Abstract In recent years there has been increased interest in understanding the cultivation of effective pastoral ministry. Many theories have been postulated based on individual experiences, but what has been lacking is a robust body of comprehensive and rigorous research regarding the issue. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experience of long-tenured senior pastors of Christian churches with an eye toward the insights participants’ experiences could offer to pastoral education. Final analysis of the data affirmed current research on resiliency in pastoral ministry and extended previous research through the discovery that participants understood the convergence of ministry, tenure, and efficacy as a cyclical process sustained by the interconnected experiences of fidelity to the pastoral call and the cultivation of authenticity in community. This understanding forms the basis of a new theory of pastoral efficacy.
Keywords Pastoral education, Pastoral efficacy, Pastoral leadership, Pastoral ministry, Pastoral tenure, Resilience in ministry
According to the Barna Group (2009), the majority of mainline Protestant churches in America have been and remain in a pattern of decline. Furthermore, if current projections are correct, Barnes and Lowry (2014) assert that the recent growth in Evangelical churches will not keep pace with the population growth of America. Correlating with Christianity’s declining influence in American public life (Newport 2015; Pew Research Center 2014), the Pew Research Center (2015) has shown that atheism is on the rise and Christianity is in decline. This decline of the American Christian church did not begin, recently, however. Roozen (2004) observed that the reduction in mainline church membership began in 1965 and was preceded by two key social crises. The first was the social demographic changes in the values carried into young adulthood by the baby boomers and the migration of that same generation away from geographic areas that had formerly been strongly mainline. The second was the crisis of identity within the mainline churches themselves and their inability to adapt to the aforementioned changes. As the decades have passed, continued decline has led to the consideration of measures of vitality other than just membership. Furthermore, exploration of congregational vitality is really only one-half of the equation.
Extensive studies conducted over the last decade and a half have indicated that deficiency in pastoral leadership is also often a key contributor to a lack of congregational vitality (De Wetter et al. 2010; Wind and Rendle 2001). Malphurs (2005) asserts that it takes five to ten years to go from being simply the preacher to being the pastor because the title is not the same as the role, and until people trust an individual they will not follow that individual. This conclusion is echoed by Adler (2012) with regard to influencing the transformation of congregational beliefs and by Galoji, Ahrmad, and Johari (2012) with regard to leaders’ perceptions of self-efficacy. Conversely, Arn (2012) has observed that a pastoral tenure of fewer than five years almost guarantees a lack of congregational vitality (para. 3), and Rainer (2014) has observed that a short-tenured pastorate is often integrally related to the decline of a church, with pastors transitioning “every two to three years especially in the two decades leading to the deaths of the churches” (p. 55). Thus, although there are a number of factors in church vitality, a long pastoral tenure of five or more years appears to be one of the necessary components of church vitality.
De Groat (2008) has asserted, however, that although the leadership deficiencies that result in short pastoral tenure have been explored for years, most seminary graduates continue to feel wholly unprepared to deal with the realities of the pastorate. Thus, when Proeschold-Bell, LeGrande, James, Wallace, Adams, and Toole (2011) studied how pastors are coping with the stresses of the ministry, they found that on the whole pastoral burnout and dissatisfaction is on the rise. This is especially problematic given the high cost and the resources expended on the pastoral education endeavor (Briggs 2014). Doehring (2013) has asserted that there has long been a need to develop a new, holistic, and integrative approach to preparing pastors for ministry. Therefore, since a long-tenured pastorate is essential for cultivating congregational vitality, it is imperative that the dialogue regarding pastoral ministry include a well-informed discussion of those qualities that contribute to long tenure and how those qualities are cultivated. Recognition of this need led to the extensive qualitative study of pastoral resilience performed by Burns, Chapman, and Guthrie (2013), out of which emerged five primary and interwoven themes that the authors’ identified as “spiritual formation, self-care, emotional and cultural intelligence, marriage and family, and leadership and management” (p. 16).
Considered together, it is imperative that further research be conducted to explore the findings of Burns et al. (2013), specifically with regard to the way in which long-tenured senior pastors view their own efficacy and understand the factors that have contributed to their long tenure. This study is an attempt to address that gap by exploring the lived experience of long-tenured senior pastors with regard to their understanding of the convergence of ministry, tenure, and efficacy with an eye toward how those insights might illuminate new practices for pastoral education. In this study, we ask: (a) how do long-tenured senior pastors describe their experience of being long-tenured; (b) in what ways do long-tenured senior pastors perceive that their education prepared them for a long tenure; and, (c) in addition to pastoral education, what other dynamics do long-tenured senior pastors perceive as contributing to their long tenure?