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Pastors are flocking to complete the Minister Survey

So far, more than 1,200 Presbyterian clergy have had their say

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Overweight but active. Satisfied with their present call but somewhat exhausted, in part because of the long hours the work often entails. Concerned with their congregation’s finances and even its survival, but not too worried about denomination-wide conflict.

The early themes expressed by the more than 1,200 Presbyterian ministers who have to date completed the Minister Survey were the topic of discussion Monday at a brown-bag session at the Presbyterian Center.

About 20,000 active and retired Presbyterian pastors were contacted via postcard about participating in the confidential 164-question survey, which takes about 45 minutes to complete. What they have to say will be used in part to tailor and tweak programs for Presbyterian clergy, such as support for those who feel isolated in rural communities, according to Dr. Susan Barnett, coordinator for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Research Services.

“I can’t make policy,” Barnett said. “But I can say, ‘Here are our findings.’”

Barnett said she and Dr. Perry Chang, research associate with Research Services, are delighted with the response so far. The Minister Survey was launched Sept. 12.

“If (the responses) stopped today, the survey process would be successful,” she said. “We have learned a lot.”

The online Minister Survey is open through Nov. 15 and can be accessed by clicking here. It’s available to clergy only; Research Services plans a second survey for commissioned lay pastors next year, as well as a look at bi-vocational ministry.

According to Chang, here are some of the themes that have emerged from the surveys returned to date:

  • Satisfaction with some exhaustion — A large majority of pastors are satisfied with and enthusiastic about their ministry. They’re also satisfied in general with their work as a religious leader. But substantial minorities say they feel worn out. The median number of hours worked weekly in congregational ministry is substantially above 40.
  • Looking for a new call — A minority of ministers are looking for or open to a new call. Among the top factors in their discerning process: the sense that God is calling, salary, family proximity, the spouse’s job prospects and whether they’d be entering a healthy ministry.
  • Similar politics and theology — Compared with non-retired ministers, most retirees are old, white and male; married; and living without children. Retirees and the non-retired are similar in their political party, theology and levels of income.
  • Overweight but active — Ministers’ median body mass index score is above the normal range. But most see themselves as healthy, and almost all engage in physical activity at least weekly. Popular activities include gardening, walking/hiking, bicycling, yoga and playing with children, grandchildren and dogs.
  • Concerns about congregational sustainability — Substantial minorities of clergy respondents say they’re concerned about their congregation’s growth, finances, survival and views about religious life. But few say they’re worried about PC(USA) conflict or a mismatch between their church’s theology and their own.
  • Age and gender discrimination — Substantial minorities say they have faced discrimination, harassment or prejudicial statements because of their age or gender. Fewer say they’ve faced discrimination because of their disability, race or sexual orientation. Ministers also mention theology and being unmarried, pregnant or parenting as impediments.

As more Minister Survey information becomes available, Research Services plans to distribute the findings in single-page reports on a variety of topics, Barnett said.

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