Friday, July 25, 2014

It's tough out there for a pastor.

Despite my negative feelings about religious beliefs, I manage to separate them from how I feel about religious people. I think that most religious people are sincere, and I've tried to make clear on multiple occasions that I don't think that one's faith (or lack thereof) is tied to his or her intelligence level.

Even with that said, some folks might find it strange that I felt some genuine concern for some young pastors out there when I read the article entitled "Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy" on The Atlantic's website. In a nutshell, you've got a lot of young people enter the seminary, oftentimes going into debt, in the hopes that they can make the ministry a full-time job. Unfortunately, this isn't working out too well for some of them, and they're finding themselves having to rely on family for support, or they need to take on a second job.

Let's get a few things straight. I have no love in my heart for guys like Joel Osteen or various other "Prosperity Gospel" charlatans out there. These aren't the kinds of people I'm talking about. Yes, I do not believe what they believe, and while I honestly see the decline of religion as being a positive rather than a negative, that doesn't mean that I enjoy watching people go into debt and/or have to find their aspirations being crushed. I happen to know a few pastors myself, and they're all good and sincere people. They got into what they're doing in order to help people, and in many ways, they do just that.

It was reading Jerry DeWitt's book that gave me a better insight into what a pastor goes through. While his book,  is about his journey from being a pastor to becoming an atheist, there is never this sense that he was somehow a fool, con-man, or any kind of negative connotation that might come up when people think of preachers. He was always doing what he does out of his love for humanity, and I genuinely think that's what's going on with most of these folks who are failing to find steady work as a church leader.

I guess the question now is how to deal with this. It's easier said than done when somebody has already invested so much time into doing a particular job to just "do something else". I suppose some nonbelievers out there are tempted to just say: "Well, that's what you get. Should have wised up before you did all that schooling." If that is the attitude that some are taking, I don't think that it's particularly helpful.

The handwriting is on the wall here though. While anything can change, church attendance is on the decline, and with 1/3 of people under 30 identifying as having non religion, it's not looking like things are going to be turning around anytime soon. I should probably also mention that a lot of pastors out there are also having a crisis of faith. The Clergy Project exists to help priests and pastors who have lost their faith yet remain preaching because they've been in it so long that they simply don't know what else to do with their lives. The goal of the Clergy Project is to help people like them adjust to a new life outside of the ministry.

From my limited experience, I think that most pastors have a lot to offer. Generally speaking, I find them to be great listeners - not many people are good at that. Also, many of them have great speaking voices and know how to address an audience. That's also something that not a lot of people can do. These are talents that most definitely can translate to other jobs out there, from therapists to teachers. A lot of them are good at inspiring people, and that could help with getting people to help out charities and do good works in the community. It would be foolish to dismiss them even if you don't share their faith.

Now, I don't know if my words are going to do much good for any would-be pastors out there. I'm sure that most of them feel that they have a genuine calling, and not in that generic sort of a sense that people might casually use that phrase. They actually believe that the creator of the universe WANTS them to do this, so me talking about being a therapist probably sounds like me missing the point.

I guess if there are any out there reading this, the take away should be this:

If, for some reason, you figure that being a pastor just isn't going to happen in this increasingly secular world, I just want you to know that not all of us nonbelievers out there are going to rub salt in your wounds. I'm on your side because you're a fellow human being, and I want to see you use your talents toward making this world a better place.

(I'm slowly starting to realize that I may, in fact, be a Humanist after all.)


Geoffrey Hughes said...

I must say I have great respect for your tolerance of religious belief and for the plight of well-meaning pastors who genuinely wish to pursue their calling, with the goal of creating a better world.
Pastors like this are probably humanists too and deserve respect.

However, I am not convinced that the evil done in the name of religion exceeds the good.

Richard Neel said...

It's cliche to assume that ex-believers turn into heathen sinners who turn to evil. It's always surprising to me that many Christians don't understand how an unbeliever can want to do good things for other people and actually find it rewarding when doing something nice (even sacrificial perhaps) for someone else. It's as if unbelievers couldn't possibly believe that Jesus teachings do actually make a lot of sense and are a good standard to live by without believing that he is god.

Morality, charity, grace and respect actually do exist outside Christianity. What an incredible thought that this happens without the fear of burning eternally if you don't behave in this

Sorry to wander off topic a bit but this has been on my mind a lot lately and your comments about the former pastor resonated with me. Thanks.

Lance Johnson said...

Thanks for the comment!