By Mark A. Taylor
When I was a first time youth minister, a kid in our youth group had just taken a job at McDonald’s. This was more than 30 years ago, and fast food was a newer, less taken for granted phenomenon than today. I can assure you this kid took nothing for granted at his new post.
He knew the exact temperature of the oil they used to cook the french fries.
He knew the time required to prepare each sandwich.
He could demonstrate the approved process for mopping floors and cleaning counters.
His work was Important, very Important. He knew it, even if everybody else thought all he was doing was cranking out cheap cheeseburgers.
Most of us smile at his reaction, because we’ve often acted the same way about our own jobs. Not only do we believe our work is important, but we’re convinced that no one else fully appreciates how hard we work, what details we’ve mastered, or how much we accomplish at our job.
Perhaps nowhere is this more true than with Christian careers. Those who enter the ministry do so because they want to change the world. And, according to survey results released last month by the Barna Group, most ministers think that’s exactly what they’re accomplishing.
Researcher George Barna asked a representative sampling of more than 600 ministers across America about the spiritual priorities of their church members. “On average, pastors contend that 70 percent of the adults in their church consider their personal faith in God to transcend all other priorities,” Barna found. Furthermore, “as many as one out of every six pastors (16 percent) contends that 90 percent or more of the adults in their church hold their relationship with God as their top life priority!”
But the average church member, according to Barna, sees things a little differently. In a parallel survey of more than 1,000 Americans, only 23 percent of the Protestants said that faith in God is their top life priority; 51 percent of evangelicals and 38 percent of African Americans said the same. But “no segment of the adult population . . . came close to the level of commitment that Protestant pastors claimed for churchgoers.”
Why the big disparity? Barna’s news release prattles on for pages about the failures of the institutional church to make substantial changes in the lives of its members. He has some good points, but maybe the most basic conclusion is this: Most of us tend to take ourselves a little too seriously; we think we’re achieving more than most other folks would acknowledge.
Maybe church leaders would do well to work harder at seeing life from church members’ perspectives: listen more, talk less, and measure progress by what’s happening in their lives instead of by what we’re doing or saying. Then maybe more church members will take spiritual growth more seriously.
That really is important!