Insights into Pastoral Life—and Why Ministers Need More Support

With changes both in the church and the culture of the nation, the modern pastor looks a little different than the pastor of 25 years ago.

In The State of Pastors, Barna Group presents their research from interviews with more than 14,000 senior pastors across multiple denominations. Covering everything from education to family life to spiritual development, this in-depth research offers insights into the life of the average pastor. The research takes the pulse of working in ministry today and helps congregants and church leaders determine ways to better support and encourage the men and women who lead our churches.

Over the past 25 years, the average age of pastors climbed 10 years, from 44 to 54. In addition, pastors are staying in their churches longer with the average church tenure at 11 years, as compared to just four years in 1992.

Seventy-two percent of pastors state that they are very satisfied with their vocation, and while 91% claim satisfaction with their quality of life, pastors are more likely than the general population to suffer from feelings of inadequacy about their work, as well as emotional and mental exhaustion. In fact, one in three pastors are at high or medium risk for burnout from stress, whether relational, financial, or as a result of tensions within the church.

When it comes to finances, the average minister’s salary has risen with average salaries in the U.S. in general—more than 22% since 1992. The median personal income for U.S. adults over 25 with a bachelor’s degree or higher was $71,221 in 2015, and the average annual income for pastors was $63,314.

Most pastors feel confident about their finances, and many feel that they are in better shape financially compared to U.S. adults overall. A majority of pastors—71%—say that they feel comfortable about their retirement security, and 64% say that they are prepared for unexpected expenditures. Over two-thirds claim they have a trusted advisor from whom they can receive reliable financial advice.

However, pastors with lower salaries and in churches with smaller ministry budgets are less likely to feel confident about their financial health. Eleven percent of pastors report an annual compensation of $40,000 or less, and these pastors are more apt to say that they are struggling financially. In addition, pastors who express lower satisfaction with their careers or current positions are more likely to see themselves as struggling or merely stable.

When it comes to the financial health of Assemblies of God ministers in particular, the research in Dr. George O. Wood’s article, Starting a Conversation about Ministerial Compensation, confirms these insights. One-third of AG ministers report some level of stress because of their finances, and 26% would describe their financial situation as unstable.  In addition, the average compensation for AG ministers of all types is $38,511, not including honorariums. This number is much lower than the average pastor’s income referenced in The State of Pastors.

While Barna Group’s research suggests that pastors are generally content with both their relationships and their careers, it also reveals that a dangerous number of ministers are at risk of burnout. Church leaders and congregants have the opportunity to support their pastors through encouragement, both spiritual and emotional, as well as assisting with administrative burdens and reducing financial stress.

For pastors, their calling and work is a major part of their identity, and it can often be easy to put that work ahead of their personal relationships and emotional and mental health. However, being a good leader requires prioritizing one’s own spiritual and emotional well-being—something that both pastors and church leaders should keep in mind.

Today’s pastors face numerous challenges, from a shifting culture to changes in how society perceives the church, as well as their own personal challenges that can hinder ministers from reaching others. But, with the support of encouraging church leaders and congregants, a pastor can enjoy a healthier, more productive tenure at their church, fostering the growth of God’s kingdom.

For more insight into the state of pastors today, click here to watch an exclusive interview with Roxanne Stone, Editor in Chief at Barna Group, and AG Financial Solutions’ Andy Whaley, Senior Vice President of Marketing.

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