant issue here, and women are generally less likely than men to seek out porn.13

Among those who report an addiction, one in six reports he or she has not sought treatment or recovery (18%). The majority has sought help from one or more sources (82%), most commonly an accountability partner or group (60%), adopting spiritual disciplines or practices (51%) and counseling (25%). Fewer have engaged with a 12-step program (7%) or Celebrate Recovery (6%).

Researchers asked pastors who report an addiction about the impact of disclosure on their ministry, and the split is about even between those who say their decision to be honest has had a positive impact (41%) and those who fear disclosure would have a negative impact (46%). While addiction doesn’t appear to be more common than average among those who rate high on Barna’s metric of burnout risk, fear of disclosure is much more common. It’s unclear whether fear or the risk of burnout is the dominant factor in the correlation—that is, whether high burn-out risk leads to fear of disclosure, or fear increases one’s burnout risk. Either way, there is a small but significant subset of pastors whose high stress levels are likely compounded by their isolated struggle with addiction.

Mental Illness ≠ An End to Ministry

In more positive news, mental illness appears to be less likely than either burnout or moral failure to end a pastor’s ministry. Researchers asked pastors how many senior church leaders they personally know who left pastoral ministry in the past five years “because of a mental illness such as depression, anxiety or addiction.” One in four says they know just one (25%) and 16 percent report knowing two or more pastors who left ministry for mental health reasons. That combined 41 percent is significantly less than the three-quarters who know at least one pastor who burned out of ministry (76%) and the half who know at least one who left due to moral failure (53%).

Mental and emotional disorders—especially depression— are a common experience among today’s pastors. Far from being a ministry-ender, however, it’s entirely possible that dealing well (and maybe even openly) with mental health issues when they arise can form a pastor into a wiser and more compassionate shepherd for the people under his or her care.

Q&A with Jim Hawkins

Marriage and Family Therapist

Jim Hawkins entered pastoral ministry in 1976, serving in the United States and in East Africa. In 2010 he was licensed in Indiana as a marriage and family therapist. He is now in private practice at the Christian Counseling Center of Madison County in Anderson, Indiana. One of his specialties is providing counseling and pastoral care for pastors and missionaries and their families. Jim has been married for 43 years to MaryAnn; they have two adult children and four grandchildren.

9. Humility

Are pastors humble enough to change their minds?

Partnering with Pepperdine University gave Barna access to world-class academic researchers whose expertise opened avenues of inquiry we might not otherwise have pursued. Chief among these researchers is Associate Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso, who has developed and validated the Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale with a grant from the John Templeton Foundation and Fuller Seminary.14

Dr. Krumrei Mancuso and her colleague Steve Rouse define intellectual humility as a non-threatening awareness of one’s intellectual fallibility that offers a healthy independence of one’s intellect from one’s ego. Those who are humble in this way are not threatened by intellectual disagreements, are not overconfident in their knowledge, have respect for others’ viewpoints and are open to revising their own views. After learning about her research on this topic, the Barna team was keen to include items from the Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale in the national study of Protestant pastors. The agree / disagree question series for the scale includes the following statements:

1. I tend to feel threatened when others disagree with me on topics that are close to my heart.
2. I’m willing to change my mind once it’s made up about an important topic.
3. I am willing to hear others out, even if I disagree with them.
4. I welcome different ways of thinking about important topics.
5. My ideas are usually better than other people’s ideas.
6. When I am really confident in a belief, there is very little
chance that belief is wrong.

Special Report

by Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso

Leadership typically involves some form of power differential in which a leader has greater influence than the people they lead. This is true in religious contexts as well, where the perspectives of faith leaders often come to carry more weight than that of their congregants. Perhaps this is why the apostle James wrote that teachers would be judged more strictly (see Jas. 3:1). For these reasons, intellectual humility is important for faith leaders.

The Barna survey of Protestant faith leaders included six items from the Comprehensive Intellectual Humility Scale. 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%; although percentages are high across the board, welcoming diverse ways of thinking is most strongly endorsed by pastors of larger churches and those who have attended seminary). A substantial majority also indicates they are willing to change their minds once they are made up about an important topic (84%), which is another sign of intellectual humility.

On the other hand, many pastors seem to struggle with overconfidence. Seven in 10 leaders say that, when they are really confident in a belief, there is very little chance that belief is wrong (69%). This may indicate that faith leaders don’t readily recognize the intellectual biases to which all humans are prone. Research has shown a weak-to-nonexistent relationship between confidence in one’s beliefs and the accuracy of those beliefs.15 Being intellectually humble involves appreciating the tentative nature of knowledge, regardless of one’s level of confidence. Interestingly, this is the only humility item with a gender difference: Men (72%) are much more likely than women (39%) to agree there is little chance they are wrong when they are very confident in a belief.

Three in 10 pastors believe their ideas are usually better than other people’s (30%), which could be another indication of intellectual overconfidence. On the other hand, it’s possible this assessment reflects accurate self-knowledge; pastors who have been in ministry for more than 15 years (32%) are more likely than pastors with shorter ministry tenure (21%) to believe their ideas tend to be better than other people’s. There may be something about greater ministry experience that puts pastors in a position to have better ideas than the people around them—or, conversely, more ministry experience may be associated with becoming overconfident about one’s ideas.

Another three in 10 pastors say they tend to feel threatened when others disagree with them on a topic close to their heart (29%). This indicates that some leaders struggle to separate their intellect from their ego; they feel as though it is a personal attack when others express differing opinions. With age and experience, however, this struggle seems to decline; fewer Elder pastors (16%) than Gen-X (29%) and Boomer (30%) leaders report feeling threatened by intellectual disagreements; and pastors who have been in ministry 30 years or more (24%) feel significantly less threatened by intellectual disagreements than pastors who have been in ministry less than 15 years (34%).

Taken together, these findings indicate that church leaders today seem to possess great strengths yet also face some challenges when it comes to intellectual humility. Their respect for others’ viewpoints and willingness to revise their own views when warranted are qualities that can lead to successful interactions with other religious leaders and with congregants, such as in the context of making decisions in the faith community and providing pastoral care. At the same time, a substantial proportion of pastors may be blinded by intellectual overconfidence or may experience intellectual disagreement as a personal threat. If this occurs, pastors could lack awareness of errors in their thinking, overlook opportunities to learn from others’ ideas and knowledge, and respond defensively when people offer differing perspectives.

In addition to potential links to successful ministry, intellectual humility appears to correlate to pastors’ satisfaction with their vocation. Those with higher levels of intellectual humility report greater vocational satisfaction than those with lower levels. Specifically, pastors who feel threatened when others disagree with them and who are less willing to change their minds express less satisfaction with their vocation than those who experience less threat in the face of disagreement and who are more willing to change their minds.

It’s important to note that intellectual humility does not involve abandoning truth claims. In fact, this kind of humility appears to be unrelated to constructs such as conformity, social confidence and low self-regard, and even shows slight positive associations with higher self-confidence.16 There is no inherent conflict between faith leaders confidently holding personal beliefs and simultaneously possessing intellectual humility.

Previous research has shown that intellectual humility is associated with a host of beneficial qualities, including perspective taking, empathy, gratitude, altruism, benevolence, less power seeking and open-mindedness.17 These qualities are likely to benefit pastors in their efforts to minister to others.

Finally, while pastors have room to improve on a few aspects of intellectual humility, on most items these leaders are on par with or demonstrate somewhat greater humility than U.S. adults overall. “When I am really confident in a belief, there is very little chance that belief is wrong” is an obvious exception; notably, female pastors (39%) are in line with the national norm (44%) on this statement, while male leaders’ outsized confidence (72%) skews the average among all pastors.

Elizabeth Krumrei Mancuso holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. She has published work in the areas of virtues (intellectual humility, gratitude, forgiveness), religion, spirituality, stress, coping, mental health and prostitution, and is coauthor of Faith from a Positive Psychology Perspective. Elizabeth has provided psychotherapy at mental health centers for adults and children, and currently teaches courses in psychotherapy, family therapy, advanced research methodology and psychology of religion.

10. Calling

The Age of Calling

More than half of all U.S. pastors sense a call to ministry between the ages of 14 and 21. Here’s a timing breakdown of this pivotal experience.

Are pastors confident in their call to ministry?

A majority of pastors says they felt their call to ministry between the ages of 14 and 21 (53%)—but do they still feel it? How confident are church leaders in their calling from God to shepherd his people?

Very confident, in large measure. Three in 10 report they are “just as confident” today as when they first entered pastoral ministry (31%), and two-thirds say they are even “more confident” now than then (66%). Just 3 percent admit they are “less confident,” and these leaders tend to be younger, part of a mainline denomination or, most often, leading a church with declining attendance.

A pastor’s confidence in his or her calling is correlated to how satisfied they are with their work and with their current church ministry. Pastors who are very satisfied in one or both areas are apt to express increased assurance, while those who are less satisfied tend also to be less confident.

While confidence in pastoral calling remains robust overall, roughly six in 10 pastors (58%) say they have felt “inadequate for [their] ministry or calling” during the past three months, either frequently (12%) or sometimes (45%). Leaders of churches with declining attendance feel this inadequacy most acutely.

Researchers examined the relationship of confidence in one’s calling with feelings of ministry inadequacy and of being “energized by ministry work.” As one might expect, the small percentage of pastors who feel less confident in their calling today than when they started their ministry do not feel energized by ministry work as often as those who are more confident. Similarly, leaders who are less confident today in their call to ministry feel inadequate for their calling much more frequently than those who are just as or more confident than when they began.

These data suggest the importance of regular reflection on one’s motivation for engaging in ministry. As Simon Sinek famously advises, leaders should “start with why.”18 Confidence that God has called you to your work appears to be a buttress against inevitable challenges that arise, so consider how to tend and grow reliance on the God who called you—and how to bolster that confidence in the lives and hearts of other pastors you know well.

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