Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
March 24, 2002
Despite the stress of pastoral ministry, most clergy are deeply satisfied with their work
A recent survey by Duke University Divinity School indicates that most members of the clergy are “deeply satisfied with their jobs.” This finding does not surprise me since most of the clergy I know appear to enjoy their work.
The Duke survey should be viewed as quite professional and dependable. Nearly 900 clergy from about 80 faith groups were interviewed. The great majority reported a high level of job satisfaction. Six in 10 clergy indicated that they have “never doubted” their call to the ministry. Seven in 10 said they have never considered leaving the ministry.
One interesting finding was that 70 percent of clergy believe that one of their primary problems is “the difficulty of reaching people with the Gospel.” I can identify with that and agree. Most of us who are pastors will admit that we sometimes feel ill equipped to persuade people to take the gospel seriously. So many folks seem willing to settle for a shallow, superficial Christianity, rather than embrace “the real thing” which involves personal sacrifice.
Despite this concern, most of us clergy will admit that we find great joy in realizing that some people really do take us seriously. We often have the thrill of “being there” when someone decides to put God first and stop living merely for the “things” of the world.
There is no way for me to describe adequately the sheer joy I have felt many times when someone has come to me and said, “I have made a mess of my life, preacher; will you help me find peace with God?” Most of the time I have wept and prayed with such individuals until they embraced God’s forgiveness. The privilege of sharing that experience with a fellow struggler is so much more than a “job” that it would be shameful to think of the ministry as a job.
No wonder so many clergy are satisfied with their work. We have one of the most wonderful “jobs” in the world. Perhaps that is why we use the term, “a calling,” which reminds us that God calls us to this task. It would be a mistake to think of the ministry as a career or vocation. Unless a person feels “called” by God to serve as a pastor, believe me that person should stay out of the ministry.
What about our work is “wonderful?” So many things I do not have the space to describe them all. But I will give you a few examples.
When I was a young pastor I often visited in Mrs. Wilson’s home. Her mother was old and dying. I would visit and pray. Finally there came the day when Mrs. Wilson called and said, “Pastor, can you come over right now? I think mother is going home soon.”
I dropped what I was doing and drove to her home. Sure enough, her mother was near death, her breathing a struggle. For the next few minutes I stood at the side of the bed, not speaking, but strangely aware of the unseen Presence of God in that bedroom.
Soon Mrs. Wilson’s mother stopped breathing. I placed my hand on Mrs. Wilson’s shoulder, assuming that momentarily she would ask me to offer a prayer. In my mind I began thinking of what I might say in a prayer.
Then to my amazement Mrs. Wilson calmly said, “Pastor, I would like you to offer a prayer, but before you do, I want to pray myself. Will you kneel with me at the foot of mother’s bed?”
We knelt and this dear Christian woman began praying the most beautiful prayer I had ever heard. I do not remember it word for word, but it went something like this:
“Our Father, on my knees I want to thank you for the wonderful mother you gave me. Nobody ever had a better example than my mother was to me. I thank you for her patience, love, and faith, especially her faith, Lord. She taught me to love you. She led me to have faith in your Son Jesus. She inspired me to treasure the reading of your Word. I know Lord that I am a woman of faith because my mother was a woman of faith. Now I thank you that her suffering has ended, and that she is in a better place with you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
I was so deeply touched that I could hardly pray. I offered a simple, stumbling prayer. As we stood at the end of the bed that day, I realized that I was standing on holy ground. The one I had gone to minister to had instead ministered to me.
Another special memory is this. One Sunday morning many years ago, Roy knocked on my study door. I was going over my sermon notes just a few minutes before the morning worship hour would begin. Roy was my lay leader, a chemist and a strong Christian. He said, “Can I pray for you, pastor?”
I welcomed his coming for a brief prayer and he began to pray. This is what he said, “Lord, I thank you for my pastor. He is your man and you have put him here to be our spiritual leader. Bless him, Lord, and speak through him in a powerful way. Help him to say what we need to hear whether we like it or not. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
From that day on Roy came by and every Sunday quietly offered brief prayers that God used to make me a better preacher. The impact of those prayers is beyond my ability to describe.
What I am saying is that clergy have the high honor of sharing very special moments in people’s lives. So great is this honor that it would be a sacrilege to call our ministry a job. The Duke survey did not mention this, but it may help us all understand why most clergy are deeply satisfied with pastoral ministry. I know it is true for me.