While I am not sure moms are as hesitant to see their sons grow up to be pastors as our their dads, the fact that first career pastors continue to decline is due in significant part to the fathers of those sons. It would seem that many dads today have learned well a bad lesson from Hans Luther, father of Martin. From my own anecdotal experience and from the stories many other pastors have told, the scenario often played out in the homes of high school boys is that the youth is interested but the parents, in particular, the dad, is not. Clearly, the signal some, if not many, of our boys are getting is that it is too difficult, too unpleasant, and too hard to earn a living being a pastor; so serve the Lord somewhere else.
Some of the stories I have heard second career guys tell bears this out. They might have gone to seminary directly from college but they were discouraged to by family and so entered the business world until they could no longer deny their vocation. By the way, this blog post does not in any way diminish the role and value of second career pastors (or other church workers). But looking at the numbers preparing for full time church work in our colleges and universities and the break down of those entering seminary, clearly we are not doing a credible job of encouraging young men to be first career pastors. Why is the ministry not a choice career in the minds of dads (and moms) today? I might suggest a few reasons.
- Pastors complain about their jobs. If the dads and moms in our pews have concluded that the pastoral office is not a good vocational choice for their sins, it had to come from somewhere. Have we as pastors poisoned the well? Do we speak only of the challenges, problems, and frustrations of our calling and forget to also speak of the joys? In our lives and conversation, do we give the impression that we would rather do anything else but be a pastor? I do not know but I suspect that since misery loves company it stands to reason that pastors have shared the misery of their office (especially in the trying times in which we live).
- People complain about their pastors. I have often said nobody joins a church because of a pastor but people blame the pastor for leaving a church. In general, we seem to criticize everyone today -- from politicians to media people to those who work for us. It us reasonable to assume that when the pastor has an off day in the pulpit or blows his cool or forgets to do something, mom and dad bring their complaints home (rather than to the pastor). In addition, when things are not going well (and the pandemic was not the only shadow to hang over Lutheran congregations), pastors are either seen as the saviors of the congregation or the reason for the trouble. What do moms and dads tell their children about church work by the way they speak of their pastors (and other church workers)?
- Media portray pastors as idiots, fools, or dastardly, self-serving, bigots. It has been a long time since a popular media figure portrayed an admirable pastor or priest in the movies or on TV. Instead, the media sees pastors as either shallow and stupid or smart and devious. In either case, nothing there encourages a young man to explore his interest in becoming a pastor. For that matter, the media portrays Christians in a negative light most of the time. It is bound to affect the youth of our churches and especially those discerning their place in life.
- Money is what matters. Congregations constantly complain about the cost of having a pastor -- salary, housing, health insurance, retirement, etc.... What a drain on a congregation's finances! Congregations searching for cheaper options do not hold out much hope for a pastor to make a living, feed his family, and have the freedom to devote more fully his attention to the work of the kingdom. There seems to be jealousy among some lay people who think pastors have it too easy. Interesting. This when I have not had a single vacation day in more than 18 months! At some point, pastors began to be seen as costs to be paid instead of blessings from God to be enjoyed.
- Money is what matters. Parents want their children to have a better life than they do/did and so they hope for a vocation in which they will make scads of money, have plenty of time off from work, be able to do lots of things, and pay the bill happiness costs. We have taught our children well. If you cannot afford to have every technological toy or to have Amazon deliver four times a day or to take expensive vacations AND be a pastor, well, then, don't be a pastor. For what it matters, I have been a pastor for nearly 42 years and have been pretty well-treated by my congregations and have never missed a meal. Pastors do okay unless money is the only thing or primary thing that matters. Oh, and there is that thing called student loan debt.
- The things of God are just not as important to us. We live in an age in which regular attendance means once a month in worship, in which church is non-essential and online is a suitable substitute for in person worship, and in which our wants are more important than the church's needs. The sad reality is that church just does not mean the same to most folk today as it once did. We can skip worship more, give less, and disagree with God's Word and still consider ourselves devout and pious Christians (even the President of the US does it). So perhaps moms and dads are saying that it is good to have a church but you should not sacrifice yourself and your wants and dreams for the sake of a church -- aka don't be a pastor.
Maybe there are more but these might be high on most lists. All of them are bad reasons -- except in the minds of the people who give them. At least some of them explain why our need for pastors, for the best of the best to be pastors, seems to go unheeded today.