Where the Good Pastors Go

… so I’m sitting here thinking - with all this shuffling and positioning at the upper levels of this corporate enterprise, what is my position, warming the pew week by week (well, I used to)? How does all this have anything to do with the “gospel commission” we have all equally been given?

I have long felt that pastors and their administrators should not be doing what their doing as a vocation. Their source of income should be something else. Their expenses should be covered, but their “bread and butter” needs to come from some other source. How else can anyone be true to the “Spirit’s” leading? Churches are led by financial security like everybody else - except a very few who dare to think and act on principle.

This little pawn quit being one when one of the brave voices at the near pinnacle dared to declare that “the emperor,” indeed, had no clothes. Thank you Des.


I find many poignant truths stated in this article. It is worth considering the system we have, and perhaps looking for ways to improve it. This article does more, however, to outline the weaknesses in the organizational structure than it does to suggest a stronger one.

I am a person of little consequence or influence upon the system, but if I had the clout to accomplish it, here are the changes I might make:

  1. Like the Levitical system of priestly courses, establish a rotation of leadership, such that each leader returns to front-line ministry after a term in leadership;
  2. In keeping with a good apprenticeship type of system, match inexperienced workers with more experienced and talented ones such that no single course has all of the “elect” among the workers, and those of lesser experience get to lead, in training, with those older and wiser; and
  3. Limit the terms to a reasonable length of time–not weeks as in the priestly courses, but a few short years, perhaps no less than two and no more than four.

A leader who knows his term in leadership will be short would have more incentive to accomplish as much as possible during his turn at the helm. Further, a short rotational period would allow for more opportunities to rotate back in. Returning leaders would be most helpful, for each turn should educate them to greater effectiveness and efficiency in the work. Those who are not in leadership would feel less tempted to criticize the leaders, knowing that they will get their turn soon enough and could be at the brunt of others’ criticisms just as easily themselves. If everyone got to equally participate in turns with the front-line ministry and the office work, they would all tend to sense a greater element of cooperation in working together. And they’d see themselves more as “brethren” (equals) as they should.

Well stated article Loren. Hardly insightful information to anyone who has ever been involved with their church, or “The Pastor”. I agree with Sirji. I don’t believe “Pastoring” was ever supposed to be a vocation, but a calling. And they should derive their income from outside the system. And join us serfs at ground level.


My late father-in-law, Reg Cheney, was a pastor in the Northern New England Conference for most of his ministry; he was particularly skilled in conflict resolution, and usually got the most difficult districts. They often tried to get him to accept an administrative post, but he refused each time. He said, “I don’t believe God is calling me to step down from the ministry.”


Loren, aptly, accurately said.

I’m surprised that Loren never mentioned the many fine SDA Pastors that solved all of the mentioned-problems by leaving the ministry and church altogether.


Freddie, I apologize for forgetting you from the list of pastors who have slipped backward through that one-way door, from office to parish ministry.

But you do confirm my observation that people in offices think of pastoring as “down” from administration.


Even though I’ve spent my life in pastoral ministry, I will not contradict @frank_merendino, @Sirje and @Bud in their questions about whether Christian ministry was ever meant to be the kind of profession that it has become. I think the argument could be made that that’s something we inherited from Catholicism and apostate protestantism.


@Tongkam, I might have done some work outlining a solution, but I suspect most people know what that solution would be, because we’ve been discussing it for ages: strengthening congregations.

I think I should add that a dear friend of mine, who’s been studying this administration problem long enough that he’s burnt out on it, rather disagrees with me in what I say here. He, too, says that administrative ministries have been quite ineffective. But he believe the problem isn’t having office ministries, but that those who hold them just fit into a slot when they go into the office and then grow lazy and seem to believe that sitting behind a desk and sending out letters is all they need to do—in other words, a sort of sinecure. Perhaps he’s right. The fellow I mentioned in the article was a marvelous pastoral evangelist, but poor at leading others to do it. I’ve known others (such as the late Jim Cress) who were marvelous leaders all the way up the line, teaching and resourcing others very effectively. But they’re rare.


Loren, I know where you are coming from. Thus two comments - somewhat (just a little) conflicting :wink:
At a young minister’s meeting a division officer distributed a chart explaining the church hierarchy. It looked like a pyramid. One of the more daring young pastors put up his hand… “Pastor XY, my chart seems to be wrong - things are kind of upside down on this chart.” The dismayed division administrator ran over to the pastor, wondering what was wrong with the copy that pastor had gotten. Of course, nothing was wrong with the graphic. Something was wrong with the idea of servanthood and church hierarchy. That was more than 30 years ago - not much has changed.
Despite all your suggestions - I certainly do not envy church administrators. I wouldn’t want to change jobs with them. Not because I wouldn’t like a little recognition once in a while, but because I find their job particularly hard. If pleasing a church is hard - try pleasing a conference or a union of churches… Well, easy to say - I ended up in teaching - but still feel very pastoral (e.g. preaching). Basically the idea of gifts and calling needs to be emphasized in my opinion. There are some who have the gift of administration … but if we put somebody with the gift of preaching into administration as a “bonus” or “reward” for his good preaching, we are missing the idea of “God’s calling” (just as we do when we miss out on God’s calling and gifting of women).


And just where does the money come from that floats this hierarchical monstrosity? Unless the church administrators are printing their own money, it’s coming from the serfs that do not get a paycheck from the church. These are the ones that do not get special discounts for their children attending academy, or regular cost of living raises etc. That’s where the goose that lays the golden eggs resides; outside the system. And they have little influence of making any change in the irregularities that prevail. The tithe payers from outside are the ones that enable the tithe paying, income, overloading for administration positions, spouses, family and friends for those inside.


That was last month’s column, @tictori.


Such a truth. So well said.


I served as a Conference Vice President for Pastoral Ministry for 10 years. One of my concerns before I took that position was that once a person goes into administration he or she never leaves. I stayed for 10 years and then took an early retirement. I loved doing what I did and I believe the pastors appreciated my work, but 10 years was enough.

I strongly believe in TERM LIMITS for those in administration that work directly with the pastors. That includes presidents, ministerial directors and many departmental positions. If we required them to step down after so many years and require them to return to pastoral ministry for a set time perioed, I believe we might develop a new appreciation for the work of the pastor.


Another excellent summary of the situation as it stands.

My parents’ pastor is the unfriendliest pastor i’ve ever seen. No chance he knows their names and even less chance that he’d ever try to greet/talk to them. In fact many senior members of that particular church have been made to feel, not only marginalized, but most unwelcome. It’s heartbreaking to hear them express this after a lifetime of church attendance, work and financial contribution.

A bit off-topic perhaps, but I felt the need to express it. Hurting for them a bit…

@kennlutz @andreas @elmer_cupino @TonyR
@lorenseibold @GeorgeTichy


I think they always find money to keep the things as they are.
They wouldn’t if members gave to local churches instead of to the conference.
Where in the bible does it say that tithe must be returned to the conference?
SDA storehouse definition?

So this is a touchy topic? There will always be complainers. I heard from a former dean at Andrews that only when the complaint level reaches 25% do they think it is valid.
Without large surveys from the members…the status quo remains. I won’t hold my breath waiting for surveys. I think the leadership is afraid to get the results.

And this idea of “good pastors” and “best pastors”…
What criteria is used to determine this, maybe a large tithe return to the conference? If a church has one to several rich members…the money looks good.
My opinion of the number of competent pastors is in the area of less than 5%…
Most sermons are superficial, semonizing, damage control, counseling sessions using clichés and obscure doctrine.
There are a few preachers on Christian radio stations that make most of the SDA pastors at the largest SDA churches (near institutions) sound inept.


We have a new pastor who moved to our congregation from Atlanta area a few months ago. He began there with a 200 member congregation. Had to build a new worship place. They have over 700 members now. A busy worship program, an active congregation.
I asked him yesterday, Why he wanted to move to our congregation of a little over 100. He said his church membership got too big to have contact with every member. He wanted to go where he could get to know all the members.
He is a fine man. Has a different style than our other pastor. So is some getting used to. One of the reasons the Board accepted him was he wasnt afraid to have altar calls at end of services. Stated yesterday in my Sabbath School class. The teacher said our other pastor refused to do altar calls.
Converts from other traditions miss those, and like to see them initiated.


Very good and insightful article (and I liked the previous one too).

Personally, I think that one of the problems of the SDA church is that we have imported the management techniques of the world into the church. In companies there is the tendency to go from “blue” collar work to “white” collar work. We go from the “assembly line” to the “office”. We call this “promotion”.

The same thing is taking place in the church. We go from pastoring churches (assembly line/“blue collar” job) to jobs at the conference/division level (the office or administrative work/“white collar” job).

In other words, we are running the church like a business. And because of this, we have adopted the same behaviors, goals, vision, language, techniques, etc.

This is why we are so obsessed with results, with meetings, with metrics, with careers, etc. Like you have showed, we have created a place in which Jesus Himself would have been in danger of being fired (or not hired).

Of course, there is a need for organization but it should help the mission of the church and not become a burden slowing it down. But maybe it is where the problem resides and why also a lot of pastors are welcoming these administrative positions: we are not always clear about the mission and by we, I mean the leadership but also the church members.

The mandate to make disciples was not given to the pastors only but to every follower of Christ. Obviously, most people in the church didn’t get the memo. So, instead of finding an army of workers engaged in the good fight, oftentimes a pastor has to work in local congregations which are more than happy to leave all the work to him (which doesn’t prevent them to be very demanding of him nonetheless). So, stuck between the pressure of the local churches and the demands from the hierarchy for baptisms, it is not surprising that, at the end, the (burned out/exhausted/fed up/discouraged) pastors see the invitations to fill out administrative positions as life-saving jackets allowing them to keep their heads above the water (and their sanity).

Reforms are needed at every level (administrative, pastoral, local). And if we need inspiration, the best place to start is by looking at the example of the Carpenter of Nazareth.


I know your new pastor, @frank_merendino, and like him very much. Congratulations! Sorry about the difficulty of working with the conference. I think tradition is a big part of it, but please remember that churches tend to be quite inertial: for the most part lay people, not just leaders, don’t like big changes. We get the leadership we deserve.



I think, @Nymous, you bowled a strike here. Though I wrote about how many people are in an office vs. the field, that’s only a subset of a harder question: what makes things work the way we they should?

I have pastored two churches on the border with another conference. In both cases, the churches are just a few miles apart. They won’t merge because they’re in different conferences. The two pastors who serve them drive a long way from opposite directions to them, because they’re in different conferences. This is an example of organization making things work less efficiently. It has nothing to do with what I wrote about here, how many people serve in the office.

We have, in the city where I live, three church schools. Each is fighting for the same set of children. They had the chance to merge into one, but they couldn’t achieve it. This was not just church tribalism, but overlapping conferences. This was a situation in which the conferences might have stepped in and been the bad guys and said, “We’re just not going to let you do this. It’s ridiculous.” All three built new schools. Now all three are struggling to survive.

Just want to second your idea, that it is about administration serving the goals of the organization, not complicating them.