May 23, 2007
Happy Shiny Pastors
Research shows pastors are the most satisfied professionals, but not everyone agrees.
Last month the Chicago Tribune reported that pastors are the happiest people on earth - really. Research done by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center found that clergy ranked highest in job satisfaction and "general happiness." They even out ranked highly paid professionals such as doctors and lawyers.
The article reports:
Eighty-seven percent of clergy said they were "very satisfied" with their work, compared with an average 47 percent for all workers. Sixty-seven percent reported being "very happy," compared with an average 33 percent for all workers.
"They look at their occupation as a calling," Carroll said. "A pastor does get called on to enter into some of the deepest moments of a person's life, celebrating a birth and sitting with people at times of illness or death. There's a lot of fulfillment."
Can this possibly be true?
Since I entered seminary I've been bombarded with the horror stories of pastoral ministry. Like the enlisted men trembling as General Patton pontificated about the brutality of war, new seminarians are told the sobering statistic about ministry burn-out, moral failure, divorce, and depression. Ministry, we are told, isn't for the weak. Only a clear calling from God will keep us in the game, because apart from that there is little for church leaders to rejoice about. Shepherding sheep, they say, is a dirty job with few earthly rewards.
To illustrate the popular rhetoric Pastor Darrin Patrick from The Journey in St. Louis compiled this list of statistics from organizations like Focus on the Family and Barna Research:
? Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
? Fifty percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
? Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
? Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
? Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
? Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
So, what is the truth? Are pastors the happiest and most satisfied people in the world, or the least? Are the statistics about pastoral burn-out and depression inflated? Do we overstate the hardships of ministry as a perverse way to make us feel more noble and courageous for continuing? Or, are most of us actually experiencing deep contentment, pleasure, and spiritual satisfaction in our labors?
Perhaps there is another explanation for the disparity in the statistics. Maybe the University of Chicago polled pastors on Saturday, and Barna polled them on Monday?