Talk about taboo. According to a Barna Research study, at some point in their ministry 24 percent of pastors doubt the very faith they preach.
The observation came from The State of Pastors report by Barna this year. As part of a comprehensive study of American pastors, Barna also explored self-practices that help with personal spiritual development among clergy.
When researchers asked pastors which spiritual disciplines they most turn to, ministers overwhelmingly went first to prayer (81 percent) and reading the Bible (71 percent). “Silence and solitude” came in a distant third at 13 percent. Others gathering mentions included worship (12 percent), serving others without recognition (10 percent), memorizing Scripture (7 percent), and fasting (3 percent).
The issue of pastors maintaining spiritual disciplines directs back to their model for doing so, says author and pastor Pete Scazzero. More to the point, it points to pastors not following that model.
Following the model
“Being a leader for Christ without practicing spiritual disciplines that enable us to abide with Him is a contradiction,” explains Scazzero, founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, NY and author of two best-selling books Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church.
“How can we give what we do not possess?” he asks. “How can we offer the life-transforming message of Jesus if He is not continually transforming us? Regularly practicing prayer, silence, solitude, meditation on the Scriptures, worship, community, Sabbath, and simplicity is the door we open to receive Jesus and be transformed by His presence.”
Maintaining spiritual discipline, of course, can help alleviate feelings of doubt. That proves difficult to do, though, once a pastor’s honeymoon with his new church has run its course. As such, the study revealed that one-third (34 percent) of pastors at a church for less than three years experienced doubt.
However, pastors who can work through doubt often emerge better on the other side of it. That connection goes back to committing to spiritual development, something pastors indicated they got a better grasp of with longer tenure.
The bigger connection goes back to the One at the root of a pastor’s faith. Also, it requires pastors to examine their personal lives as well as professional ones.
“Our first work as spiritual leaders is to live congruently, which means we are the same person on and off the stage,” stresses Scazzero. “Our roles and our soles must remain connected; this is our primary work and the greatest gift we can give to others.”