The Minister and the Ministry – Can you separate them?
by: Maurice Graham, D. Min., LMFT
“Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America,” says Southern California psychologist Richard Blackmon, in a recent Los Angeles Times story. Dr. Blackmon says, “roughly 30% to 40% of religious leaders eventually drop out of ministry.” He goes on to say, “incidence of mental breakdown is so high that insurance companies charge about 4% extra to cover church staff members when compared to employees of other businesses”. 1
Why is it that only about half of the ministers who receive seminary educations are still in active ministry ten years later? It’s easy to point the finger at our seminaries and not see the bigger issue. The training of the minister is more complex than just skill training. A ministerial student brings to seminary many unresolved family of origin issues. These are past family experiences and the effects of his current family functioning. Every minister has his or her unique set of personal and family themes that will play out in ministry. These themes are from the history of the family, the cultural background and social political context as well as the family’s current social context.
The task of each minister is to understand his or her own family’s past and present unresolved issues, which will recycle themselves in everyday ministry. These unresolved issues will trouble the minister and hamper him or her from functioning at the highest level. The minister’s own family of origin is the incubator for the development of relationship skills. The development of ministerial relationship skills is the only reliable predictor of positive ministry. The family’s effect on the minister’s ability and comfort in relationship development is vital. The lack of resolution of the minister’s family issues will impact the ability to think, act and relate within the context of ministry. How well a minister is integrated between personal issues and ministry is the greatest way to predict that minister’s effectiveness.
Understanding and changing oneself is not good enough. The minister must learn how to translate these gains into the actual context of ministry. Both resolved and unresolved issues impact the way he or she does ministry. It is essential for the minister to recognize and manage the flaws and scars of his or her life since there is no possibility that he or she will ever fully resolve the current or past afflictions. Seeking to resolve the personal dilemmas is a lifelong challenge. The minister’s efforts are aimed to achieve as much personal resolution as possible in his or her personal life that will benefit Christ and the church. The minister and ministry cannot be separated. In other words, the minister becomes the sermon. As Christ became the Word incarnate, so is the minister. In our seminary training, ministers are taught how to preach and teach, but they are not given the tools for dealing with their own family of origin issues, which have the greatest impact on the outcome of their ministry. Seminary must move beyond skill training, and more towards an integrated model. We hear about new paradigms in the new century. If we do not work harder towards integrating the personal issues that impact the minister with the skills he or she needs to do ministry, the church will continue to see a high rate of dropouts in the ministry in the next century. It is not only a waste of financial resources, but human resources needed to spread the gospel to the whole world.
1. Los Angeles Times, 1/29/99
©2002, Shepherd’s Staff Ministry, Inc.