Andrew Purves, Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in his book, The Crucifixion of Ministry, maintains that about 40 percent of clergy suffer from mild to severe burnout. National figures show that around one-third of ordained persons leave the ministry after five years, never to return. He believes that liberal theology, which dilutes the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh, is the resurrected and ascended Lord of all, has produced generations of ministers with a theology that fails at the congregational level.
He claims that ministers spend 90 percent of their time on congregational administration. There is little emphasis on developing their own spiritual life. They need a new basis for ministry. He teaches that the ministry can be found, not in our own efforts to take care of people, but where Jesus has already shown up. Jesus has to carry the load and do the job of saving people. We are not capable of doing so. The minister is not the Messiah, Jesus is.
If there is salvation in no other name than Jesus (Acts 4:12), then ministers must preach Christ, quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and recommit themselves to the ministry of Word and sacraments.
“Study, let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason is to preach Christ, because it is. Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people. Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church. Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply. Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in. He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have eyes to see and the ears to hear.”
It is hard to do this in the modern congregation. You get kudos for visiting homes, visiting the sick, participating in meetings, organizing programs, etc. You do not get them for closing the door of your office, and studying, and preparing, and praying. Church life is measured by how many programs, small groups, classes and events a congregation has scheduled. It is not often measured by the depth of the sermons and the spirituality of the pastor. Yet, despite the culture and expectations of the activists in the congregation, we who are ordained to the ministry of the Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4), must give priority to our spiritual lives, our own relationship with Jesus, to prayer and study, if we are to be of help to others. You can tell if a minister has a depth to his spiritual life, to his abiding in Christ. Shallowness has a way to showing itself. You can see right through it.
All of the churches I have served had a brass plaque on their pulpits that silently requested the preacher: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” (John 12:21) My prayer is that the risen and ascended Jesus may be seen and heard in the power of the Spirit.