Why do rookie pastors get fired?

That’s the question Josh Tandy, a real rookie pastor, asks here.

I have a simple two letter answer.


Or rather the lack of it.

EQ is the emotional equivalent of IQ. Sometimes called “emotional intelligence” or “social intelligence,” and the lack of it is the primary reason for the majority of pastoral failures.

That’s right, the main reason for rookie pastors getting fired or, even worse, rookie pastors destroying a church, is not intellectual, moral, or theological failure, but failure in basic common-sense humanity.

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we: exceptionally clever, technically skilled, and self-disciplined people utterly fail in pastoral ministry. They just couldn’t connect with people at even the most basic levels:

  • Saying hello/goodbye/please/thank you (especially “thank you”)
  • Asking people “How are you?” (and waiting for an answer)
  • Being friendly
  • Remembering names
  • Showing interest in people’s children
  • Listening without interrupting
  • Teachability (especially learning from elders)
  • Apologizing for failings
  • Avoiding unnecessary offense
  • ABOVE ALL – Understanding the vital difference between what you say and what people hear.

Having spent a lot of time with Seminary students and young pastors over the past ten years, I find it’s getting easier to identify those whom the Lord is most likely to use to bless and build his church in pastoral ministry. The Lord is sovereign, of course, and can blow all our analysis and predictions out of the water, but usually He uses “ordinary” means. And EQ is one of the major means. (Have a look at the comments on the Rookie pastor article for vivid confirmation).

Which raises a huge question: How can we train for this? Robert Anderson offers one suggestion in The Effective Pastor:

In the seminary in which I teach, as a part of a course in philos­ophy of ministry I regularly bring in our assistant librarian to teach a class in etiquette. Unfortunately it probably is one of the classes that is received the most poorly. I say unfortunately because it is the class that often is needed the most.

Not many of our graduates fail in the ministry because they fall prey to doctrinal errors. Numbers, howev­er, have made an improper impact on the ministry simply because they are “klutzes,” are continually making themselves offensive to people—and they will not change.

If they learned a few social graces in addition and were able to remember to express grati­tude to people for every kind action no matter how small, they would be making major progress toward becoming the type of re­spectable person the Bible demands for the position of pastor. The person who basks in his crudeness and considers it a necessary part of his “macho” image probably should seek another vocation besides the pastorate.

Etiquette classes? Hmmm.

One friend I mentioned this to, suggested “living in the Proverbs more, having mentors, and having friends who are willing to critique and correct you in love.” I agree wholeheartedly and would add:

1. Internships: Multiple, structured internships in local churches.

2. Growing in grace: Greater focus on spiritual formation in Seminary years (this can be done in the Seminary or in the local church). To the traditional emphasis on “growing in knowledge” we need to add “growing in grace.” Why so many knowledge courses with multiple specific learning outcomes, and so few (if any) “grace courses” where specific graces such as humility, patience, teachability, peace-making, gentleness, are taught/cultivated/tested?

3. Personality testing: Working on the assumption that no one can counsel others without some measure of self-knowledge and self-understanding, the first few weeks of my counseling courses are taken up with “self-counseling.” We’ve used Myers-Briggs, DISC, and other helpful tests and encouraged a strengths/weaknesses self-analysis, which also build understanding of other personality types and learning styles. The difficulty is that the ones who need it most are usually most skeptical of such tools and just go through the motions.

4. Work experience: Wherever possible, students should spend a minimum of five years trying to hold down a job and even progress in a career before studying for the ministry. I know there are exceptions to this rule, but they are very rare. It would root out a lot of doomed candidates and it would tell us a huge amount about whether they have the EQ for the ministry. As a bonus, the work experience would also be worth any number of seminary classes in terms of preparation for the ministry.

I have to admit, though, every time a young man has told me that he’s called to the ministry and I’ve recommended that he go away and work for five years before Seminary, not one has taken my advice. Thus far, the results speak for themselves.

5. Tougher love: Churches and seminaries should be much more ruthless in who they admit for training. Accepting obvious “klutzes” does no good to the “klutz” or his future “victims.”

Any other suggestions to help seminaries and churches better pick and prepare men for pastoral ministry?

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If you’re not one of the almost 1500 people (from 51 countries) who signed up for the free Ligonier Connect Course, you’re now too late. Sorry! But you can still benefit from what the rest of us have been learning from the book of Jeremiah by tuning into this week’s Connected Kingdom podcast.

A New Recipe for Happiness

The most popular happiness recipe in the world is: SUCCESS FIRST, HAPPINESS SECOND.

Millions work themselves to the bone every day because they believe hard work will bake the cake of success that they will then be able to feast on with joy. So how’s that working out?

  • In 2010, only 45 percent of workers surveyed were happy at their jobs, the lowest in 22 years of polling.
  • Depression rates today are ten times higher than they were in 1960.
  • Every year the age threshold of unhappiness sinks lower across the nation.
  • Fifty years ago, the mean onset age of depression was 29.5 years old. Today, it is almost exactly half that: 14.5 years old.

There’s no less success; but there’s much less happiness. Why? Have we got the recipe wrong? Are we using the wrong ingredients? Or are we putting them in the wrong order?

The ingredients are right but we’ve got them in the wrong order. So says, Shawn Achor, Harvard Psychology Professor and bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage.

Happiness first, Success second
Achor argues that happiness is the pre-requisite to success, that optimism fuels performance and achievement, that our brains are “hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive” [The Happiness Advantage, 15]. Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward. Some of his evidence includes:

  • Doctors put in a positive mood (with the promise of candy!) before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster.
  • Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent.
  • Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers.
  • Of 272 employees, those who were happier at the beginning of their employment ended up receiving better evaluations and higher pay later on.
  • A person’s happiness as a college freshman predicted how high their income was nineteen years later, regardless of their initial level of wealth.
  • Nuns whose journal entries had more overtly joyful content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral.
  • Unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 1.25 more days per month, or 15 extra sick days a year.
  • Happiness functions as the cause, not just the result, of good health.
  • When positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, cognitive functions such as concentration, analysis, creativity, problem-solving, and memory are heightened.
  • Students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers
  • People who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative
  • Happy people recover from stressful events faster
  • Students  who viewed attending Harvard as a privilege shone much brighter than those who saw their studies as a chore.
  • One study of 112 entry-level accountants found that those who believed they could accomplish what they set out to do scored the best job performance ratings from their supervisors 10 months later.

One meta-analysis of happiness research that brought together the results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people, found that “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity, and, in particular, our jobs, careers, and businesses.” [41]

Positive Spirituality
It’s a pity that the positive psychology movement took so long to discover what Nehemiah knew about 2,500 years ago:

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

Yes, joy in God empowers the believer for life’s hardest challenges and loftiest aspirations. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37: 4). Or as Jesus put it: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).

Christians have such a positive advantage here, because we have so much more to be joyful about.

  • We love and are loved by the one true and living God.
  • We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
  • Our sins are forgiven.
  • We’ve experienced sovereign and saving grace.
  • We are justified and adopted into God’s world-wide and heaven-wide family.
  • Everything is working together for our good.
  • The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
  • We have all the promises of God.
  • The sting of death is removed and the grave has been de-fanged.
  • Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there.

What mind-, heart-, soul- and body-strengthening joy God gives us in the Gospel! He has baked the perfect happiness recipe for us to feast on, strengthening us to be more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive in every area of life.

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