I’m still kind of shocked at the differences between pastors and people in the pews. A couple of years back when I was at seminary, Conrad Kanagy stopped by to present some of the information on his study of MCUSA. Specifically of interest was his analysis of the differences between pastors and lay people in a wide range of areas. Some of them are quite striking. I was working on some stuff on youth and religion and came across this article on the Mennonite website where he articulates many of the diferences. I’ve included the full text below. It’s worth a read. I’d be interested to hear from you all in the comments section what this might mean in your context at your church.
Pastors and lay people
Mennonite Member Profile 2006 was sent to a sample of 500 active and active-without-charge ministers in Mennonite Church USA. Sixty-five percent of these ministers responded to the survey. What have we learned about Mennonite pastors and how they compare to lay members?
Childhood socialization: Differences between pastors and lay members show up early in life. Pastors attended church more regularly as children than members—96 percent attended weekly, compared with 87 percent of members. Pastors (59 percent) are more likely to identify a “specific moment” when they accepted Christ as Lord and Savior compared with members (49 percent). And pastors were baptized earlier in their lives—at 12.5 years of age on average, compared with 13.9 for members.
Demographics: The average age of pastors and members is the same (54 years), and pastors are as likely as members to have “other than Mennonite” backgrounds. But pastors differ substantially in educational levels, with 75 percent having a college education, compared with 38 percent of members. Pastors are much more likely to have had a Mennonite education than members, with 30 percent attending a Mennonite high school (17 percent of members), 35 percent graduating from a four-year Mennonite college or university (19 percent of members) and 40 percent graduating from a Mennonite seminary (2 percent of members).
Spirituality: Indicators of spirituality among ministers are higher than among members. Sixty-eight percent of pastors report that their religious beliefs are the “most important thing in their life,” compared with 44 percent of members. Eighty-one percent of pastors describe their relationship with God as “close” or “very close,” compared with 67 percent of members. And 87 percent of pastors identify themselves as “born again,” compared with 78 percent of members.
Theology: Pastors tend to select “middle” responses when asked about theological beliefs, likely reflecting their understanding of the complexity of theological issues. While a majority of members (51 percent) believe that “God controls most events in my daily life,” more pastors (64 percent) chose a different response—“God guides me but does not control the events of my daily life.”
When asked why Jesus died on the cross, members (84 percent) were more likely than pastors (64 percent) to say that “Jesus had to die to complete God’s plan of salvation.” Responding to the same question, pastors (24 percent) were more likely than members (9 percent) to say that “Jesus willingly died to show the power of nonviolent love.”
The Holy Spirit: Pastors are more like racial/ ethnic members in their experiences of the Holy Spirit than are other members. Seventy-seven percent of pastors believe the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit are “genuine gifts of God’s Spirit to some Christians,” compared with 61 percent of members. And 66 percent of pastors (compared with 44 percent of members) have personally experienced charismatic gifts, including casting out demons, speaking in tongues, prophesying, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and healing. Forty-six percent of pastors state that these experiences have been within the past year.
Politics: Pastors are often more politically liberal than members and more concerned about issues of social justice. Pastors are evenly divided between political parties (29 percent identifying with each party) compared with members, who are far more likely to be Republican than Democrat. More pastors choose “Independent” (27 percent) than do members (15 percent).
Pastors are more aware of issues of racism in the church and more supportive of efforts to overcome these, with 41 percent saying it is “very important” that church leaders discuss and address issues of racism, compared with 28 percent of members.
Mennonite Church USA: The commitment to and connections within Mennonite Church USA are stronger. Fifty-six percent of pastors said they will “always want to be a member” of Mennonite Church USA, compared with 48 percent of members. Twice as many pastors (35 percent) served in voluntary service, as did members (17 percent); while three times as many pastors (21 percent compared with 7 percent of members) served in an overseas assignment for three months or more.
Anabaptist identity: In their religious identity, pastors are more likely to define themselves as Mennonite or Anabaptist—84 percent of pastors compared with 66 percent of members.
Sixty-one percent of ministers “completely agree” that “nonviolence as a way of living is very important to me,” compared with 40 percent of members, and 51 percent of pastors completely agree that it is “wrong for Christians to fight in any war” compared with 32 percent of members.
Seventy-two percent of pastors “completely disagree” that “the U.S. did the right thing by going to war against Iraq” compared with 46 percent of members who disagree.
Pastoral priorities: Pastors and members differ in their understanding of what should be the priorities of pastors. When asked to check the three highest priorities, members most often affirmed preaching sermons (46 percent) and providing pastoral counseling and care (32 percent). While pastors also affirm preaching as the highest priority, they also see “shaping the congregation’s vision” (42 percent) and “equipping members for ministry” (41 percent) as other top priorities.
Racial/ethnic pastors: Mennonite Member Profile 2006 included a small sample of 37 racial/ethnic pastors (24 percent African American, 5 percent Asian, 5 percent Native American, 57 percent Latino/Hispanic, and 5 percent other). Some of the findings among these pastors include the following:
• 72 percent said their religious beliefs are the most important thing in their life;
• 44 percent were baptized in an “other than Mennonite” church;
• 89 percent call themselves “born again”;
• 89 percent believe that the charismatic gifts are genuine gifts of God’s Spirit;
• 64 percent say they will always want to be a part of their denomination;
• 71 percent believe it is very important that leaders and staff of church-related agencies reflect racial/ethnic diversity.
Conclusion: While these differences between Mennonite ministers and members may come as a surprise to some, they are confirmed by other sociological studies of clergy and members. Undoubtedly these differences play out in congregational conflicts and in the challenges of providing effective pastoral leadership. However, the differences may be vital and even necessary for effective ministry and congregational growth. Where ministers and members are too much alike, congregations may have difficulty moving beyond the status quo.
While I do not analyze the root causes of the differences between pastors and members here, several factors may play a part in the shaping of pastors:
• Earlier childhood religious and church experiences within which God’s call is felt more deeply.
• More education, particularly higher levels of Mennonite education.
• Stronger connections in the denomination and the broader Mennonite church.
• More service experiences, particularly abroad.
• Deeper encounters with human need and spiritual realities in the context of pastoral care.
Understanding the differences between pastors and members is important. For pastors, clarity about these differences may provide a helpful perspective when working through congregational conflicts and misunderstandings. For members, recognizing and validating their pastor’s distinctives could lead to greater empowerment of pastoral leadership and fulfillment of the congregation’s missional calling—communicating the good news of Jesus Christ across the street and around the world.
Conrad L. Kanagy is associate professor of sociology at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College and an ordained minister in Lancaster Mennonite Conference.
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