Why Pastors Leave

by Wayne Willey

I read some very disturbing information in the May 1996 issue of MINISTRY magazine which I received in the mail this morning.

During the 1980s and 1990s an equivalent of 40 percent of the present ministerial workforce in Australia and New Zealand left the ministry. In comparative terms the fallout is equivalent to four large conferences of pastors, and one of the highest rates of exit of any denomination in the world."

My doctoral research on pastors who left the Adventist ministry in the South Pacific Division during the 1980s revealed that institutional processes and leadership issues played a critical role in why pastors leave. The interviews revealed that the problem is systemic. Ex-pastors describe an organizational culture of secrecy, deception, and oppression as factors that eroded commitment to ministry and brought about their exit."

More than this, my research revealed that every Adventist pastor has the potential of becoming an ex-pastor and that any genuine effort to address fallout from the Adventist ministry must also focus the spotlight on the organization."

Who wrote these astounding words? A fellow named P.H. Ballis, Ph.D., who describes himself as a lecturer in sociology at Monash University in Australia.

I can concur that there is an organizational culture of secrecy, deception and oppression in Adventism. In many places, Adventism has become a corrupt and abusive system, with many of the characteristics of a spiritually destructive, sub-Christian cult. I have sat in conference committee and heard local conference and union conference presidents tell outright lies (they were most unhappy when I challenged their lies!). I have heard conference administrators threaten pastors and churches. I was not intimidated by such threats because I worked for Christ, the Head of the Church, not these corrupt and abusive men!

This has become such a pervasive problem that I no longer encourage young men and women to enter full-time ministry as pastors or teachers in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. If I had known thirty years ago what I know now, I would not have agreed to enter full-time ministry as a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. I would have found some other way to fulfill the call I received from Jesus Christ Himself (a call that first came in a still, small voice, then by Christ appearing to me in a dream when I did not fully respond to the call of the still, small voice) to be a minister of the gospel within the Seventh-day Adventist denomination in which I grew up. Because Christ has not released me from that calling to be a minister of the gospel to Adventists, I continue to fulfill that calling, even though I have not received so much as a single penny in salary or benefits from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination for almost four years.

Catherine Lang Titus, the writer of another letter in this same issue of MINISTRY magazine who is a former dean but now a practicing attorney and active church member, expresses concern about the quality of many of those who are entering the ministry today.

Titus defines true pastors as those who:

1. do not insult my intelligence by serving up warmed-over seminary sermons."

2. do not betray a lack of serious study by using sermon illustrations from popular TV shows."

3. do not 'wing it' for their sermons without preparation; but who, rather, reveal in their sermons a deep, personal, experiential relationship with God."

4. make use of multiple versions of Scripture and many Bible dictionaries to convey just the right meanings and the background of each text."

5. spend at least 20 prayerful hours a week on their principal job: sermon preparation...."

6. realize that as pastors their sphere of influence is exponentially greater than that of an administrator."

Titus continues, "Unfortunately, too many of our pastors today are converted to the organization, but not to the message (or to Christ - wew).... I find it is becoming more and more difficult to find a church pastor who is truly a scholar. My concern is that superficiality in sermons, mere score-keeping for membership quotas, are the norm - to the exclusion of nurture of the existing members, and true Christian scholarship."

Pastor Wayne Willey
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