Six Thirty One: Refreshment Ministries
It has been known for some time that there has been a problem in our churches with many empty pastoral positions across the U.K.. There are a multitude of reasons for this problem, one that could possibly get worse as the “baby boomer” generation step down from ministry responsibilities. The F.I.E.C. identified one possible obstacle to ministry staffing as being a lack of clearly defined access, training and progression routes similar to other career and work options. More than simply identifying a problem they have developed and initiated useful and, hopefully, productive measures to address this issue. However, among other Christian denominational groups, the Anglicans have had a clearly established access and training route for many years. Yet, like the “free” or “non-conformist” churches they too struggle to fill vacant ministerial positions. The problem is clearly more complex than simply providing access to opportunities and training.
Recently I was talking with a Christian brother who is a manager in a large international warehouse chain. I was struck by how much emphasis he placed upon staff retention at their particular warehouse. He repeatedly shared the percentage of retained staff, the low turnover and the very high percentage of staff who had stayed at the warehouse since it had first opened. The staff incentives, management training and work ethos all combined to make employment with them both pleasant and to be sought after. The issue of staff retention was clearly important to that employer. The issue of retention is one that is being faced by many utilities companies. They are increasingly under scrutiny for incentivising new customers while failing to retain existing ones. Many otherwise loyal customers move around when they notice that the company doesn’t reward their many years of patronage with deals as good as those offered to new customers. Retention is a problem for these companies but one that they fail to address correctly, instead focusing primarily on continually attracting new customers to offset their reduced customer base.
We know from the numerous surveys undertaken that retention is also a problem in Christian ministry. More than one survey has shown that many pastors leave ministry after as short a time as five years while only 1 in 10 will retire from ministry service of some form. Turnover is a huge problem that is unfortunately too often glossed over or totally ignored. Clearly there are many reasons that cause gospel ministers to leave early; unsuitability, pressure of work, family difficulties, poor remuneration, and even bullying among many factors. However, despite the existence of retention issues across the church our focus is increasingly upon identifying, training and placing new ministers. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not belittling or otherwise trying to reduce the great demand that exists to identify and train suitable candidates for ministry; we need to do this and continue doing this. Even if we kept every currently serving minister in office we still have many positions that need to be filled; a need that will take years of endeavour before it is met. Training more suitable candidates for ministry is essential. But the harsh reality is that we will not retain every person currently in active ministry. We will continue to see men and women decide that they need to move on, often for reasons that we have failed to identify and address. We face a very real danger of identifying, training, placing and then, within a relatively short period of time, losing the very people that we have identified and placed in gospel ministry.
Alongside the need to identify and train we also have to address the whole area of retention. Keeping the gifted, intelligent and caring individuals who have been equipped to serve exactly where they should be, in gospel ministry, should be as high a priority as getting them into ministry initially. We need to be encouraging these servants of God as much as we are able, in as many ways that we can.
One of the well known precursors of leaving ministry early is the sheer busyness and pressure of work. It can be relentless, as too many gospel minsters are only too aware. The impact can ruin the health of those affected as well as fracture relationships between couples, families, even between the minister and their Lord and Saviour. This incessant pressure has always been a factor of Christian work, but that doesn’t mean that we should just accept it and carry on. The old adage of “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” should never be part of our creed. In fact it could be argued that the opposite should be our stance. We should be caring for and encouraging those who so selflessly care for and encourage us. We should also be taking our lead from what we see in the Scriptures. In Mark 6:7-13 we read that Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to embark on a preaching and pastoral care mission. Commissioned and sent out in pairs they preached and healed. In verse 30 we see that the apostles returned to Jesus having done what had been required of them. We notice in the very next verse that Jesus noticed how weary these men were from their preaching and ministry mission; they had been so busy that we read, “they had no leisure even to eat” Mark 6:31 (ESV). Quite tellingly we can see that their Lord, and ours, appreciated the weakness of their frame and the need for some rest. We do not read that Jesus tells them to “man up!” or any of a multitude of equally dismissive and disparaging comments that tend to pull down rather than build up and encourage. What we read should have been established as the normative practice in the Christian church but, unfortunately, has been neglected in so many cases. Jesus says to His weary servants, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile.” Wow! The Lord has clearly identified a problem in Christian ministry, the burden of overwork and excessive pressure, and also laid down the template that we should be adopting in such circumstances. It would have been so easy for the Lord to be dismissive and berate those men for their lack of stamina, commitment, or for failing to understand the great need for gospel ministry. Instead we see that He proposes a time of retreat, a time of seclusion from the demands of others, an opportunity to just rest. Then in verse 32 we read that they went away into a desolate place. The problem was identified, the need was addressed, a solution was proposed and then executed. His overworked and weary apostles needed rest away from the pressure of work. Surely it is time that we recognised the biblical precedent of gospel ministers needing regular and complete breaks from the pressures that they face? Some would argue that ministers and other workers get holiday leave or annual leave and that it is provided for just that purpose. However sometimes the necessary break fails to materialise. Unfortunately many in ministry service are poorly paid and are unable to take a proper break away from their work. Listening to a number of pastors’ children talking they could all identify with holidays that have always been stays with relatives, sometimes with their father being “called back” because of a perceived problem in the church. Their break is not much of a rest and is often a much abbreviated respite from their work. One man shared with me at a fraternal that because of financial constraints they are not able to get away properly and that their last five family holidays had all been disturbed for one reason or another! I could give far too many similar examples but I am sure that many readers could also give accounts of similar occurrences.
Six Thirty One: Refreshment Ministries is a new Christian charity (registered number 1170016) that hopes to provide a venue for the necessary rest away from others that many ministers so desperately need. Our intention is to provide a safe environment for individuals, couples and families to withdraw briefly from the pressure of ministry. A place where individuals can reengage with God, reconnect as couples and bond as families. A refuge of peace and and quiet away from the busyness of life and the pressure of work. Providing space for no more than a couple of families at a time the ability to unwind and relax is enhanced by peaceful surroundings. To provide those facilities and to ensure that rest, encouragement and help continues to be available on an ongoing basis will require your help. Our gospel ministers give so much and we need to give back with care, support and encouragement to keep them in their vital ministry. If you want to know more about our ministry, sign up for a regular prayer update or can support this work financially please get in touch. Web: www.sixthirtyone.org – email: firstname.lastname@example.org – facebook: 6:31 Refreshment Ministries.