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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Evangelical Pastors are Discouraged and Depressed

The son of the late Jerry Falwell is concerned about what is happening among evangelical pastors. Half of pastors would leave the ministry tomorrow if they could. Seventy percent are fighting depression and 90 percent can't cope with the challenge of ministry. Those are the statistics Pastor Jonathan Falwell laid out to thousands of ministers who were in Lynchburg, Va., Tuesday for the "Refuel" conference. The well-known pastor stated bluntly, "Something is wrong in ministry" (see article).

While I would not criticize anyone for having clinical depression, depression due to discouragement is another matter when it comes to an evangelical Christian pastor. He (there aren't very many shes in evangelical pastorates) is supposed to be a child of God, have direct access to the throne of God to ask for help and provision, be certain of going to heaven when he dies, have all of his sins and guilt removed, what in the world does he have to be depressed about--if what he believes is really the truth? The very name of the conference is interesting-- Refuel . Why is it that Christians have to constantly be refueled and recharged in order to keep going? Why do they have to be reminded all of the time that their God is real?

Another article reveals even more telling statistics based on a survey of 1,050 evangelical Pastors (note these are evangelical pastors not liberal pastors):
  • 89% considered leaving the ministry at one time.
  • 57% said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.
  • 77% felt they did not have a good marriage!
  • 75% felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor. 
  • 71% stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis. 
  • 38%  said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% either has an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • 23% said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!
The same article also gives the following research distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary.
  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80 percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 40% of pastors polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
Now why I am posting this? To gloat? No, I truly feel sorry for anyone who is depressed or who feels locked into an occupation that they don't enjoy. Life is too short to go through it like that. I post this because, in my opinion, it confirms my conclusion that evangelical Christianity is not true. It seems to me that if it were true, there would be a marked difference between Christians, especially Christian leaders, and the rest of society. If anything, it seems that evangelical pastors are in a worse condition than the average nonbeliever.

43 comments:

  1. They feel unqualified because they ARE unqualified. It doesn't take much to become a fundy minister.

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  2. "It seems to me that if it were true, there would be a marked difference between Christians, especially Christian leaders, and the rest of society."

    I had to leave before I could see this. Before that, it was all our fault; all the other pastors and missionaries had such "good" marriages and happy lives; they all believed and lived what they taught. Except when they didn't, but weren't we all the object of special attack by Satan?

    So where was the Holy Spirit? Where was the power of God to preserve, to help us grow in holiness, to conquer Satan? Where was the evidence of "newness of life"? Were all the other pastors and their families living the same double life that we were? Did they practice happy smiles in the mirror at home like I did? Or were we all "of all men most miserable"?

    Seems that a lot of them are.

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  3. Ken,

    One of the things that I find interesting is that historically what these pastors call "ministry" and what most people think of when discussing "ministry" was a later development that turned charismatic itinerates into ecclesiastical offices, a common meal into the "elements of bread and wine", open discussion to monologues (called sermons), etc. I am now an agnostic atheist but it seems to me that if the simplicity of the government and ministry (which did not distinguish between clergy and laity) of the earliest churches had been maintained then what we see today in the "pastorate" would not been as bad as it is.

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  4. It seems that the only Christians that are immune to this are those that have moved the core of their "salvation" a few inches outside of their collective chests. Meaning, into that nice, ever-fattening leather fold inside their pocket. See Joel Osteen.

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  5. I think its hard to maintain fundamentalism over time. Trying to keep one's mind compartmentalized like this is difficult. Moreoever, right wing Christianity seems against most things--abortion, gays, liberals, separation of church and state etc. That is also wearing. I don't find this kind of attitude in mainstream Christianity of the more progressive sort. There our pastors, ministers, priests, and so forth seem enthusiastic, happy, have long term marriages, and the parish seems alive with excitement. But then again, we don't worry about personal salvation or judge others. We work of social justice issues.

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  6. I think its hard to maintain fundamentalism over time. Trying to keep one's mind compartmentalized like this is difficult. Moreoever, right wing Christianity seems against most things--abortion, gays, liberals, separation of church and state etc. That is also wearing.

    Yup.

    I was planning on going in to the ministry. Then I actually thought about what I really believed v. what I'd be forced to tell people I believed. I started to have my doubts.

    One day I was actually sitting in church and I thought, "Wait, am I going to have to do this every week for the rest of my life?" That was just as a congregant. I can't imagine doing it as a pastor.

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  7. Ken (and others):

    Do you think pastors have doubts about what they preach? Do some of them (maybe most?) wonder if christianity is true? Would be interested in thoughts. I know I have had doubts, but people-christians-I talk to, tend to dismiss or avoid discussion. They seem to come out of the wood works on the internet.

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  8. Ken,
    Having spent the past 17 years in one form of professional ministry or another; the last 9 of which have been spent in the senior pastorate of a small evangelical church where the pastor is often the "do it all guy," I am keenly aware of the demands of professional ministry. Having spent the past several years finishing a doctorate in the field you now discuss, I am well equipped to comment.

    As you know, statistics can be variously interpreted. I am well aware of the studies you cite in your blog. I find it interesting that both the Fuller Seminary and Barna/Focus on the Family research also found that pastors said they had a high degree of job satisfaction. In fact, the 2009 FotF survey had 87.1% of pastors stating they were mostly to very fulfilled in their jobs. An independent, and purely secular study, by Tom W. Smith with NORC at the University of Chicago, in 2007 examined job satisfaction statistics across the profession landscape. Routinely, clergy (of all stripes) ranked highest in job satisfaction (87.2%) with only firefighters coming in second (80.1%).

    Your post is a classic misdirect. You posted only the negative statistics, and failed to note that those surveys constitute a very small contingent within evangelical Christianity - not every evangelical Christian minister was polled. Barna, FotF, Fuller, Pulpit and Pew, Tom Rainer, et. al. would be the first to admit their surveys are not exhaustive, no survey done on such a scale ever is (just look at political polling to see how true this is). Do I turn a blind eye to the problems among professional clergy? Absolutely not! But put your statistics in perspective. Newsweek (4/28/08)cited an article by JAMA stating that medical doctors have the highest instance of clinical depression and highest suicide rate of any profession. The Conference Board, a non-profit secular global business organization, said in January of this year that American job satisfaction is at an all time low. A 2008 survey done by careerbuilder.com, and based on statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ranked the 8 highest stress jobs in America. The top spot? Retail sales. BTW, clergy or religious professionals didn't even make the top 10.

    If your reasoning is to be followed, Ken, then you need to apply it unilaterally across the professional board. Doctors, nurses, retail sales, ad infinitum, suffer job stress and stress related depression. Thus, medicine and medical related services, retail stores, etc. cannot be true. Every profession suffers job related stress, and comparitive surveys done have shown that clergy stress is equal to or greater than many other professions, but job satisfaction is often greatly higher. To follow your line of reasoning, if job satisfaction figures determine the reality of a thing, then it's time to re-convert.

    LadyAtheist, You are correct, it doesn't take much, in certain circles, to become a "fundy minister." However, in mainline evangelical circles the basic professional degreee for ministers is the Master of Divinity. The M.Div. is an educationally equivalent degree to a Ph.D. The desired professional degree for ministers, again in mainline circles, has become the Doctor of Ministry. No other profession, outside of post-graduate educational circles, carries a doctorate with such a large accumulation of class hours as its professional milestone. A medical doctor is granted his M.D. after only 6 years of school. He is then required a 1 year internship and 3 year residency. IF he then chooses to specialize, which he is under no obligation to do, more schooling is undertaken. Therefore, a person with 6 years of formal educational training and not more than 5 years of practicum work is qualified to be a family physician. A clergyman, regardless of the denomination, takes an average of 9-10 years of educational work to attain the D.Min. and often ministers in a practical setting for at least 6 of those years, if not all of them. Thanks for the collective ad hominem though.

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  9. David,

    First, an M.Div. is not educationally equivalent to a Ph.D. An M.Div. is a professional degree not an academic degree. Academic degrees are M.A. and M.S. or a Th.M. with regard to theological studies. An M.Div. while it requires 3 years worth of course work contains many practical courses. It does not require a thesis.

    In addition, any bachelor's degree is suitable for admission to an M.Div. progeram; whereas typically in an M.A. or M.S. program a bachelor's degree in the same subject area is required. The academic master's is more focused on a particular area of study. The Ph.D. also requires a Master's degree in the same subject area. The Ph.D. requires a dissertation, oral and written comprehensive exams, proficiency exams in at least 3 languages as well as usually a grade point average of 3.5 or better.

    The M.Div. and D. Min. prepares one for the practical role of a pastor. The M.A., Ph.D. prepares one for for teaching or research. So these are not the same degrees or even close to the same.

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    1. My M.Div. required thesis and D.Min a dissertation.

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  10. David,

    I meant to include this link with the above comment. Academic vs. Professional Degrees

    With regard to the statistics I cited. Of course they did not poll everyone. That is never done. But these organizations know how to conduct scientific polls which have a reliability rating of within 5%. Polls are fairly reliable or people including marketing organizations would not spend so much money on them.

    You cite surveys that say that clergy have 87% job satisfaction rate. Is that evangelical only pastors as my statistics were?

    Then you say that doctors and other professionals have a high degree of depression, etc. However, you fail to note my point. Evangelical pastors are supposed to 1) know they are forgiven and thus free from guilt; 2) know that they are God's child and will spend eternity in heaven with him; 3) have access to the throne of God where they can find all the help and grace that they need. If so, WHY are they depressed? In the secular professions you mentioned, most of the people are probably not "true" Christians much less the spiritually mature, men of God that these evangelical pastors are supposed to be. They should be the very cream of the crop as it relates to "true" Christians and yet look at the statistics. I didn't make these up. Jerry Falwell's son is concerned; the Francis Schaeffer insitute is concerned. You should be concerned.

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    1. Ken,
      Thank you for your very wise and challenging comments. As a clinical social worker turned pastor, I believe that authenticity and congruence are factors that help to determine whether one will burnout. I'll comment on clergy here: When pastors recognize that they are human, struggles with sin and character flaws like anyone else, and are dependent on God's guidance and grace, then they are in a position emotionally and spiritually to help others. When clergy view themselves as super-spiritual, morally superior, or immune from suffering, then they will suffer the cognitive dissonance that another reader mentioned. Having been through much loss, pain, and spiritual struggle, I can be with a parishioner in their time of need, without having all the answers, or the "theological solution." I can just be present with them, acknowledge their pain, and pray for God to comfort them in their time of need. From the pulpit, it clicked for me the day a parishioner told me I needed to change the assurance of pardon to "WE are forgiven" rather than "YOU are forgiven." When clergy preach, teach, and care for their parishioners from a place of authenticity, humanness, and equally in need of God's guidance and grace, then perhaps they will not burn out.

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  11. "If your reasoning is to be followed, Ken, then you need to apply it unilaterally across the professional board. Doctors, nurses, retail sales, ad infinitum, suffer job stress and stress related depression. Thus, medicine and medical related services, retail stores, etc. cannot be true."

    Someone missed the logic of the argument. In a big way.

    ***

    It's also possible Jerry just made up the statistics. They haven't had a problem making up science before.

    "and failed to note that those surveys constitute a very small contingent within evangelical Christianity - not every evangelical Christian minister was polled."

    He posted the statistics Falwell gave - not necessarily a reliable source.

    Scientific sampling doesn't require you to poll every member of a population to get accurate results.

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  12. This is the most telling statistic I saw in the Schaeffer Institute article:

    Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

    Talk about being trapped in an occupation because one is unqualified to do anything else. That's consistent with some of the comments of the subjects of Dan Dennett's on-going study (28 page pdf) of "Preachers Who are not Believers."

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  13. Day after day after day of cognitive dissonance will wear down even the strongest and kindest of hearts...

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  14. I agree with Anthony. The NT itself doesn't even support the idea of a lone pastor doing the ministerial work of the church.

    I spent one difficult year as a pastor. Probably the worst part was knowing that the congregation viewed me as a holy, exemplary man who had it all together -- an image I couldn't possibly live up to (though I tried).

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  15. DM, how do you get Internet access from your padded cell?

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  16. Ken,

    Your point on preachers ( 1) know they are forgiven and thus free from guilt; 2) know that they are God's child and will spend eternity in heaven with him; 3) have access to the throne of God where they can find all the help and grace that they need), applies to any christian.

    Wasnt you that told me you wouldn't count it as points for atheism, when pen/parchment guy was depressed?

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  17. Incidentally, here is a poll from Pen/parchment:

    Christians, do you experience depression

    Yes, some (52%, 90 Votes)Frequently, but moderate (23%, 39 Votes)Yes, I often wrestle with severe depression (16%, 27 Votes)Yes, some. But it is a sin (3%, 6 Votes)Yes, I am severely depressed now (3%, 6 Votes)No, never. It is a sin (3%, 5 Votes)Total Voters: 173

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  18. Ken:

    I am a BJU grad, why gives?

    don't erase the posts, answer them, I can create new nick btw.

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  19. Ken,

    Make sure you let the fellow posters know that prior to my other post, I said this.

    Your point about pastors (all 3 of them) applies equally well to ANY christian.

    What did you say to me when Pen/parchment guy was depressed? Do you remember?

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  20. @Expat - I think you have a pretty profound point.

    @Ken -


    57% said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work. ... You should be concerned.


    I find this very disturbing. It implies that many pastors feel "trapped" in the profession against their will. It implies that many pastors entered the profession under false expectations about how easy the life would be, or about their ability to bear it.

    How are kids lured into seminary these days? I see in Acts 9:15-16, But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." I suppose that nobody approached you in that manner when you entered seminary?

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  21. You missed this gem from the Fuller Seminary survey:

    "Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study."

    So they received responses from 110% of the pastors they surveyed?

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  22. John,

    I may have accidentally deleted your comments when trying to delete DM's rantings. If so, I apologize.

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  23. John,

    Note in my post what I said: While I would not criticize anyone for having clinical depression, depression due to discouragement is another matter

    Clinical depression is a medical matter due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression due to discouragment or feeling trapped in a job you don't like is another matter.

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  24. There's a interesting study yet to be done about this "Family Values" leadership crowd given three aspects of the survey:

    77% felt they did not have a good marriage
    38% said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
    30% either has an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

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  25. Has anyone thought about the fact that every member of the congregation inundates the pastor with their problems. Perhaps, it is just human nature to become depressed when all you hear from other people are their problems. If you look at statistics among psychologists, marriage counsellors, and the like you will find very simislar results. Pastors are just people.

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  26. I was discouraged even before going into the ministry (so I didn't), and was getting more and more depressed just being an evangelical Christian. Now that I know it's not true, I can understand why one would have all the struggles that will manifest as a consequence. And until one realizes the falsehood therein, you will continue to experience these struggles. These surveys indicate that it is obviously not a matter of having this so-called "relationship with God" that "would" make a believers life any better than a non-believers.

    Don, "Pastors are just people", exactly. Yet the bible will have you think that no other occupation will show these similarities.

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  27. You wrote: "The very name of the conference is interesting-- Refuel . Why is it that Christians have to constantly be refueled and recharged in order to keep going? Why do they have to be reminded all of the time that their God is real?"

    Simple: You can't go very far on bullshit.

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  28. Ken - "They should be the very cream of the crop as it relates to "true" Christians and yet look at the statistics. I didn't make these up. Jerry Falwell's son is concerned; the Francis Schaeffer insitute is concerned. You should be concerned."

    Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 call for pastors to evidence a certain level of maturity for leadership. Most of those same qualifications were expected of deacons as well. Nowhere does the NT expect pastors to be free from the same struggles every other Christian deals with. I would point out that even Paul dealt with "professional" stress and matters of continuing sanctification (cf. Rom. 7:14ff; 2 Cor. 11:28). I believe one of the reasons many people get so disheartened when pastors experience the same struggles they experience is that they have historically expected pastors to be "super-Christians," rather than understand that their pastors are sinners saved by grace and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit just like them. Pastors are called to lead, model, and equip the saints. That is a high calling with commensurate pressure (cf. Don in TX). The other side of the coin is that too often pastors elevate themselves to a level God has not set for them. They expect themselves to be perfect when perfection in this life is not possible. I have found some of my most sincere and real ministry is when I share my faults with people. Pastors are not a specialized class of Christians. Such a laymen/clergy disparity has historically contributed to the current problem.

    For the record, I am concerned. These very things were the impetus behind my direction in my doctoral work. I do find it interesting that even secular companies and professions use the retreat methodology to provide training, respite, and a sense of fellowship and commraderie in their various fields. This is not Christian specific.

    My goal was to show that in spite of these issues, evangelical pastors are quite satisfied with their jobs. I would admit certain statistics are difficult to harmonize. Furthermore, pastoral stress is no different from that of other professions. Doctors, for example, have been trained to deal with patients, service providers, insurance companies, etc. They have a high degree of training and should be the cream of the crop. Why is their stress level and subsequent stress levels so high?

    Just because evangelical Christian pastors aren't "perfect" is not legitimate proof that Christianity is false. I haven't seen any research, but it would be interesting to see similar polls conducted of Rabbis, Catholic priests, and a good cross-section of religious leadership to see of these stats hold true universally or are specific to evangelical Christianity.

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  29. But aren't Christians told they have the living God inside them? They have the Holy Spirit to guide them. They "can do all things thru Christ who strengthens me."

    Wouldn't you expect a different result in statistics with all that supernatural help? Why don't those powerful things actually help them?

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  30. it's interesting (terrifying?) that only 3% of the christians in that pen/parchment poll said they were never depressed and only then because they were too scared to.

    as followers of ol' gautama can tell you, happiness comes from within. not from god or money or job satisfaction and surely not through fear.

    i would mention that i myself am quite confident in declaring that i would be happy in hellfire, but that would be very egotistical of me, so i won't.

    whoops.

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  31. Statistically, it could be demonstrated that a significant number of people who win a sizable sum of money through a lottery, end up in a worse financial condition than prior to receiving the windfall. Are we to necessarily conclude that the deposited money was not real? That may be the case indeed if perhaps the person is delusional, but it more likely that although the sum of money is real and truly deposited in their account, their wisdom in stewarding that money is what is really lacking. It is my observation that modern Christianity, with which I am intimately associated, is sadly deficient in discipling its adherents to live out a counter-cultural belief system. Many do, as many who receive a lottery winning are financially bettered. But neither success nor failure to wisely appropriate one's winnings undermines the reality of the winnings themselves.

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  32. Lottery winnings? Now there's one of the weaker analogies I've seen.

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  33. Folks, the joke is that even Christians with all that God-power can indeed suffer like the rest of us but in the end they have eternal life with that jerk! Christinsanity includes thorns! It doesn'take away challenges.
    David,yes, but these winnings don't help against depression in the here and now! And we humanists don't need heavenly rewards to do good,sir!
    "Logic is its own validation and reward and ultimate meaning." Inquiring Lynn

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  34. The statistic about 57% of evangelical ministers feeling trapped in their profession reminded me of an interesting conversation I had with Fred Plumer, executive director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity. He said he frequently hears from lay leaders at fundamentalist churches who want to use some of the progressive teaching materials the Institute offers, but are stopped by their ministers -- not for theological reasons, but because the minister doesn't want to risk rocking the boat and losing his job.

    The 30% figure for evangelical ministers committing adultery with a parishioner reminded me of my wife's former pastor. As far as I know, he hasn't done it, but his wife did, and after some prayer (probably along the lines of, "Oh God, help me keep this a secret so I don't get fired") he decided to forgive her, and also the man who slept with her. In fact, there were quite a few adulterers, gamblers, thieves and liars in the congregation, who somehow could always find forgiveness and acceptance as long as they were not gay or Democrats.

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  36. Are these statistics regarding pastors worldwide, or just the U.S.? It would be interesting to see the difference between U.S. and other countries, as the church in other places is completely different than in the U.S.

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  37. The church along with the pastor as we have known it is not in the Bible. The church as we know it is one of, come in, sit down, face forward and contribute nothing. You sit there and listen to one person, usually the pastor, do it all. We all believe the Bible is the word of God. But we do follow what it says. I dare you. Look up the word church in the New Testament. Were did God have his church meet? That same New Testament says that when we come together we are all to share. The church today looks nothing at all like it shown to be in the New Testament. We have created something that God did not ask us to create. Need I say more.

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  38. "Why is it that Christians have to constantly be refueled and recharged in order to keep going? Why do they have to be reminded all of the time that their God is real?"

    There are many answers to this question and a lack of answers to this question. One, being reminded that God is real is not a constant high. Two, the Evangelical church has fallen victim of American ideals and goals, one of which being that success reflects quantity and financial security. Often what we see in the Bible is not heartily reflected in the message we hear in the American church--the AMERICAN church. Evangelicals in other countries are often able to focus a lot better than we are.

    Evangelicals are often dishonest with themselves, lack maturity and sincere interest/intimacy with ordinary people who don't think and live like they do. I grew up in the Evangelical church and it is amazing to me how many Christians have no idea how to just talk to and be with others in a normal way.

    God is not God for our happiness. Being saved, delivered, and whatever else stems from being "saved" does not alleviate our suffering and confusion.

    I deconverted too, but I still believe in God and Jesus. My ideas about the Bible, science, and purpose all changed due to bad experiences with and in church and life in general.

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  40. That's normal because we are living in this fallen world. We can't avoid disappointments and discouragements but if we love God and trust him wholeheartedly, we will still fight and stand for his glory!

    Church Mississauga

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  41. Living in this world doesn't mean a "plastic existence" for anyone. This isn't heaven. Sure, there will be times of disappointment and discouragement, but there are going to be times of happiness as well. So depends on the day, time, situations that are felt. But even in the times of discouragement, it is possible to have joy. Even the apostle Paul felt times of pressure and discouragement - 2 Cor 4, 2 Cor 7:5-13, 2 Cor. 11:28-29, etc. What brought those on? Being beaten up physically for his mission. Carrying the concerns of the people to whom he ministered. Sure there are time of disappointment such as watching someone make devastating choices, are blow up their family, or suffering and illness. But there are really good times in helping someone be able to turn life around, marriages put back together, etc. There are valuable lessons learned through adversity about the faithfulness of God and personal growth through times of hardship. Pastors were never meant to be plastic and immune to hardship and difficulty. There are many valuable lessons learned through those times as both the book of James, 1 Peter and other scripture passages show. If pastors went through life without facing and sharing in the emotions of life, then there would be charges that they didn't live in the real world. So yes, there are many seasons of life and emotions, but ultimate victory found in Jesus!

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