Christian leaders are in trouble. And when the leaders are in trouble the Church is in trouble. Our culture, both inside and outside the church is grinding down Christian leaders.
According to Thabiti Anyabwile one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Southeast DC, in an article he wrote for the website 9Marks back in 2014:
50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
What if we were to offer Soul Care to ministers and their families early and often? When I was a boy my father, who was a pastor, had a man who worked for our denomination he considered his pastor. I’ll never forget the name, Wendell Grant. My father and mother respected and felt safe with Mr. Grant. I heard his name spoken with the reverence that comes from a life of impact on young ministers in our home. I believe we need to go back to finding pastors for our pastors. We all need a pastor who will ask hard questions and challenge our motives, values and ideas. We need a pastor who will hurt with us, listen to us, and pray with us. Every pastor needs a pastor for the health of their own souls and the souls of his or her spouse and families.
In the early 90’s on a large game preserve in South Africa the rangers began to notice that white rhinoceroses were being killed by much larger animals. Turns out the killers were adolescent bull elephants. These elephants had been orphaned and were left on the reserve to fend for themselves. In the wild, the males herd together and the older and much larger bulls keep the younger bulls in check. Without the older bulls to model adult elephant behavior and the gravitas to challenge the younger bulls—they were doing great damage.
I believe that many younger pastors needs an older pastor—a seasoned pastor, a tough old pastor, a scarred old bull—to come alongside them and “be” with them. This “being” would include praying with them, asking about their soul, inquiring about their families—and sometimes asking very hard questions about their private life. The wisdom that can only come from experience is missing in many younger pastors life. It would be important that these young “bulls” respect the older bull because they will challenge him and he has to be able to hold his own. He must be filled with grace to offer to a pastor who is hurting and at the same time he must be unflinchingly willing to speak truth into their lives.
How could this benefit the Kingdom? What if someone was willing to travel to meet with a pastor, listen to him, pray with him, believe in him, challenge him, and walk with him for years? What if there were retreats, seminars and other resources offered him and his wife specifically designed to care for their interior life? What if a pastor-to-pastor relationship was established so that if he needed to call someone in the middle of the night when he was tempted to look at an inappropriate website he felt safe to call his “pastor?”
Can you imagine the carnage that would be avoided? And what about the man who never fails morally, but who quits because he just too tired to go on? Or what about the man who settles for a sub-standard ministry of mediocrity because he is bored and lives an unchallenged life? What if someone was dedicated to caring for his soul?
Qualified Soul Care might keep a pastor from falling into moral failure so that a family and a church never fragment into a million pieces. What if a pastor never had to tell his sons that their father has been unfaithful to their mother? What if a denominational leader never had to go to a devastated and betrayed church to mitigate the grief of a forced termination of a pastor?
How do you measure something that NEVER happened? It is likely incalculable.
It is time for soul-mentoring to be more highly valued than numerical success in the American church culture. If we don’t pay attention to the health of the souls of our younger leaders, we run the risk of waking up one day only to find one dead ministry after another littering our American landscape.
Christian leaders are at risk, but we are not a people without hope. We have the time-tested disciplines of the Church that are simply waiting to be re-introduced into a modern age. I sense that the younger generations of pastors are very eager to learn from older leaders who value their souls, whether they know it now or not. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have the energized dynamic of resurrection power, and we have wounded healers limping around who are willing to serve Jesus by serving pastors.
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:20.
Old bulls walking with young bulls.
That’s me on the left.