In the Mirror

How effective we are, how effective we think we are—and how to know the difference.
The life and work of a pastor is tough. You don't need anyone else to tell you that. But, in addition to personal experience—my father is a lifelong pastor, and some of my best friends work in churches—I also have a unique vantage point: in my dozen years at The Barna Group I have studied the lives and ministries of nearly 10,000 pastors. Research we recently conducted provides some intriguing insights about pastors today. Check out these outcomes to see what you might learn about your own ministry.

1. Many pastors say they struggle with their personal relationships. Our research shows that a majority of pastors admit that they have difficulty making and maintaining genuine friendships. And one out of six pastors say they feel under-appreciated in their ministry. The question for you to consider is this: Do you have deep, accountable and enjoyable relationships outside the context of your congregation?

2. One in four pastors describes himself/herself as shy and introverted. The research challenges the myth that the pastor needs to be a "people person" to be effective. Congregational ministry draws individuals with all types of personalities—in fact, this is roughly the same percent of introverts as the population at large. But every personality possesses a unique fingerprint—things that they do well and not so well, distinctive ways of perceiving the world and idiosyncratic styles of interaction. For example, introverted leaders are more likely to feel under-appreciated and relationally isolated. Here is a question for self-reflection: How well do you understand yourself and the environments that sharpen (and diminish) your effectiveness? This is not a once-and-done revelation, but a continual process of learning how God has wired you.

3. Most pastors are confident that ministry is a good fit for them. Pastors brim with self-confidence when it comes to their teaching, leadership, ministry vision, disciple-making abilities and community engagement. It is refreshing to see men and women finding purpose, passion and fulfillment in a professional calling that is intensely demanding. What are the areas of ministry that bring you the greatest joy and sense of confidence? Keep nurturing those "sweet spots" of ministry.

4. Willingness to take risk loses steam after several decades of ministry. In our analysis of pastors, we discovered that—while most pastors say they are risk-takers—willingness to take risks declines after 20 years in ministry (and especially wanes after two decades at the same church). But risk aversion is not limited only to those with long ministry tenures; three out of every 10 church leaders say they are not comfortable with risk. Are you refreshing your ministry venues and opportunities so that you remain dependent on God, willing to take appropriate risks to advance people's spiritual growth? Or are you stuck in a risk-free, self-dependent rut?

5. Pastors express greater awareness and clarity about leadership, but strategic leadership remains elusive. Pastors today are more likely than just five years ago to say they are effective leaders, which probably relates to more attention, training and resources focused on leadership. Still, the research shows that only 14 percent of pastors have the aptitude to be strategic leaders. What's more, few pastors understand the different types of leaders—directing, strategic, team-building and operational—and how to best operate in a team-based environment with them.

Since strategic leaders translate big visions into detailed, meaningful activity, churches without such leaders often squander their time and energy in fruitless activity, failing to create environments of lasting spiritual transformation. So, are you leading as a solo artist or as a true team captain? Do you have a capable strategic leader, from the lay ranks, who can capably serve the church? Have you distributed real decision-making responsibility to a team of leaders who reflect different leadership aptitudes? Having staff or board members who provide input on decisions does not constitute "a team."

6. Many pastors maintain misplaced priorities. One of the most sobering findings was that many pastors readily admit that church ministry takes precedence over other significant life priorities. Pastors are 10 times more likely to prioritize ministry than they are to focus on friendships, personal health, diet or exercise. They are four times more likely to prioritize ministry than personal or professional growth.

Of course, prioritizing ministry is a worthy goal—but not at the expense of other important facets of life. Many pastors even admit they place greater emphasis on ministry than they do on their family or their marriage! Are you living in healthy balance? Do you take care of yourself so that you can take care of your church? It's a helpful reminder: God is more concerned about who and what you are than in what you accomplish for Him.

7. Evaluating ministry is rare. Another disheartening observation is how infrequent and uncommon evaluation is among ministry leaders. Just 9 percent of pastors said their church thoroughly evaluates its efforts—and a majority of leaders admit that evaluation never occurs or is ineffective when it does. One of the unfortunate outcomes is that many pastors lose objectivity about their ministries.

For instance, most pastors say they are driven by a clear vision, but very few leaders are able to articulate a firm, compelling vision statement for their church. Many pastors talk about their church's deep engagement in the community, but most church programs are focused on the congregation, not people outside the walls of the church. The majority of pastors describe their church as theologically conservative and effective at disciple making, but a minority of churchgoers has developed a biblical worldview.

What tools and methods do you use to evaluate yourself, your ministry, and your church as candidly and accurately as possible? What's keeping you from evaluating your church in the ways and to the extent you should? Yes, it's an investment of time, money, energy and emotions. But God's people—and your ministry—deserve nothing less than your best efforts.

There is something deeply reassuring in this research as well: God is using a wide variety of people to do His work. While it is tempting to try to emulate the celebrities of ministry, focus on what God has called you to do and to be. What is the unique vision that only you can fulfill?

My prayer is that this research provides a mirror for you to see your life and your ministry reflected more clearly. God wants to keep shaping you to be the best possible leader, the best potential servant of His people and His purposes. Will you take a long, hard look in the mirror or will you operate in the dark?

David Kinnaman is vice president and strategic leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., in Ventura, California. More information and insights about leadership and ministry can be found at

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