By Aaron Earls, Lifeway Christian Resources
(as featured by NW Baptist Witness)
Pastors face unique difficulties in their work, but they’re most concerned about seeing churchgoers grow spiritually and making connections with those outside of their churches.
After speaking directly with pastors to gather their perspectives on their ministry and personal challenges, Lifeway Research surveyed 1,000 U.S. pastors to discover what they see as pressing issues.
“The pre-existing challenges of ministry were amplified by COVID, and it’s important we lean in and listen closely to pastors,” said Ben Mandrell, president of Lifeway Christian Resources.
Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said his team began the study by talking with more than 400 pastors, asking them to think beyond the current pandemic-related struggles and share some of the enduring needs of pastors and their churches.
“Based on those responses, 1,000 pastors were asked about almost four dozen needs to measure the extent to which each is something they need to address today,” noted McConnell.
Of the 44 needs identified by pastors and included in the study, 17 were selected by a majority as an issue they need to address.
- Developing leaders and volunteers: 77%
- Fostering connections with unchurched people: 76%
- People’s apathy or lack of commitment: 75%
- Consistency in personal prayer: 72%
- Friendships and fellowship with others: 69%
- Training current leaders and volunteers: 68%
- Consistency of Bible reading not related to sermon or teaching preparation: 68%
- Trusting God: 66%
- Relationships with other pastors: 64%
- Consistency in taking a Sabbath: 64%
- Stress: 63 %
- Personal disciple making: 63%
- Confessing and repenting from personal sin: 61%
- Consistency exercising: 59%
- Avoiding overcommitment and over-work: 55%
- Challenging people where they lack obedience: 55%
- Time management: 51%
“The number and breadth of needs pastors are currently facing is staggering,” McConnell said. “All seven spiritual needs asked about on the survey are a current concern for most pastors, as well as practical, mental, self-care, skill-development and needs around ministry difficulties. Clearly pastors are not looking for shortcuts and are taking their roles as spiritual leaders in their church seriously.”
The 44 identified needs fall into seven broader categories. Subsequent releases in Lifeway Research’s 2022 Greatest Needs of Pastors study will explore each of the categories and the related needs specifically.
Single greatest need
When asked to narrow down their list to the single greatest need requiring their attention, pastors’ responses varied. At least one pastor surveyed picked each of the 44 possible needs, while 23 needs garnered at least 2 percent of pastors. Eight needs were chosen by more than 3 percent of pastors, and one reached double digits.
- People’s apathy or lack of commitment: 10 percent
- Personal disciple making: 9 percent
- Fostering connections with unchurched people: 8 percent
- Developing leaders and volunteers: 7 percent
- Establishing a compelling vision: 5 percent
- Technology: 4 percent
- Consistency in personal prayer: 4 percent
- Consistency exercising: 4 percent
“When asked to prioritize their own greatest need, pastors tend to put the needs of their church’s ministry ahead of personal needs,” McConnell said. “Personally making disciples, developing leaders, connecting with those outside the church and mobilizing the people in their church are the most common ‘greatest needs’ and are among the most common needs pastors want to make a priority.”
When thinking about getting help with their needs, pastors want to hear from their fellow clergy who have been through similar struggles.
Three in 4 U.S. pastors (75 percent) say they would be interested in getting advice or guidance on the issues they are facing from other pastors who have already been through those problems. Similar numbers (74 percent) would like to hear from those who understand churches like theirs.
Another 70 percent would listen to other pastors who are currently facing the same needs. Slightly fewer (57 percent) want to hear from experts on those types of needs. Older pastors are the least likely to say they’d like advice from any of those sources.
“The most monumental needs of pastors are not new to this generation of pastors,” McConnell said. “They know other pastors and pastors who have gone before them are best positioned to understand and help them with the wide variety of ministry and personal needs a pastor faces.”
Still, previous Lifeway Research shows not all pastors are actively seeking out advice from their fellow clergy. More than 8 in 10 U.S. Protestant pastors say they feel supported by other pastors in their area. Fewer than half (46 percent), however, know and spend time with 10 or more other local pastors, according to a 2020 Lifeway Research survey.
Most pastors (54 percent) have those relationships with fewer than 10 other area clergy, including 1 in 20 (5 percent) who aren’t connected with any area pastors and 8 percent who have relationships with only one or two other ministers.
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