One is still one
A Wall Street legend reports that 47.375% of all statistics reported today are invented on the spot. It's just another sign of the times, the availability of data in the new world and all of our ways to massage the information. Harriet has long said that we preachers have the unique ability to weave information in our own direction, whether it's a conversation, theory, survey results, or where we're going to dinner tonight.
Even more, there are plenty of human factors that complicate the transmission of so much data. Every communicator knows the delivery system of spin, the personal twist with which certain information is presented. Then there's slant, the ways we apply our personal bias on what we receive (and at times send). Leaders today are learning about the Halo effect and response bias and some of the other human filters involved in gathering, interpreting, and reporting facts, figures, statistics, and opinions. It's the new world. And, there are plenty of ways to bobble all the material that is out there.
The demography of our pastoral/ministerial cohort is one of the more confusing statistical domains. Dozens of highly reputable organizations have compiled thousands of surveys and studies to measure the unique pressures of spiritual leadership. One of the most often quoted statistics, one that I've often reported, is that as many as 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. When I first read it I ran the number down as far as I could and verified it through the research and reporting systems of some of the finest institutions in the country. Last week LifeWay Research released their new findings in this area and reported a vastly smaller number. I've read through their polling methodology and cannot fault their finding that in the past ten years 250 pastors were leaving their positions every month. Of course, I'm no analyst. In my list of strengths on the Clifton Strength Finder index "analytical" is way down the list. I'm sure their findings will be reviewed in the months to come.
The new number doesn't make me cheer, however. If it's accurate, we should all be relieved to some degree. But, for me, it's like reporting that an escaped killer had only murdered 75 people while he was on the lam and not 500. It's still a tragic number and should reinforce in all of us the difficulty of spiritual leadership. Some have referred to the old number as urban legend or myth when in fact it was just old. Thankfully, the LifeWay study, which I highly trust, is current data and gives us a new baseline from which we may view the rigors of spiritual leadership: ministry is hard.
The number of pastors leaving church ministry is just one measure. The LifeWay research confirmed many of the reinforcing statistics about serving Christ's church. Depression, family stress, continuing low tenure, church conflict, compensation issues, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, isolation, and feeling unprepared are still on the list of significant pastoral/ministerial pressures. The spiritual, emotional, and physical health of those leading churches and related organizations must remain a strategic point of focus for influencing our increasingly secular world. You can consult the most recent findings of the LifeWay study right here. Check it out, please.
Jesus promised his followers trouble in this world. There have been times in history when this truth was underscored by government, culture, and societal movement. Recent judicial opinions and the secular bent of culture have certainly raised this potential in twenty-first century America. This means that kingdom service will be demanding, and the statistics that define spiritual leadership will remain clear issues for those serving the local church and in their support systems as well.
He also told them, "But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, ESV). HIs presence and his promises are our hope and peace as we serve him in complicated times. Let's be encouraged, stay the course in serving as spiritual leaders, and endure for the joy set before us.
But, one is still one, no matter how you spin or slant it.