Okay, my answer to this reader’s question is too long, too impassioned and probably not what he wanted to hear. But it’s my honest answer to an excellent question. I’m interested in how you would answer it. Use the Comments link to share your view.


Q: From your observation of your time in the ministry, do you believe people in the ordained ministry are any more faithful than the average person?

A: I can’t speak to the entirety of the Christian enterprise. But here is what I have seen:

Clergy tend to be hard-working, under-appreciated, underpaid, under constant pressure to know people and to love people no matter what they do, facing relentless efforts to keep them “on a short leash,” working patiently with volunteers, and expected to be on call 24/7 no matter what that does to their families.

Does that regimen equal “more faithful”? To the extent that faith means “showing up,” sacrificing for others, dying to self, loving the hard-to-love, responding to the needs of other people, serving others without counting the cost, praying to God and not to Mammon, and getting more rejection than affirmation – yes, it sounds a lot like the way Jesus was. And that – living as Jesus lived – is my definition of “faithful.”

I think it’s high time church folks realized what a treasure they have in their clergy and stopped trying to make them small, fearful and obedient.

Sure, some clergy are poor preachers. Some can’t run meetings well or manage complex organizations. Some are compulsive people-pleasers. Some do the minimum and try to skate by. Some are just plain lazy. But I haven’t met many of those.

The clergy I know want desperately to help people to know God, to lead communities of faith that make a difference in the world, to grow their flocks, to sit with their people in circles of faith and truly turn their lives over to God. The most satisfied and effective clergy I know are those who serve such communities.

The most frustrated and bereft clergy I know are those whose constituents simply won’t respond to forward-moving leadership. It is sheer torment to sit in a church counsel meeting and hear their dreams trashed, their family’s welfare sacrificed to budget-cutting, their efforts scrutinized harshly, their commitments considered mandatory while everyone else gets a free pass, and to realize that the operative idol of their flock is comfort, safety and control, not the God who walked resolutely into Jerusalem, spoke truth to power, risked everything on behalf of others, and paid a terrible price for it.

Are clergy the only ones on board who have such a faith? Of course not. But I think constituents should spend less time managing their clergy and more time examining the character of their own faith. Congregations will prosper when faithful clergy and faithful laity serve faithfully together.

Check out the “Turnaround” webinars I will be offering, starting next week, for church leaders who want practical and affordable strategies for seeking growth and vitality. Click here for details.