Pastors confident in ministry, but can struggle in interactions

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VENTURA, Calif. — Many of America's Protestant pastors, while confident in their ability to disciple others, admit they struggle with personal connections and friendships, according to a new survey by The Barna Group.

Among the most interesting findings: 61 percent of pastors admit they "have few close friends."

And, despite the high-profile role of senior pastors, nearly one quarter of them (24 percent) said they consider themselves introverts, just one percentage point lower than the adult population, that church work is not merely for those drawn to the limelight.

"It is tempting for some pastors to try to emulate the most captivating and high-profile pastors," said David Kinnaman, the director of Barna's research division and the one who directed the study of pastors' self-perceptions.

"But God uses all types of people to do His work, and this research underscores the diversity of personalities, perspectives and life circumstances among pastors these days."

Still, the findings of introversion are significant in that the research also revealed that introverted leaders are more likely to feel under-appreciated in ministry and are more apt to feel relationally isolated. According to the survey one in six pastors feels under-appreciated.

Those attending seminary, non-white pastors, mainline leaders, those in the Northeast, and leaders in their twenties and thirties were more likely than average to self-identify as introverted personality types.

In another personal relationship issue, one in every five pastors contend that they are currently "dealing with a very difficult family situation."


Service and self-perception
Not surprisingly, the age of the pastor often influences self-perceptions. It seems as if both generational distinctions and life experience affect how pastors think of themselves, the survey showed. For instance, Boomer leaders (those ages 41-59) were most likely to say they have few close friends, but they were the least likely to feel under-appreciated.

Older pastors (ages 60+) were the most likely to feel inadequately recognized for their efforts. Introversion was most common among Buster pastors (ages 22-40), but young leaders were also the most likely to perceive themselves as risk-takers.

True to their friendship-oriented generational identity, Buster pastors were also the least likely to feel relationally isolated.

Length of service and, by default, age also appeared to influence a pastor's willingness to take risks. Although most leaders and most pastors consider themselves to be "risk-takers," the research shows that the risk-taking impulse declines significantly after someone has been a pastor for 20 or more years. Pastors who have stayed at the same church for more than 20 years are particularly at risk-adverse.


Confident in discipleship
Despite isolation and limited friendships, pastors in the study expressed the greatest degree of confidence in their capability as an "effective Bible teacher," with 98 percent of pastors saying the phrase accurately described them. More than nine out of every 10 pastors also feel that they are an "effective leader" and a similar proportion believe they are "driven by a clear sense of vision."

More than eight out of 10 claim to be an "effective disciple maker." Another favorable perception maintained by pastors is that they are "deeply involved in the community"—a label embraced by seven out of 10 leaders.

Their personal perceptions may be skewed, Kinnaman said, challenging their objectivity by pointing out discrepancies between their self-views and other research conducted by the firm.

"Most pastors say they are driven by a clear vision, but very few pastors are able to articulate a firm, compelling vision statement for their church," the researcher said in a news release. "Many pastors talk about their church's deep engagement in the community, but most church programs are focused on the congregation, not people outside the walls of the church.

"The vast majority of pastors describe their church as theologically conservative and effective at disciple-making, but a minority of churchgoers has developed a biblical worldview.

"There are other examples of the conflict between pastoral self-perceptions and the condition of their congregations, but the bottom line is that pastors need to find the tools and methods to evaluate themselves and their ministries as candidly and accurately as possible."


Resources may help
Kinnaman suggested that such resources might include personality profiles, ministry assessments, professional coaching, organizational consultants and 360-degree feedback processes.

"This is imperative both for organizational health as well as for personal effectiveness,' he said. "There is also a spiritual precedent: in Romans 12:3, Paul reminds people to 'be honest in your evaluation of yourselves.' Objective, frank feedback from others helps shape people and churches to be most effective for their role in the body of Christ."

The onus, Kinnaman said, should not just fall on the shoulders of the pastoral staff.

"The study also underscores how difficult the role of pastoring is—and it should remind churchgoers to express gratitude to the men and women who serve," he said. "As simple as it sounds, keep in mind that pastors are normal people, too—with hopes, dreams, families, challenges, insecurities and idiosyncrasies. The job of the churchgoer is not to sit back and watch the super-saints serve everyone else. It is to step up and—arm-in-arm with pastors—do the work of enhancing people's lives for God's glory."

The data in this report are based on a nationwide telephone survey conducted by The Barna Group among a nationally representative sample of 627 Protestant senior pastors of Protestant churches. The survey was conducted in November and December 2005.

For more information, visit barna.org.