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Episode 57: Tod Bolsinger

According to a recent study—done BEFORE Covid—50% of pastors won’t make it past 5 years in ministry. Think about that. Half of all new pastors won’t make it beyond 5 years in their ministry career!

Besides the obvious financial costs of seminary and other theological training and investment, just think about the human cost of essentially burning through pastoral leaders at such a high rate.

According to another recent article, other jobs with the highest turnover rates include retail, hospitality, sales, and childcare. Now, not to demean any of these jobs—if anything Covid has elevated the importance of these jobs—but I think we can all agree that generally speaking, a significant more amount of training often goes into pastoral jobs than being a restaurant host.

Again, not every pastor goes to seminary or even receives formal theological or ministry training, but according to one report, two-third of Protestant pastors have a master’s degree.

In sum, there is a significant amount of financial, human, and time investment that is being made by pastors, churches, and institutions that is at worst going down the drain, and at best, not achieving a significant return on investment (ROI).

So, what can be done?

Recently I was reading Tod Bolsinger’s Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change. In one chapter, Bolsinger writes about the “Stockdale Paradox” which is about confronting the “most brutal facts about your current reality” (44).

In this same chapter, Bolsinger references Victor Frankl, who wrote about the importance of finding meaning even in the most hopeless of situations.

What’s the point?

I think, too often, in conservative and liberal church contexts alike, ministry is too often painted with too rosy a brush (forgive the mixed metaphors).

Is it any wonder pastors burn out so quickly when they were in so many ways promised life-transformations and profound spiritual impacts and are instead greeted with three-hour board meetings and relentless critics who fight to preserve the status quo?

I’m not saying ministry sucks, but in a way, I am.

Ministry is hard, brutal, excruciating work.

It’s full of failures, disappointments, broken relationships, and seemingly endless conflict—that is sometimes rewarded with profound examples of life transformation and spiritual growth.

This isn’t to say ministry is a waste of time—I believe it’s the most important work in the world. Rather, I think we need to be real and we need to be honest about what ministry is about.

And, more so, I think we need to teach potential pastors about the very real and brutal facts about ministry.

Will having a realistic picture of ministry be a cure-all for high turnover? Likely not.

But will it better enable pastors and leaders to walk realistically into the hard future, steeling them to confront the brutal facts with hope and faith that things can change? I think so.

Listen to our conversation with him here:

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