In the 2007 summer issue of Sharing the Practice, we read about clergy satisfaction from a study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. Their research found an overwhelming 87.2 percent of clergy described themselves as "very satisfied" with their jobs; in contrast, only 47 percent of the general population described themselves this way. In the second, related set of results that NORC revealed, which measured happiness in general, clergy reported that they were "very happy," in great numbers — 67.2 percent versus 33.3 percent among the general population.

Researching Clergy Care Ministries.

Going online, I found several blogs who have or still are discussing this study and questioning where the other studies fit it. From my clergy/church health browsing, a very extensive list was developed of clergy care ministries from all over the United States and beyond.  Over the last four or five years, I’ve corresponded by e-mail with several of these directors. Thus, the idea was born to ask those who care and treat clergy for their response to the NORC study results. There is only one better way to find out more of the whole story about someone than ask their doctor. So, I started my research with those who care for clergy.

A great number of these clergy care ministry directors are part of the Clergy Caregivers Forum which started in 1989 and meets once a year to support each others ministry to ministers.

Sample Group.

During the months of July, August, and September, I asked 88 directors of clergy care ministries in the US, Canada, and the UK for their opinion of the NORC study results. When I conducted my research there were 104 clergy crisis and support ministries listed on the Triage/ER page of my church health site. They are spread over 32 states, with the largest numbers being found in Colorado (14 ), California (11), North Carolina (10), Ohio(7), Texas (7).  There is also a ministry found in the UK and one in Canada.  Additionally, these ministries covered the theological spectrum, including Mainline, Evangelical, Charismatic, somewhat fundamentalist, and Pentecostal.

The thirty-four responses came from nineteen states and one other country (UK). A slim majority of these responses came from thirteen ministries in nine southern states. I also heard from twelve ministries in four western states and six ministries in four Midwestern states. Only two ministries from two northeastern states responded. An international perspective was provided by a ministry in the UK.

A few wrote me more than once. Some of the ministries that either did not respond or whom I could not e-mail quoted statistics that told me where they stood.  The replies include the director of clergy health for the Florida Conference of the UMC. The responses also included one from Richard R. Crocker, Ph.D. He is also College Chaplain and Associate Dean of the Tucker Foundation Dartmouth College.

Research Results.

Those without an opinion or awareness of this study included one from the West, two from the Midwest, and one from the South. This meant the study of responses as a group dropped from 34 to 31. Two ministries in the West and one in the South were rather sure the study results were accurate. Thus, twenty-eight clergy care ministries in the US and one in the UK denied the accuracy of the NORC study results. Three clergy care ministries in the US concurred with their findings.

I feel very good about the 38.6% of the clergy care directors answering my e-mail request for their response to the findings of the NORC study. Those with valid responses lowered the response rate to 32.5%. Of those with valid responses totaled 90.2% did not agree with the NORC study whereas 9.8% did agree with it.

Evaluation of Research and Conclusions.

A major weakness of my research was that it wasn’t done on the some level of a doctoral dissertation; however, I’m taking the risk of drawing the following conclusions from my limited body of research.

First, more ministries to clergy exist now than were around twenty years ago. Second, asking ministries to clergy about the NORC study hit a nerve. Third, this question gathered some strong statements about the results with the strongest coming from clergy care ministries twenty or more years older. Fourth, several clergy care ministry directors proposed a common theme explaining why the NORC study found such positive research results. Fifth, nine of these directors asked excellent and similar questions about the study itself. Sixth, a dichotomy between the spiritual and human dynamic of ministry within one director of a clergy care ministry. While he and I do not agree, I appreciate his open honesty and am sure that he is not alone. Seventh, the question did come up about existing surveys of clergy wives.

The Primary Response.

The Clergy Consultation Service of Kairos began in 1987.  Its director, Richard R. Crocker, does not find these results from the NORC survey to square with his very extensive experience. Three other of these ministries which began in the late 1980’s said the same. Of the twenty-eight who said rejected the findings of the NORC study, these four were among the most strongly worded responses.

A denominational executive with the Church of God voiced strong concerns right on the heels of the Lilly Foundation’s research of their own clergy. The director of the newly formed Duke Clergy Health Initiative for United Methodists is also a pastor’s wife. She finds the results of the NORC study very hard to believe.

A Proposed Explanation.

Those in the majority response from the sample group sought to explain how the NORC study results may have turned out with such high positive numbers. For example, Dr. Trudy Corry Rankin is the director of clergy health of the Florida Conference of the UMC. She summarized several responses saying she wondered if the clergy "must act that way" has come into play here!

Part of Duke Divinity School’s Pulpit & the Pew research involved a dissertation by Kenneth Jones, “Job Satisfaction and Role Ambiguity Experienced by Protestant Clergy”: Investigation of Possible Predictors of Vocational Longevity and Clinical Depression” 

Dr. Jackson W. Carroll, Duke Divinity School, mentions this dissertation in his online article “Protestant Pastoral Ministry at the Beginning of the New Millennium” page 7, footnote 3.

As is stated on the Dr. Carroll’s above mentioned article.

One of the dissertations that we are funding as part of our Pastoral Leadership Project (Jones, forthcoming) is exploring this matter in some detail. In responses to a mailed questionnaire, he has found that a majority of clergy check responses saying that they are very or moderately satisfied with their jobs. However, when given opportunity to write in comments, a significant portion of these same clergy express considerable dissatisfaction with their jobs. How to interpret the discrepancy is an interesting problem. 

Dr. Gary L. Pinion, founder of Encouragement Dynamics, wrote a book Crushed, The Perilous Journey Called Ministry(21st Century Press, December 19, 2005) In it he addresses this issue of surveying clergy, speaking of it as being like nailing "Jell-O" to a tree. Sadly, at the end of the day "Rev. Superstar" must maintain the image of perfection in order to survive. It is a church culture that we clergy created ourselves, and now it makes so many of us feel like we ‘must act that way’ Furthermore, the desire to be seen as successful and/or culturally competitive can also mask an overly positive research response. Who knows how many are hiding their pain behind a mask? Clergy let these masks fall when they find the 'safe place' that these clergy crisis/support ministries provide.

An Opinion From The Sample Group’s Minority Response

The dichotomy between the spiritual and human dynamic of ministry suggests that Neo-Platonism continues to have influence in the church. This philosophy was once a dominant force among folks who wanted to be "spiritual.”  The result was that many became monks and nuns. The Protestant pastor, Richard Baxter, expressed a rather neo-platonic view in a comment to his wife. He told her to not expect him around much because his pastoral work came first. What he told her was the standard statement that pastors gave to their wives in his day. By the end of his life he wondered if pastors should be married at all. Those who hold such an unbiblical view believe in an extreme separation of the spiritual and human dynamics of ministry

One of those from the sample group’s minority response holds to such an extreme dichotomy of the heavenly and earthly realities of ordained ministry. They do not see the studies about clergy health issues as contrary to the NORC study at all. They claim the divine aspect of ordained ministry creates a sense of satisfaction and well-being in ministry which transcends all of the clergy health, domestic, family and church issues sited in the other studies. Really? This sounds like practical Gnosticism to me. Have some so overemphasized the divinity of Jesus in our practice of ministry that we forget the humanity of Jesus did need rest and food? Have some fallen into the trap of Doceticism unaware?  These are all ideas to be fleshed out in another article.

Questions

While a majority of the clergy care ministry directors did not agree with the NORC study results, they did share their questions, as did one who chose not to respond to the study until they knew more about its methodology. Both that ministry and another one, whose e-mail did not include a reply to my question, quote the other clergy health statistics which people have heard for years.

The ministry directors asked questions about the study’s sample population.

        · Which denominations were represented in the survey?

·        What pastors the study included? 

·        How universal was it?

·        How were respondents chosen (all in ministry, just lead pastors, missionaries, parachurch, etc.?)

·        How many clergy responded?

Some asked questions concerning the research methodology.

·        When during the last 18 years were the clergy surveyed?

·        What account was taken of those who didn't respond?

·        How were the significant changes that took place in many denominations over the past eighteen years measured or taken into account?

Many of their questions focused on the questioning itself.

·        How were the questions asked?

·        Exactly what kinds of questions they did ask?

·        How were satisfaction and happiness measured?

·        Could they see the questions that were used in the survey?

·        What was the specificity of their questions; and variable controls?

·        What was the exactness of questioning as to "satisfied and very happy" among clergy?

·        What was the level of confidentiality under which these questions were administered?

Additional Input from the Sample Group’s Primary Responders

The question about surveys of clergy wives shows an additional resource for getting ‘the rest of the story’ about clergy. Time Magazine recently ran an article about clergy wives, and the results discussed there is far closer to the studies we’ve heard about than the one from NORC.

Moving right along, one ministry director stated that any job with 87 percent job satisfaction among those working in the field would have people waiting in line.  Yet, what is the latest news about seminary enrollment, recruiting younger people into ordained ministry, and probable clergy shortages in various denominations?

Various denominations have studied the health of clergy, and taken together they show that the physical and mental health of North American clergy now stands at a crisis point. How can clergy find very high levels of satisfaction when so many are dealing with critical health issues? Could the enormous obesity problem and related illnesses among clergy serve as a mask for their true feelings of satisfaction about their life and ministry?

The researched data, the input from a study of pastor’s wives, and the responses of directors of clergy care ministries clearly say that ordained ministry is a troubled calling in crisis.

Possible Further Research Ideas

These are very good and important questions. One idea for any future research from the directors of these clergy care ministries is to provide them with this information and ask for their further feedback. The willingness of so many to respond and the questions nine of them asked shows me a willingness to participate in the research about clergy health and ministry satisfaction.

I hope this article has achieved its goal of raising concerns and possibilities in a fair and balanced manner. When it comes to clergy satisfaction in ministry and health, I believe the spin stops here.


For more information, please visit Clergy Health Research and Reports.

 

John Marshall Crowe, D.Min.

Happy, Healthy, Shiny, Satisfied Clergy?