Too few pastors, too many administrators

One of the important agenda items for the 2019 Annual Council of the Adventist Church was the report of the director of the Office of Archives and Statistics. Dr. David Trim, the current director, presented a report that gave ample food for thought. Let me just mention a few of the key statistics he mentioned.

Per June 30 2019 the Seventh-day Adventist Church has 21.3 million members. Between mid-2018 and mid-2019 almost 1.4 million new members entered the church, but in that same period over 600,000 names were taken off the books.

An interesting statistic is the number of congregations per ordained minister. In the Trans-European Divisions (to which the church in the Netherlands belongs) this stand at 4.34. In the other European Division it is slightly higher, at 5.28. In North-America each pastor looks, on average, after 2.15 congregations. In most divisions in the developing world this number is much higher. In the southern part of Africa the number of congregations per pastor is almost 30!

In the Trans-European Division each pastor is responsible for, on the average, 160 members. In the Netherlands this is considerably higher and stands at around 300.

But perhaps the most interesting (and disturbing) statistic Dr Trim reported concerns the ratio between the pastors who serve in local churches and those who hold administrative posts. Looking at the entire Trans-European Division, we see 0.9 administrator for every church pastor. In other words, there are almost as many church administrators as there are pastors ‘in the field’. I am happy to be able to say that the situation is rather better in the Netherlands Union, where the ratio is about 1:3.
This statistic causes even more concern when it is noted that since 1988 the number of pastors worldwide has increased by 85%, while the number of church administrators at all levels has risen with an alarming 300 percent.

So, what is the problem? It would seem that we have too many administrators and too few pastors. Let me say a few things about the growth of our administrative work force. We must realize that in many parts of the world the church has grown exponentially and this had led to the formation of new administrative entities (unions, conferences, institutions) which employ ordained pastors. And we must also recognize that many processes are becoming more and more complicated and, in spite of all computers, may need more staff.

At the same time, it is also a fact of Adventist life that, when there is a need to economize, the administrators seldom feel they can eliminate their own budget, and when some administrative downsizing has actually taking place, it usually does not take long before the administrative work force is back at its previous level.

It has often been suggested that our church shoud undergo a major organizational overhaul. Do we need the General Conference and the Divisions with their present size and structure? Can we perhaps eliminate one administrative level (unions or conferences)?

Part of the equation may also be that administrative jobs are attractive. The work in church administration often causes severe headaches, but perhaps not as many as the work in the local church does. In most places in the world being part of the administration not only gives status, but also some financial benefits and opportunities for travel. (Before I sound too sanctimonious, I must admit that by and large I have enjoyed my work in church administration!)

But it may well be that the main problem is not that we have too many administrators, but that there are too few people who feel called to be a pastor in a local church. In many places around the world many pastors do not feel happy in their ministerial role. Often pastors no longer get the kind of appreciation they used to receive in the past. It is increasingly difficult to function in a more and more polarized spiritual climate—in the church at large and in the congregations that have been assigned to the pastor. Moreover, in many areas in the world the remuneration of the pastor leaves much to be desired. In addition, many pastors feel they must be very careful in expressing their own theological convictions and their questions, lest they are viciously attacked by church members or leaders at higher echelons. And, the ongoing debate about the ordination of women pastors has been catastrophic. It has deterred many men and women from a career in the ministry. It must be a priority to ensure that becoming a pastor, once again, becomes an attractive option for young men and women.

Will the General Conference of 2020 be a turning point? Will it give the church the kind of leaders who understand that God does not accept gender discrimination and calls both men and women to serve him? Allow me to make a suggestion for the new leaders when they formulate goals and projects for a new quinquennium: Aim for at least a reduction of ten percent in the number of administrators and for at the very least a twenty percent increase in the number of local pastors—with at least half of them women!

I refuse to give up dreaming and hoping!