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  • Writer's picturesonnyholmes

As high as I want to count

Whether you're a numbers person or not many of us like the weight of statistics to add clout to our positions. So, survey findings, research, and other measurable data are key add-ons when we're advocating movement. Me, I'm a numbers guy. My first degree is a B.S. in Business Administration with an accounting emphasis. The Citadel didn't offer a B.S. in Accounting in 1971 but that's what it would be now. This particular degree track required two semesters in Business Statistics. Being an arithmophile I added two additional units of statistical study. So, after seven years of banking and hospital financial administration, my thirty-five years of ministry have been footnoted by use of numbers and statistics when favorable.

It was numbers that further ignited my personal burden and passion for the American minister cohort. Long before three years as Director of Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention studies by several reputable research organizations crossed my desk and inflamed by spirit regularly. These statistics reminded me of the hazards of ministry and the impact of church service on people I knew. Soon the facts about ministry tenure, leadership stress, family pressure, and the health of churches were lunch topics, discussion points when accountability groups met. The three years at the SCBC deepened this concern as I counseled troubled ministers or interceded in a church conflict situation almost every day.

Last year several South Baptist research groups basically invalidated much of the statistical data being reported about pastor and minister demographics, especially the number of pastors leaving the ministry every month. One of them flippantly challenged the most often reported information as myth or legend. Some background indicated, however, that the data was dated rather than mythical. So, many of statistics required revision. As I wrote Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry, the editors and I were entangled several months sorting through all the new numbers. While I have serious questions about the methodology of several findings we all rejoiced that the number of pastors leaving the ministry every month appeared much less the older numbers indicated. If the new survey findings are accurate, and I have some questions about it, then there aren't 1,500 pastors leaving the ministry each month. The number is only 300 or so. What a relief!

This arithmophile wasn't in the cheering section though. That even one pastor or church staff member leaves their calling as a result of unbibilcal church action is unacceptable to me. One is as high as I want to count in this math. The second chapter of Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry is titled Finishers, Churches that Send People Over the Edge. This chapter examines one of those no trespassing zones of Baptist life, something I encountered when serving as Director of Pastoral Ministries at the SCBC. You see, there's a vast number of churches that change pastors every couple of years at the whims of the church gate-keepers. It's a reality that a non-hierarchical denomination like the SBC barely acknowledges and really can't superintend. But, somewhere in the denominational organization there must be a way to influence these churches for the sake of Kingdom.

The spiritual demographics of the nation are what they are. Christ is King, the church is his bride, and many churches are vibrant and influential in their communities and world missions. By and large pastors and church staff members are effective and blessed in their Kingdom assignment. Under this landscape are some realities about spiritual leadership that must factor into the times, however: the short 3.6 year tenure of pastors, the number of seminary graduates preparing for church planting, that 4,000 to 7,000 churches close very year, the wreckage of pastor and staff families by destructive church dynamics, as well as the up-to-date fact that 300 pastors leave the ministry every month. If the governance of one church is altered, or one minister is encouraged by Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry, it will be successful in my eyes. That was the goal in the first place.

Before Christmas I had lunch with five colleagues. They weren't a statistical sample or valid survey units. Each of them had been dismissed from a pastorate for no cause. Two are still unemployed, one is a hospital counselor, and two others found employment in the retail world so they could provide for their families. Only 100% of them had left the ministry under horrid circumstances. They blessed me with their hopeful spirits and eagerness to serve. But, like Paul, they bore the marks of their service. My heart was broken.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians---

Look at what is before your eyes.

2 Corinthians 10:7, ESV

It's time for God's people to pay attention to the times and express some unity and care for the spiritual leaders He has chosen to lead our churches. One must be as high as we are willing to count when it comes to those he chose to lead us.

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