Diminishing Job Prospects for Protestant Pastors

The Public Television Program Religion and Ethics Weekly, has a program this week concerning the diminishing job prospects for Protestant pastors.  I would add that this is not just an issue for the Protestants but also for us Orthodox as well.

I do not know the exact statistics but my guess is more than half of the Orthodox Churches here in the United States have fewer than 100 families that attend church on a regular basis and I would also venture to guess that the priest has a hard time existing on what the Church can pay.  This is not always a bad thing.

As congregations of all stripes continue to transform their pastors need to transform as well and the trend is to more bi vocational pastors.  Expectations will have to change both for the pastors and their congregations but I cannot help but feel this will only strengthen the church in the long run.

Here is a video clip from the program that puts it into perspective.


  1. Christ is Risen!

    I think things may be less bleak than they appear. Let me give you the example of my Orthodox parish (Serbian Orthodox).

    My parish has 62 families as the “core” of the membership (i.e., attending every Sunday), with a “penumbra” of perhaps the same number of households who attend from time to time.

    This parish started out 20 years ago with absolutely nothing. We have now purchased an existing church building, on prime real estate, which we are remodelling to include a live-in flat for our young priest and his family. Last year, we completed a custom-made iconostasis, using imported African mahogany, with local craftsmanship, and we imported our gold-leaf icons from Serbia. Also, we have a polyeleios (chandelier) which we had shipped from Greece by slow-boat. All this was done via one-off donations from parishioners.

    Our priest (with a wife and two children) is full-time, and Popadija does not work outside the home. We provide him with a car, a fuel discount card (which is billed to the parish) and (for the time being) a housing allowance, in addition to a salary.

    We are not an especially wealthy parish. Yes, we have several doctors, nurses and pharmacists, and a few middle-managers, but the backbone of our parish consists of skilled tradespeople. We have no “financial angels” to bail us out.

    So, yes, it can be done, even in a small parish. If the faith and dedication are there, the material resources will follow.

    Incidentally, I feel very strongly that a priest needs to be full time. If I (or a loved one) are in the hospital, I don’t want my priest to have to ask for time off of work to tend to me. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in the concept of the 24-hour priesthood. Our parish understands that, if we want that level of dedication, then we have to pay what it costs.

    What we have done is certainly no piece of cake, but a full-time priesthood in a small parish is absolutely and definitely achievable, if the people are determined to make it happen.

    1. Glory to Jesus Christ that your parish is able to do this but not every parish can. What about a priest who has an extreme level of debit from his seminary training, such is the situation in my case. I agree that the priest should be full time, in fact whether he is being paid full time or not he is full time, but the reality is it is not always possible to do this.

      1. @”What about a priest who has an extreme level of debt from his seminary training?”

        Yes, that is a very sore point indeed!

        I won’t go into too much of a tangent, but I question the absolute need for every priest to have a 3/4 year seminary degree to be effective. Back before there were seminaries, as such, candidates for ordination were as often as not nominated by the people, and then the bishop would send the candidate to a monastery to learn the service books and get spiritual formation there. Whatever the merits or demerits of that approach, I think we are going to have to revert to something like that model.

        Higher education, in general, has become an unconscionable racket. Gone are the days when you could work a day job, go to school at night, and graduate magna cum laude (as I did, from American University, no less!). I think that priests will have to be formed in monasteries, with on-line courses for specific academic work.

        In other words, I think an “apprencticeship model” (with modifications) is the only materially feasible way we can raise future generations of priests.

        Just my $0.02 worth.

        P.S.: My priest was trained in the monastery of Chetinje, in Serbia, which doubles as a seminary. He has no student debt whatsoever. That is an example of the model I am speaking of.

        1. P.P.S.: I forgot to reference a good article by Walter Russell Mead (a broad-church Anglican, so be aware of where he is coming from!). It is entitled “The Holy Crap Must Go!”:


          A relevant quote from the article”

          “The American church is staggering under the burden of a physical plant that it doesn’t use and can’t pay for; it staggers under the burden of dysfunctional and bloated denominational and professional structures that it can no longer carry; and it is crippled by outdated ideas about what it needs to do its job. All these buildings, bureaucracies and assumptions may have been holy once, may have played a real part in advancing God’s work, but for a lot of them that time has passed.

          “I don’t mean for this to be a blanket denunciation of every seminary, every parish or local church, every judicatory (diocese or other administrative and territorial division found in a particular denomination). There are noble exceptions and the United States is a big country. And I’m talking about mainline Protestant churches mostly here, though I think others may recognize that some of these problems are shared.

          “The Christian churches in the United States are in trouble for all the usual reasons …. but also (and to a surprisingly large degree) they are in trouble because they are trying to address the problems of the twenty first century with a business model and a set of tools that date from the middle of the twentieth. The mainline churches in particular are organized like General Motors was organized in the 1950s: they have cost structures and operating procedures that simply don’t work today. They are organized around what I’ve been calling the blue social model, built by rules that don’t work anymore, and oriented to a set of ideas that are well past their sell-by date.”

          Another “money quote”:

          “There’s another parallel structure: the seminary system. Peter, James and Paul didn’t have any degrees or professional training, but that is not good enough for us today. Our priests, elders, ministers or whatever we call them must be professionals. They must have graduate degrees from an accredited institution with a tenured faculty and, best case, a large grassy campus. These schools are expensive; students need to take out very large student loans, which must be paid back out of the salaries which, increasingly, shrinking congregations can’t pay. The tenured faculty, like tenured faculties everywhere, is generally less interested in teaching than in ‘research’ into various arcane but no doubt highly interesting ideas that can be published in peer-reviewed journals. Science! Progress! When it comes to theology, they are more interested in academically hot new ideas than in that boring old stuff that has been around forever.

          Need I say more!? Back to the future!

        2. I believe that the clergy in America need to be highly educated and not just sent to a monastery. The people here are highly educated, not they are not in other paces, and deserve a clergy that is highly educated. We need to invest in clergy education as a church, so we can graduate clergy that are not in debit. We do not need to dumb down the church.

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