The Death of Pastoral Ministry

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The majority of those who embark on the journey of pastoral ministry will end up being a statistic of burnout, depression, exhaustion, and bitterness. On average, seminary-trained pastors will last less than five years in pastoral ministry.

This is a problem. Our current philosophy of ministry is killing the pastoral office.

As many of you know, I have begun the journey of attaining my Doctor of Ministry through Sioux Falls Seminary and I am hoping to address this problem. A few years ago I was on the verge of becoming another statistic; I was becoming pessimistic about ministry and drinking the poison of bitterness. It was during this painful season that a mentor of mine invited me on a 3-day retreat to a Benedictine Monastery known as St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

As a good, nondenominational pastor, I was not a fan of liturgy or the Roman Catholic Church. I assumed that liturgy (i.e. written prayers) were inauthentic and aligned with the babbling Jesus warned against in the Lord’s Prayer. Regarding the Roman Catholic Church, I followed the lead of Martin Luther and assumed the Pope was the Anti-Christ and the Roman Catholic Church was the Babylon spoken about in the Book of Revelation.

Nevertheless, I was desperate.

Desperate for a spirituality that was deeper than a surface reading of a text with vague applications.

Desperate for way of measuring success that went deeper than attendance and budget numbers.

Desperate to truly experience the ancient God of the Bible rather than the false american god many of us worship in our churches.

Desperate to align my ministry with the trusted traditions of the church rather than sleek business models that propagate the false gospel of marketing and excellence.

With the Psalmist, I realized my soul was panting for God like a deer pants for streams of water (Psalm 42:1). The wells of evangelicalism and popular church culture had run dry. I was discouraged by attendance numbers, giving statistics, and my lack of “success” as defined by modern evangelicalism.

That 3-day retreat was a turning point in my faith and leadership. I participated in the Daily Office with the monks – gathering throughout the day to chant the Psalms and listen intently to the reading of Scripture. I began to read a small book placed in the guest room called “The Rule of St. Benedict.” This is an ancient monastic rule written by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Holy Spirit used this ancient monastic rule to save my ministry and renew my resolve to remain faithful as a husband, dad, and pastor. I will be spending the next 3 to 4 years studying and applying this Rule to the lives of other pastors with the hope that the Holy Spirit will breathe renewal into their lives and ministries.


This is the first post in a series – stay tuned for more discussion on the Rule of St. Benedict, my story, and how I believe this ancient rule offers a philosophy of ministry that is able to bring greater healing and depth into the ministry of pastors in small churches. 

11 comments

  1. Tyler, you are gifted in your work of being a pastor! I pray that you continue to grow in your ministry.

  2. God has lead you to a GREAT need among pastors. We have known pastors that have left their pastoral jobs and taken secular jobs. It seems to be a high burn out job these days. However, in earlier times, pastors seem to remain at the same church for many years and stay in a pastoral job until they retire or die. It would be interesting to examine the differences of then and now.
    Thank you for caring and sharing!
    Sue

    1. Thank you for the very kind words, Sue! You make a great observation regarding how pastors once stayed in pastoral ministry their entire lives – that’s extremely rare today. This is a hunch but I wonder if it has anything to do with the church growth movement/philosophy that became popular in the 1980s? It would be very interesting to do some research on pastor longevity before and after the 80s. Some good thoughts and things I am going to look into. Thanks Sue (and thank you for being on this journey with us from the very beginning!)

  3. I understand what you mean. I was very anti-liturgy and pre-written prayers and many other ancient and traditional practices…then I discovered The Episcopal Church and The Book Of Common Prayer and a different way of approaching prayer and worship and service, and it changed me tremendously for the better. Looking forward to reading more about this and your spiritual journey!

    1. Thank you for the comment! It sounds like our stories are very similar. I actually use The Book of Common Prayer for all of my devotional life. I love that it seeks to re-capture the monastic life for “regular” people like us. I also deeply appreciate the focus on Lectio Divina by meditating on smaller passages rather than the typical “read through the Bible in a year” plan.

      1. Tyler, just one additional thought for what it’s worth…When you wrote about “burnout, depression, exhaustion, and bitterness,” I thought about a trend that I see. It’s where the main message in Sunday worship is part of a topical series, almost like chapters in a book. I would imagine trying to come up with the next “big series” that will draw people into a church could end up causing a lot of those things.

        It’s sort of like, if Christian Financial Management is the latest hot topic that everyone is talking about and there are books about that topic featured in the local Christian bookstore, then that’s what we need to do a series on. I used to think that was really great, and the best thing to do. Now, I’m not so sure. It puts a lot of pressure on the pastor, especially if it’s to bring new people in to visit and hopefully stay.

        One of the nice surprises for me in the Episcopal Church was that there is a gospel reading each Sunday which plays a key part of the message for that Sunday…and it is read from the very center of the congregation with everyone around the reader and the gospel book (not from the pulpit, though the message that comes from the gospel is delivered from the pulpit). Done this way, It just always gives me a feeling of “this is God’s word for the people.” The focus is much more “these are the words of Jesus” rather than “these are my words about the words of Jesus.”

        Anyway, probably taking up too much space here, but I really appreciate what you share here on WordPress!

      2. Thank you for your comment, you offered some extraordinary insight! I was once passionate about the “church growth” movement and thought we needed to discover the “felt needs” of each person and do a sermon series around that. What ends up happening, as you note, is it creates a monster that must continually be fed and leads to exhaustion and disappointment. At Renovation Church, we simply preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible now. I once heard a professor say, “I do not go to church to have my needs met, I go to figure out what my needs are!” – I think that’s a good perspective.

        I also love the way you outline how the Episcopal church does the Gospel reading and the centrality of the Gospel. I am going to think of ways I can incorporate that into my own setting – thank you for that!

    1. Thank you for the comment, Marcia! I am not sure if you know this but the “mentor” I speak about in the post is none other than Ryan Petersen so Skandia is a large part of this story as well!

      1. That is wonderful to know, Tyler! God has truly blessed Skandia through his devotion to our Lord, through his desire to lead us to the feet of Jesus.

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