top of page

THRIVING TOGETHER: Dr Ian Duncum

Updated: Apr 20

GROWING HEALTHY MISSIONAL PASTORS, CHURCHES  & DENOMINATIONS


For many years I have shared both the pain and the joys of those who work with churches. Like many of you, I have asked many times whether there are better ways forward to thrive together and have missional impact on our world. And sustainable ways - it's not about trying harder - but doing different things in different ways. Interrupting and reflecting on practice. That is what I do as a pastoral supervisor/mentor. What I do as a church and non-profit consultant. And what I endeavour to do as a blogger and writer. I hope what is posted here is water, God willing, for those planted in churches that we may thrive together.

Please let me know what you think in the comments. Or you can contact me through my website: www.ianduncum.com.au

A LOOMING CRISIS

Part 2: MAYBE YOU ARE THE REASON YOUR CHURCH CAN’T GET A PASTOR?


Wow! Thanks for your responses to the first post in the series, both on the post and the emails I received. This is a subject that is touching a nerve. And its pretty obvious that we need to act or we will be maybe 14,000 pastors short in 20 years time. Send labourers for the harvest, Lord! Maybe this will end up being more than three posts…

First, I don’t want to pitch this as an academic essay. There is a lot of literature in this field and at the moment I have had time to read some, though not all. However, if some of this is uncomfortable, remember this is based around both research lietrature and your many responses to Part 1 (here). The problem exists now and we need to act quickly. Some of these responses have been private, so throughout I will not use real names, states or denominations.

Second, it is clear that this is not a new phenomenon in the West: “The national [US] rate of pastoral attrition is rising (Peach, 2022, 134)” while at the same time “The number of students attending AG Bible colleges and seminaries has dropped in the last five years (Peach, 2022, 134),” and the courses offered by theological colleges have significantly widened to include counselling, education and so on; in other words Christians with a heart for ministry are choosing other settings than the church in which to exercise that ministry, as Bel wrote: “We have been short on creative leadership in the church for 60+ years. Creative leadership has gone to the NGOs.” It is likely that there has been some abandonment of the church as a vehicle for entrepreneurial leaders who can achieve more in para-church agencies that are more clearly focused around transformative mission than many churches are. However, there appears to be a strong take-up of church planting and micro-church involvement by Gen Z.

Third, there are complexities, nuances and some structural factors (eg many Gen Zs will have 6 or more careers over their lifetime) that I cannot cover in an already long blog post. For example, and connected to the first point below, how do churches, pastors and denominations process anxiety well around necessary (ie. biblical) change?


What are the reasons for this looming crisis? There are many but some key ones are :

  • offensive church behaviour

  • lack of denominational support for a missional focus

  • lack of equipping emerging leaders for ministry


Offensive church behaviour

“From my survey, the following experiences of offensive behaviour [experienced] by clergy over the past 12 months were reported:

• Sexual harassment: 6%

• Threats of and actual violence: 8%

• Bullying: 31%

• Unpleasant teasing: 27%

• Conflicts and quarrels: 78%

• Gossip and slander: 53%

Clergy burnout was found to be related to the level of offensive behaviours experienced by clergy (Ling, 2023, 2-3).”

Three results of these listed behaviours are that pastors are experiencing PTSD and generalised anxiety disorder, are either leaving or being forcibly terminated from their churches, and are exiting pastoral ministry (Tanner & Wherry, 2012; “almost half (42%) of ministers who had been forcibly terminated seriously considered leaving the ministry” Tanner et al, 2012, 13). Additionally, fewer are entering pastoral ministry. Hence the blog heading - maybe you are the reason your church can't get a pastor: churches can no longer expect that there will be a steady stream of new pastors if they treat their pastor abysmally. Indeed it is possible that if you cannot work collaboratively with your existing pastor, you may never get another pastor again. Across Australia and across denominations the number of pastoral vacancies is in the hundreds already, and is getting worse.

Dan writes: “I have found personally and through many peers in...pastoral ministry that 2 key factors contribute towards traumatic events, and subsequent trauma: congregational governance, and autonomy. Autonomy means that complex human resource matters are dealt with autonomously by a local congregation. This includes hiring, managing and firing. Most of the people dealing with these matters are not trained or qualified to, and invariably use systems and processes that are not fit for purpose...one of the most damaging aspects of pastoral life - the dreaded 5 year review. (I can fill a few books on horror stories stemming from this abomination)...Sadly, we as a denomination are not honest enough about the traumas that result from our particular way of church governance, and don't care about the casualties. Our denominational structures and related para-church entities are filled with refugees from pastoral life, who worked out that continuing in the pastoral stream was not in the best interest of themselves and their families. Until churches are a safer place for pastors many otherwise good leaders will find a way of doing ministry without the attendant abuse and traumas...As a denomination we do not recognise the importance of mental health and the degree to which pastors suffer from significant mental health struggles. We are not trauma informed, and nowhere near being alive to these issues.”


lack of denominational support for a missional focus

The other feedback is around increasing denominational support for a missional focus in churches This revolves around three areas: 1) backing pastors when there is tension around directions, 2) attracting and keeping leaders who are proficient at local missional engagement, church planting, and church revitalisation, and 3) providing initial/ongoing training and incentives in these areas. Along with these thoughts written to a wide denominational audience is the question of polity: do denominations lead or serve their constituent churches, or both?


1) Backing pastors when there is tension around missional directions

It is an often repeated story with different players that I have heard so many times - it happens with alarming frequency across the nation: a newer pastor brings growth by engaging with the local community – young families start attending a church and longer-term attenders feel less connected and start agitating for the pastor to leave, with some made-up excuse given. The bottom line, of course, is that the longer term attenders wanted growth, but were not prepared to pay the price for it or did not like the look of growth when it happened. But even more than that, they actively pull the rug out from under these new growth initiatives. And the pastor and the young families sadly leave the church. And the denomination does nothing. It is easier in the short term. But in the long term a church has been reinforced in its divisive and anti-missional behaviour. And the job of the next pastor is made so much harder. If they can get one. Because they desperately want a shepherd-teacher. But they urgently need an evangelist-entrepreneur to turn around the decline.


2. Attracting and keeping leaders who are proficient at local missional engagement

Which brings us to the next point. How can churches and denominations create a climate where evangelist-entrepreneurs are not only welcomed, but also feel that they are able to get traction in the healthy growth that is so desperately needed? As Bel wrote, “We have been short on creative leadership in the church for 60+ years. Creative leadership has gone to the NGOs.”

This may be one of the significant reasons why younger generations are not signing up for vocational ministry in a church. Faith, a trainer and coach for emerging generations, writes: “One of the shifts we need to address is that a new generation of leaders have a new way of leading and a new landscape to lead the church in. Gen Z leaders are wired differently, they are entrepreneurial in their approach, they want to do things differently…”

Bernhard writes: “...there are some young people in our denomination who had shown interest in ministry, but the conservativism that they experienced in our training institution caused them to leave and find alternate pathways to engage with people – many have become teachers (for example).”

In other words this trend of losing the most creative and missional leaders [can I underline that I am not indicating that such a leader would do all the local mission, but lead the congregation in it] from the church that we have seen over many years is accelerating. It seems that we need to decide once again whether we wish as churches to change the world, to make disciples (Mat 28:18-20), multiply churches, and attract evangelist-entrepreneurs who see that as their calling.


3) Providing initial/ongoing training and incentives in these areas

Denham, a former denominational consultant and now a professional supervisor and leadership coach writes that:

“a) Most mainline denominations do not train their ministers/pastors to “do the work of an evangelist”. And church movements that do, seem to rely on attractional growth mainly...

b) Most denominations or movements provide very little personal support and guidance for their clergy apart from that some may pay or contribute towards their professional supervision...However little support or expectation is provided for leadership development and missional engagement beyond the regular faith community.

c) Lack of accountability. It seems from my experience in coaching and supervising clergy across 6 different denominations in Australia that provided a minister does not act immorally his/her job is secure (unless money runs out!) I’m not aware of any movement that holds their clergy accountable for making, motivating and maturing disciples of Jesus [let alone planting multiplying churches! ID]

With the bar set so low no wonder so many churches lack a missional motivation and are not therefore an attractive career choice for prospective future pastors.”


This is not the only area where increased pastoral training, both initial and ongoing, would likely make a difference in outcomes, including:

  • Building missional pathways

  • Emotional intelligence, listening, change and systems leadership

  • navigating conflict and increasing resilience

  • Equipping strategies for leaders and emerging leaders

  • Leading, inspiring and empowering others in ministry:

“Different approaches to leadership had different relationships to burnout. Leaders who focused on meeting others’ needs scored higher on the burnout measure, whereas those who focused on the process of leading through inspiring a vision had lower levels of burnout. Those without formal leadership training were more likely to have higher levels of burnout (Ling, 2023, 1-2).”


lack of equipping emerging leaders for ministry

One of the many tasks that, in the busyness of pastoral ministry, often gets left off is that of equipping emerging leaders for ministry, and possibly pastoral ministry. This of course is not the sole responsibility of pastors, but falls to all leaders (Eph 4:11-12). For some denominations and churches, it is strongly emphasised, in others less so. Yet if it is not happening; if young people are not discovering, deploying and developing their gifts, then where will the next cohorts of pastors come from? J D Payne puts it starkly: "My concern, one I have been voicing for almost twenty years, is part of this decline may be traced to poor disciple making efforts of local churches."

Dave has spent 17 years in various offices within his denomination’s bureaucratic structure and writes: “In my view, the ideal pastor is one who has served as an elder, studied theology, developed a rapport and trusting relationship with his church family and who has been mentored by a more experienced man.  Most churches don’t go there...If churches are not engaging with relatively young men (to involve them in mentored pastoral work), and are struggling to engage with men in their prime, and the older men head into retirement, demographics and the passage of time creates the shortfall. My own local church family tries (under God) to order its affairs so that we have a succession of pastors in different age and experience demographics so that those engaged young can be mentored by more experienced men in circumstances in they aren’t asked to carry more than they can, while contributing to the extent that God has gifted them.  Our youngest serving pastor is in his late 20s and our oldest serving pastor is in his mid-70s.  We have 3 young theological college graduates who are learning about pastoral work at the knee of the older men. We also have 2 other men, early 40s and late 40s serving with a group of lay elders.  Our focus has been to engage and equip the young, while not exposing them to too much too early; to have the lion’s share of the ministry carried by experienced men, and to rely on the older man to provide coaching and mentoring to the young.  In God’s goodness, we are being blessed with pastors in various stages of development across a 50+-year age range. Our hope is to develop a depth of pastoral ’talent’ that is sufficient to support our efforts to plant new churches, and to support other churches that may be struggling.”


This is something I have done in churches I have pastored, and those emerging leaders now occupy significant leadership positions in church ministry, para-church ministry, chaplaincy and health services. It would be wise to ask what the church we are in now is doing in this regard; whether it has a systematic and relational (i.e. mentoring is included) means for young people discovering, deploying and developing their gifts, especially, but not only so, around leading the church. It is certainly the clear witness of the Scriptures that leaders should be equipped and multiplied (eg 2 Tim 2:2). This process also roots any call to vocational ministry in the discernment of a church community who have witnessed and affirmed this gift development. Maybe the future of the church will depend on whether we do this.


This has been a challenging blog post to write. I am grateful for all who have contributed experiences and thoughts. But it is necessary that we highlight this looming crisis, and seek to address the issues raised in this post. In particular, to stop offensive church behaviour directed against pastors, to increase denominational support for a missional focus in churches, and to increase the equipping of emerging leaders for ministry, within the church context. In the next post I will endeavor to build on the three areas highlighted with a greater focus on how we may do that.


Please leave a comment or contact me at ian@ianduncum.com.au to contribute to the discussion.


References

Ling, V., (2023). Understanding and Navigating Clergy Burnout. https://effectiveserving.mykajabi.com/clergypaper


Peach, T. R. (2022). Burnout, timeout, and fallout: A qualitative study of why pastors leave ministry.



Tanner, Marcus & Wherry, Jeffrey & Zvonkovic, Anisa. (2012). Clergy Who Experience Trauma as a Result of Forced Termination. Journal of religion and health. 52. 10.1007/s10943-012-9571-3.


Tanner, Marcus & Zvonkovic, Anisa & Adams, Charlie. (2012). Forced Termination of American Clergy: Its Effects and Connection to Negative Well-Being. Review of Religious Research. 54. 1-17. 10.1007/s13644-011-0041-2.


© 2024 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.

Rev Dr Ian Duncum is a trained and accredited (with John Mark Ministries) church consultant with over 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has also included denominational leadership in church health and development and church research in the tertiary education sector. An accredited minister with a track record of growing churches, Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and mentors/supervises pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted at www.ianduncum.com.au

691 views5 comments

5 kommentarer

Betygsatt till 0 av 5 stjärnor.
Inga omdömen ännu

Lägg till ett betyg
Gäst
08 juli
Betygsatt till 5 av 5 stjärnor.

Great article - I think you should also write an article on "Is the Pastor the Reason the Church is shrinking?" I think you will find that the reason a church stops thriving is "a little from column A" (your article), and "a little from column B" (my statement above). Ineffective engagement from a Pastor can create division, unrealisitic expectations from existing parishoners can also breed resentment & division.

Gilla

Gäst
09 apr.
Betygsatt till 5 av 5 stjärnor.

Ian - a thought provoking and helpful article. When we add the closure of so many churches and the increasingly adversarial approach to Christianity in our nation there are additional pressures on the landscape of clergy development and the health of churches in this century.

Gilla
Ian Duncum
Ian Duncum
10 apr.
Svarar

Thanks for your kind comments. I appreciate them. Yes there are pressures, but to quote from my book, The Impact of Church Consultancy: "Local community context, local church internal characteristics, national context and trends (such as the emergence of “postmodernity”), and national denominational characteristics have been examined as they relate to church health and church growth. While external factors have an influence, local church internal characteristics are the most significant determinant of a church’s health and growth. The implication of this is that the prime drivers of church health and church growth are metacultural. Nevertheless, a church’s responsiveness to local demographic characteristics and national trends will be important if it is to be missionally relevant. Indeed, some of the churches…

Gilla

Gäst
01 apr.
Betygsatt till 5 av 5 stjärnor.

Great research post Ian - thanks for sharing your findings. I believe your blog captures the main challenges the Church is facing currently and more so over coming years. The question is how to get your research heard and taken seriously by denominational executives!?

Gilla
Ian Duncum
Ian Duncum
02 apr.
Svarar

Thanks for your kind comments. I am indebted to those who have commented on the first post and other researchers. Some denominations have adopted a listening stance and are already responding in various ways. There are organisations working productively with some denominations in Australia as they have reached out for assistance, but in some cases it is early stage in terms of seeing solid results. In terms of 'bottom up' approaches, for churches to call entrepreneur-evangelists and give them freedom to multiply leaders and plant multiplying congregations would probably make an incredible change quickly. However, these are complex issues and solutions are multi-faceted, requiring all stakeholders to work collaboratively in dependence on God.

Thanks

Ian Duncum

ian@ianduncum.com.au

Gilla
bottom of page