I just came back from the Regional Pastors’ Conference in Lake City FL where I was for Tuesday and Wednesday. We had two major speakers, one was the legal counsel for the Florida Georgia District, and the other was a guy from Grace Place Ministries. Grace Place is a healing and preventative ministry for people in Lutheran congregations, especially church workers.
Among pastors alone, there were some stark messages. 80% to 90% of pastors will experience burnout to the degree where they will make plans to leave the ministry, not just *their* ministry, but the vocation of pastoral service altogether.
So they started asking why this would be. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana hired a secular consulting firm to help it research this issue. They found something that floored them. This particular firm was good at helping companies come up with “retroactive job descriptions” – in other words, they were good at helping companies describe the jobs that their workers actually had as opposed to the job descriptions they actually had. They found that pastors had 13 “job clusters” when the average American worker was used to dealing with one to four. These clusters can be thought of as “mini-jobs” within the pastoral job, like writing, non-profit administration, public speaking, finance, counseling, building maintenance, teaching, and the list goes on. This meant that the standard American pastor has about 64 distinct competencies that he will likely be given assessments for.
It’s a big job. But it is no bigger than belief. Because while pastors struggle, and while we should keep pastors in our prayers. Pastors can do the job of pastoring, at least for a while before they crash and burn. (Actually only 6% of pastors make it from ordination to retirement in parish ministry.) Believing, well that’s something nobody can do. To believe, we need the Holy Spirit.
We confessed the explanation to the 3rd article this Sunday:
“What does this mean?
I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith . . . This is most certainly true.”
Your job is pretty tough too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying pastors are the only people that have it rough vocationally. I just got information about what is rough about this job. I’m sure there is information out there about what is difficult about your job. Maybe you don’t even need information, maybe you just need to look at your sleepless nights or the pile of work you take home or the lack of appreciation you receive at your job.
Our lives are tough. But they’re not impossible. Which brings all sorts of meaning to this article of the Creed. Our vocations are tough but not impossible. Bringing ourselves to faith, it takes more energy and suffering than even what it takes to be a mother, a pastor, a CEO, a policeman, a teacher, or an administrator. All the energy you expend at your job, if you expended all that energy to come to faith, you would fail.
But here’s the good news. You don’t have to expend that energy, because coming to faith has been done for you. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, He has enlightened you with His gifts of Word and Sacrament, He has sanctified you and made you, a sinful person, holy – and He keeps you in the faith. That’s a crazy job description, and it is one that only the Holy Spirit can fill. Thanks be to God that He took the job for our sake.