Soul Searchin: Standing On The Ledge

by Cheryl Shireman

Standing On The Ledge

Of 1,050 pastors surveyed at two pastor’s conferences held in Orange County and Pasadena, California …

  • 100% had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • 90% of the pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis.
  • 89% considered leaving the ministry at one time.
  • 57% stated they would leave if they had a better place to go – including secular work.
  • 81% of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people.
  • 77% of the pastors surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.
  • 75% of the pastors surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others.
  • 72% stated they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons.
  • 38% read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
  • 71% stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even daily basis.
  • 38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 26% said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality.
  • 23% of the pastors said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home.

These statistics are from ongoing research that was originally started in 1989 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development) in 1998. The above data was recently retested by FASICLD by surveying 1050 pastors from the two conferences mentioned above (416 in 2005 and 634 in 2006) . Furthermore, most statistics state that 60% to 80% of those who enter the ministry will not be in it ten years later.

What is going on here? Why are God’s people, called to do God’s work, so miserable? These statistics, to say the least, are sobering.

I am working from my home office. We live on a lake. As I write this, very early on a cloudy fall morning, the sky and the lake that are reflected in it are grey. Leafless, the trees reach over the lake and into the water as black twisted limbs. Two hours from now, this scene will be long gone. The grey morning will be replaced and the sun will fall across the lake in all its glory. But right now it is a grey morning. Spiritually, emotionally, it has been a grey week.

I love God. I love serving him. Last week I was on a spiritual high. I was on a mountain retreat with other Purpose Driven Small Group Network leaders and the week could not have gone better. We connected to God and each other and all left feeling renewed and recharged. I remember moments during our time together when it felt as if God was sitting right in the room with us. I could feel His presence in our exchanges with each other, in our whispered prayers, and in the laughter and camaraderie.

The day after I returned home, the grey started creeping in. We have two houses. Not by choice, but because we cannot sell one. This week the upstairs toilet leaked through the garage roof in house number one. The furnace needs replaced in house number two. One of my daughters has just started dating a guy who lives in Denmark. She had previously been dating someone who lived across the country and I had been worrying about her moving away. Now Denmark. Denmark? My other daughter is planning a wedding for next year. Did I mention that my husband lost his job in April? He worked in the automotive industry. He has never been without a job and he is still reeling from that blow. Unemployment figures were announced yesterday for our area – 13.2%. The “check engine” light just came on in my husband’s car. The “check engine” light has been on in my car for over a month. And our health insurance will expire at the end of the year. 

The grey was so heavy it felt like wet flannel draped over our lives. I started thinking about getting a “real” job. One that paid more. One with benefits. One where all I would do is show up, do my job, and get a pay check every week. No long nights working. No early mornings working before sunrise.

I wondered why God was being so mean to me. I felt like I was doing everything “right”, and yet everything seemed to be going wrong. In short, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Depressed, I rose from bed this morning and made my way to my home office through the dark house. I settled into my chair, wrapped a blanket around my legs, and picked up my cell phone. I had turned it off yesterday – certain that any call would be bad news. Someone in the PDSG Network had left me a message. We had an email exchange yesterday that was not pleasant (primarily due to a misunderstanding on my part). There was a smile in his voice. He left a message and told me that he was calling me to “bring me off the ledge.”

Of course, I wasn’t literally on a ledge. But spiritually, maybe so. And looking at the above statistics, many of us in ministry are on a ledge. Something is amiss. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”, and yet, most of us are running on empty. We are so busy “doing ministry” that we are not connecting with God or each other. I went to my small group meeting this week without completing the study. I didn’t have time. More than once this week, I felt the urge to curl up with the Bible. God was prompting me to do just that. He knew what I needed. But I ignored Him. My husband asked me to go for a walk. I said no. When I needed to talk to others for support, I turned off my cell phone. Repeatedly, I made choices that moved me away from where I needed to be. Instead of crawling out of the fog, I crawled into a hole and pulled it over me.

Time in God’s Word and time with other supportive Christians are sources of nourishment that God has given to us. And yet, we often reject those in times of despair. Beyond the Bible and other Christians, what feeds your soul? Is it time in solitude? Time walking in the mountains or along the ocean’s shore? Reflective prayer? Playing games with your kids? Going to McDonalds for a large sugar free vanilla iced coffee with your spouse? Rocking your new baby granddaughter? Taking a moment on a dark morning and expressing thanks for the many blessings God has poured into your life? A friend reaching out in support? Whatever feeds your soul is a gift from God. It is His way of “wooing” you, of supporting you, of showing you how very much He loves you. Do not reject His gifts of love. Come off of the ledge. Take time to feed your soul. Do not become another statistic.

The sun is coming up. The lake and the sky are taking on shades of blue. Across the lake I see two swans floating. My three kids are going to all be here for Thanksgiving. My son and his wife had their first baby (our first grandchild) in May and she is about to crawl. I woke up this morning next to the love of my life, my husband. A friend has left an encouraging message on my cell phone and talked me off the ledge. God has given me these words this morning to share with you. Life is so very very good. And God is better.

Just as the sun rises over the lake in all its glory, the Son has risen in our lives – in all His glory. Bask in His warmth. Stay connected. Feed your soul with the many gifts He has given you.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 (NIV).

Cheryl Shireman is the PDSG Network Coordinator.

2 Responses to Soul Searchin: Standing On The Ledge

  1. James Ziessler says:

    Dear Cheryl
    Thank you for your transparency, openness and revelation of your own personal life as well as revealing the truth behind the robes, pulpits and facade of trying to be the “Shepherd of the flock”.
    I too have been a pastor for nearly 25 + years. No bragging rights, in fact I would without hesitation share with you my failures way more than my successes, which in retrospect weren’t really successes all.
    However, in the past four years I’ve seen a new way to minister in Christ, through Christ and with Christ. It’s leaving the institutionalized context of church and wading into the waters of a deepening and abiding relationship with Jesus. Oh, yeah we like to say we have a relationship with Jesus, but most of our “church” life is cloaked in event driven, programic organization and Sunday A.M. presentational ministry. But unfortunately very little is ever centered upon coming around the presence of Jesus and celebrating in his active revealing presence.
    My new direction is not based on a turn key moment in time, but a long process of Jesus revealing himself and allowing Him to be revealed in our worship and gathering.
    I’ve read 12 books in the last 5 years which have been instrumental in my process of growth in Christ and growth for the church I serve. 1). The Shack 2). Reimagining Church-Viola 2). So you don’t wanna go to church anymore 3). Pagan Christianity – Viola 4). He loves me 5). New Christendom – Jenkins 6). Generous Orthodoxy – McClearan 7). Sex God – Rob Bell 8). Sacred Romance 9). Wise Guy to Wise Man – Rohr 10). This present Future – McNeal 11). God’s orginal intent for the church – Roberts 12). Jesus wants to save Christians – Rob Bell
    No way can I put into words in this short article all that God has done to bring death to the old perception of ministry and new life in what Jesus really intended for His church.
    I still serve in the church, but the heirarchical structure of the clergy is at best a distraction to the intent of God and at worst it is herecy woven into the fabric of God’s true intent for His people.
    This is way too long, but I encourage anyone who is reading this to read into the true History of the early church and not just from your denominations historical perspective. Remove the tinted glasses from your eyes and look into the intent of God. (Please read Reimagining Church; Pagan Christianity and A New Christendom) These books will enlighten, reform and reveal much to change us.
    Again my thanks and appreciation for your sharing and heart felt convictions. May we band together to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love our neighbor as ourselves.
    Sincerely in Christ

  2. David Henderson says:

    Thank you for a wonderful reminder that we are all mortal but we serve a God who is not.

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