Rev. John Marshall Crowe, D.Min.

Church, Inc. Crushes People

The ethos of Church, Inc. is one of congregational growth in numbers, attendance, programs, and finances at any price. It stands on the illusion that if you fully give yourself to the work of church growth, then God will take care of your marriage, your family, and your health. It is supported by comments like ‘we expect our ministerial staff to make such sacrifices here. If you are not up to it then probably you do not belong here and we will replace you with someone who can.” The ethos of Church, Inc. is the same as that of operating a church from a business model.

Rediger, author of Clergy Killers, points out a major contributor to the problem of poor church health. Whenever churches operate from a business model that does not view pastors as spiritual leaders of a mission, they become sick (19-20, 26-27, 53). Often, pastors learn such a business, competency, performance model in seminary. As Brewer points out,

In the broad sweep of learning that comprises seminary education, the spiritual formation of the minister remains largely neglected. Pastors lead the church in the way they are trained with a primary focus upon competency and performance (17).

With pastors who have learned to place a premium on human technique and control in pastoral ministry, churches learn this unhealthy business model from their pastoral leadership.

When the business model replaces the biblical model of mission in a church, the consequent blood filled waters breed clergy killers. As Rediger accurately points out,

Because the church…has succumbed to the business model of operation…the pastor has become an employee, and parishioners the stockholders/customers. The pastor is hired to manage the small business we used to call a congregation. This means his primary task is to keep the stockholders happy; the secondary task is to produce and market an attractive product. When this mindset infects the church, the church is no longer a mission but has become a business. Parishioners and pastors agree that participants are “entitled” to a fair return on their investments; that any member can disrupt normal polity; that employment contracts and evaluations only of the pastor are the norm; and that evangelism is essentially a marketing effort…the budget is necessarily the bottom line…This is the reverse of how a healthy congregation functions. When the church operates as a mission, the pastor is “called” rather than hired. He “serves” God first, and the denomination and congregation second.

Whether parishioners “like” or “dislike” the pastor is irrelevant, for the pastor comes with authority to nurture and lead them spiritually. Liking and disliking are the parishioners’ problem, not the pastor’s. (53)

A general sense of entitlement is growing in the church, as well as in society. Church members feel entitled to comfort and privilege. It a pastor does not please them, they feel free to criticize and punish. The business mentality that pervades the church says if the CEO (pastor) does not produce, the pastor should be fired. (20).

The market-driven business model is unhealthy for more than only the pastor, the pastor’s family, and the congregation. It is also unhealthy for the evangelistic outreach of the church. While various marketing campaigns attract crowds of people, many are leaving in their search for a community of truth, reality, and authenticity (Dawn, Hendricks).

Does this factor help us understand some of why the majority of church growth in America involves the transfer of people?

Clergy with a narcissistic personality disorder thrive in today’s business model for denominations, media ministries, and local churches where the gospel and religious revivals becomes a recruitment technique for building bigger denominations, media ministries and/or local churches in order to make a name for themselves. To accomplish their goals, they often exploit people laboring with a dependent or compulsive personalities as well as trample under foot or ignore people with other mental health issues in their self-absorbed haste to build a religious tower of Babel supposedly to the glory of God in Christ’s name by the leading of the Holy Spirit when in fact they are built to their own glory in the flesh, not in the Spirit.

Guy Brewer’s testimony affirms the weakness of leading a church with the ethos of Church, Inc.

Over the course of three years I worked day and night to build the congregation and physical facility that became Edgewater United Methodist Church. Although I devoted virtually no time to prayer, I averaged eighty hours per week in committee meetings, visitation, sermon preparation, and the work of the ministry. By the end of those three years, Edgewater United Methodist Church was a success according to the standards of the annual conference. We had gathered a congregation of 200 plus persons and completed construction of a church building and a parsonage. Under the veneer of performance standards, this fledgling congregation was exhausted, under-nourished, and fearful with a worn-out, depressed pastor. Edgewater United Methodist Church appeared to be a success but lacked the marks of congregational health such as joy, unity, patience, and enthusiasm. We relied on ourselves and achieved exactly what we set out to do. We built a church under our own power. (5)

When volume of activity becomes the measure of ministry, matters of interior transformation often go unnoticed and neglected. As Peterson puts it, “Busyness is an illness of the spirit, a rush from one thing to another because there is no ballast of vocational integrity and no confidence in the primacy of grace. (132-133)” 

Statistics regarding healthy pastor-parish relationships are startling. Karen Krakower in her 1997 Internet article, “Clergy in Crisis: Who ministers to the ministers?” shares the following:

Nearly a fourth, 22.8 percent of pastors have either been terminated or forced to resign.

Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, of the forced-out pastors said the church that dumped them  had also forced out other pastors-and 41 percent said the church had done it more than twice.

Nearly half, 43 percent, of the forced-out pastors said a “faction” in the church forced  them to leave, and 71 percent of those indicated that the “faction” membered 10 or fewer congregates.

Only 20 percent of the forced-out pastors said the real reason for their leaving was made known to the congregation.

George Barna’s 1998 Internet Press Release “Survey Provides Profile of Protestant Pastors” reports the subsequent sad news:

Long pastorates are increasingly uncommon these days. A mere 6% of today’s pastors-just one out of every seventeen pastors-has been at his or her current church for more than 20 years. The types of individuals who last for an extended period in one church are those in churches that are not growing numerically, pastors of fundamentalist churches, and those who rate their own teaching and preaching as average or worse. The types of pastors least likely to last for a prolonged term in a given church are those with the spiritual gift of leadership.

Furthermore, the Mission Growth Studies did some research for the Board of Higher Education of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Their study reveals the following church health issues related to clergy drop out:

People, both laity and clergy, are verbally and emotionally beating on each other;

Outward oriented clergy are consistently mismatched with inward oriented churches;

Failing to send only the most mature pastor and strong pastoral family in hopes of bringing peace into a fighting congregation;

The extremely low level of trust held by pastors concerning denominational means of assistance;

A large number of pastors are in the advanced stages of professional and personal burnout;

Pastors’ wives and children stand in greater need of support than pastors;

Grossly unreasonable expectations too often lead pastors to neglect their own health and family;

Allowing churches with a long history of chewing up one pastor and family after another continue without any substantial intervention;

A few congregations who are held hostage by an EGO-centered minority who Edge God Out; and the need for pastors to address what drives them in ministry and live balanced lives. (Klaas and Klaas)

(See also Clergy Health Research and Reports.)

Unfortunately, the lay leadership and members of unhealthy churches desires the pastor to do their ministry instead of leading them in the ministry of all Christians. Such a passive church becomes an audience and not a body. Then the audience becomes the critic of the latest pastoral performance. Ogden confronts such an unhealthy attitude by stating “the biblical emphasis is not on the ‘omnicompetent’ pastor, but a ‘multigifted’ body” (75).

Unhealthy churches also frequently abuse their pastors by “cutting their salary or slicing away at their integrity with gossip” (Hansen 124). As Rediger bluntly states in his book, Clergy Killers, “The growing abuse is also a significant commentary on the mental and spiritual health of the church, for how the church treats its leaders reveals even more about the church than about the leaders. Only a sick and dying church batters its pastors.” (20)

One of the great tragedies of our day is the increase in forced pastoral resignations. Two of the leading causes of the crisis of clergy burnout, dropout, and kickout involve conflict over who is in charge and the lack of unity in churches (Ross).

The high number of such forced pastoral resignations are not surprising when seen in the light of a survey of one-thousand pastors and churches. Only 10 percent of the churches and their pastors said “the purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ” (Warren, Purpose 82).

All of the above church health problems help us understand the following statistics about pastors as a whole in America from H.B. London and Neil Wiseman’s book, Pastors at Risk. Consider the following sobering survey results of the personal and professional lives of the clergy: 

90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week.

80% believe that pastoral ministry has affected their families negatively.

33% say that being in the ministry is a hazard to their family.

75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

70% say they have a lower self-esteem than when they started in the ministry.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.

40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month. (22)

(See also “Prescriptions for the Epidemic” )

Several years ago, my wife pointed out an article in the News-Argus to me about a pastor leaving the ministry. The September 6, 2004 edition of the Goldsboro News-Argus story told of a pastor of a Church in North Carolina who had left the ministry. He admitted to plagiarizing his sermons to cover up his depression for the last two years. The irony of the whole story is the title of a book authored by a well known author. Someone whom I consider a church health colleague. Dr. Wagner wrote the book, Escape From Church, Inc.

Dr. Wagner came to Calvary Church to further lead them within the framework of the Church, Inc. ethos. Somewhere along the way, he grew beyond a C.E.O. view of pastoral ministry to a more biblical view. This transition fueled the writing of two of his books, Escape From Church, Inc. and The Church You Always Wanted.

While Wagner evidently escaped the ethos of Church, Inc., this did not appear true of the congregation’s core leadership. Their denial of his request to quit in 2002 is the real tragedy of this story. He was already fighting a losing battle with depression. Thus, it would have been much better for him at age 49 and the church to of honored his request to resign in 2002.

Thank God there are churches whose core leadership are not trapped by the ethos of Church, Inc. They are not all Willow Creek or Brooklyn Tabernacle where Dr. Wagner may have been ministered to much better. Nor are these churches always big in any other way than big in heart. When my sister-in-law found out she had cancer, her new congregations rallied around her and her family. They supported her financially as if she was their full time pastor while contributing to those who filled in for her. Near the end of that year it became clear that she would never pastor a church again. Knowing that her husband was busy tending to his wife, and was not all that healthy himself led them to take matters into their own hands. They told my in-laws to not worry about cleaning up the parsonage or packing up items in the house. The church members decided they would do all of this and move the belongings themselves to where my sis-in-law moved too.

Sometimes denominational leaders function from the Church, Inc. ethos. When the spouse of the church’s pastor went through multiple hospitalizations due to her depression problems, they tried to get the whole family some help from the denominational leadership. They recognized the need for the family to have a whole year off with financial support. While the congregation was not operating from the Church, Inc. ethos, the denominational leadership was not helpful. Thus, the family did not get what they needed. So, the church gave the pastor three months off during his last year there which was too little too late. Ironically, the church that this family moved to sparkled in many ways except for their Church, Inc. ethos. Furthermore, unlike the time before, on this occasion the denominational leadership saw how much this pastoral family needed a break and saw to them getting a break without financial worries. That time the denominational leadership did not operate from a Church, Inc. ethos. Therefore, the family got the help they needed.

The rest of Dr. Wagner's journey has now emerged.

Coming Out of the Dark: Two Pastors’ Journey Out of Depression.

Longevity and success in ministry does not guarantee that pastors will not suffer from clinical depression. Two successful pastors share their journey and how, with the help of family and medical professionals, they came out of the dark and survived.

Coming Out Of The Dark: Two Pastors’ Wives Share In Their Husbands’ Journey Out Of Depression

A pastor does not experience clinical depression alone; it also affects his family. Two ministry wives share their thoughts and experiences as they walked alongside their husbands and their battles with depression.

Works Cited

Barna, George. “Survey Provides Profile of Protestant Pastors” 6 Jan. 1998

Brewer, Guy. “The Effect of Metanoia, A Forty-Day Season of Prayer, on Heart Attitudes of Murray Hill United Methodist Church.” Diss. Asbury Theological Seminary, 2000. 

Dawn, Marva J. Reaching Out without Dumbing Down. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1995.

Hansen, David. The Power of Loving Your Church: Leading Through Acceptance and Grace. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1998. 

Hendricks, William D. Exit Interviews: Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993.

Klaas, Alan C., and Cheryl D. Klaas. Clergy Shortage Study. Conducted in November of 1999 by Mission Growth Studies for the Board of Higher Education of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. 20 Jul.2000

Krakower, Karen. “Clergy in crisis: Who ministers to the ministers?” Ministering to Ministers Foundation, Inc. June 1997. 13 Oct. 1999 

London, H.B., Jr., and Neil B. Wiseman. Pastors At Risk. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1993.

Ogden, Greg. The New Reformation: Returning the Ministry to the People of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.

Peterson, Eugene H. Working the Angels: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987.

Rediger, G. Lloyd. Clergy Killers. Louisville: Westminster, 1997.

Ross, Michael. “Hundreds of Pastors Leave Their Ministry Each Month.” Charisma Online News Service. 26 Feb. 2001.

Wagner, E. Glenn. Escape From Church, Inc. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Wagner, E. Glenn., and Steve Halliday. The Church You Always Wanted. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.