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Acta Theologica

On-line version ISSN 2309-9089
Print version ISSN 1015-8758

Acta theol. vol.39 n.1 Bloemfontein  2019 



The cost of "not being heard" and clergy retention1



S. Joynt

Department of Practical Theology, North-West University; Department of Practical Theology, University of Pretoria. E-mail:




Poor workplace or employee engagement results in decreased productivity and creativity as well as increased absenteeism and turnover. Being heard is a positive contributor to workplace or employee engagement and in establishing a healthy relational ecology. Conversely, not being heard adversely influences clergy's decision to remain in full-time pastoral ministry. A shortage of clergy poses a risk to the continued existence of the church as an organisation. The aim of this study was to ascertain which factors played a role in responding to the call to full-time pastoral ministry. The dichotomous category being heard/not being heard was identified as contributing to the basic social psychological process of responding to the call. Osmer's four tasks were used to view the category not being heard from a practical theological perspective. The results of the study indicate that not being heard contributes to clergy leaving full-time pastoral ministry.

Keywords: Workplace engagement, Employee engagement, Clergy, Grounded theory

Trefwoorde: Werk betrokkenheid, Werknemer betrokkenheid, Predikante, Gegronde teorie




The global church is experiencing a clergy shortage and not being heard contributes to clergy leaving full-time pastoral ministry. The code not being heard is one of twelve categories that form the six phases of the basic social process, responding to the call, which is discovered by means of classic grounded theory (CGT) exploration (Joynt 2012). The phases include preparing for the call, growing in the call, fitting into the call, defending the call, conflict in the call, and leaving the call. Not being heard is a sub-theme of the phase fitting into the call and the focus of this article. Not being heard, evident in clergy's interaction with people who exert power and or influence over them, either confirms or negates their decision to remain in the context of full-time pastoral ministry. Using Osmer's four tasks of practical theological reflection as a guideline, this article describes what is going on, namely a clergy shortage (task 1); why it is going on, namely in part because clergy are not always being heard, which affects employee engagement and subsequent retention (task 2); what ought to be going on, namely clergy as employees can and should be heard (task 3); and how might one respond, namely providing opportunities for clergy to voice/be heard (task 4).



Clergy play an important role in society by assisting those experiencing difficulty or tragedy (Dollard et al. 2003:313-314) and in the growth of the church as an organisation by equipping its members for the work of ministry in order to edify the body of Christ unto maturity (Ep. 4:11-13). A shortage of clergy affects this growth and other outcomes. Currently the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches both experience a clergy shortage (Carroll 2006:14) due to vocation change, forced terminations, sexual misconduct (Cousins 2010:53-54), feelings of burnout and frustration, financial challenges, conflict, marital or family challenges (Hoge & Wenger 2005:49), time demands (Dollard et al. 2003:315) and clergy role confusion (Cahall 2012:92-115).

The clergy shortage in the Roman Catholic Church is due to the doubling of members since the 1970s, while clergy numbers remained static (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate 2015; Mohler 2016). An increase in permanent deacons (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate 2015) and training of parishioners (The Scotsman 2016) partially mitigates the priest shortage that extends to Europe (Ireland, Germany, France, England, Wales), the United States (USA) (Catholic Online 2015), and Brazil (Future Church 2013).

Within the Protestant church, the Anglican Church, United Methodist Church, and Assemblies of God (Milbank 2008:128) are facing a clergy shortage while a serious decline in membership and clergy is expected in the United Church of Christ within the USA (Russell 2016). In comparison to the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant church is experiencing more of a distribution challenge than a shortage of clergy. Factors that contribute to the distribution challenge include insufficient remuneration, a resistance to relocate to an undesirable location, the spouse's inability to gain employment in the new location, and higher salaries needed by mid-life or second career clergy (Chaves 2001:36-37). Initially the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa expected a clergy shortage and were using retired clergy to serve in local congregations (De Villiers 2010:8), however, a number of congregations have retrenched personnel due to a decline in membership (Schoeman 2014:1) and income (Slatter 2017), thus reducing their clergy shortage.

Chang (2006) does not concede that there is a clergy shortage but states that it is rather a matter of balance. Denominational leaders consider there to be a clergy shortage due to the large vacancy rate in smaller churches, yet concurrently a great number of clergy are competing for the scarcer well-paying positions (Chang 2006). This may be true for the Protestant church, but not for the Roman Catholic Church. In particular, Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations experience less of a clergy shortage (Holm 2005:11).

Thus, in response to Osmer's question what is going on? - the first task in practical theological reflection - we observe a shortage of clergy around the world in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. This is elaborated on in the following sections.



The concept and meaning of vocation, particularly for Christians, has changed over time and may be categorised into four historical periods, namely the early church, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the modern period (Nel & Scholtz 2015:1). In the early church, vocation was a call to discipleship and community, while in the Middle Ages it transitioned to a clergy/laity split, limiting calling to only monks, priests, and bishops (Nel & Scholtz 2015:1-2). During the Reformation, a reversal conferred the dignity of calling to all work, while in the ensuing modern period the concept of vocation was secularised (Nel & Scholtz 2015:1-2).

Barth (1961:598) distinguishes between calling as vocation and calling as divine summons. He asserts that each person has a distinct vocation that is the basis for obedience to the divine summons (Barth 1961:600, 597). Nel and Scholtz (2015:4) assert that vocation may change, but the divine summons does not; however, these two are connected. For Roman Catholics the call to follow God may be experienced through means of discernment, gifts, frustration, feeling lost, a message, service, and a new name (Calahan 2016:26). For Protestants the call is to follow Christ and to live in the world through two distinct calls, namely a spiritual or general call to be a Christian (similar to the early church period) and an external or particular call to a state in life (for example, single or married) or vocation (for example, pastor or carpenter) (Schuurman 2016:52, 58). Clergy, as are all Christians, are called by divine summons to serve God and in particular, to full-time pastoral ministry.



4.1 Workplace or employee engagement

Workplace engagement is difficult to define (Bridger 2015:1). Byrne (2015:11) considers it, in practice, as "a state in which employees give 100% or more to their jobs". Some have described it as a motivational state such as the opposite to burnout (Byrne 2015:12-13) or investing in one's work role (Byrne 2015:13), while others have linked it to a form of performance (Byrne 2015:13-14). Employee engagement, a term preferred by academics, is described as a psychological state, a performance construct, a disposition, or a combination of these (Bridger 2015:3). Bridger (2015:7) considers it "a process by which people become personally involved in the success of a business", describing employee engagement as an attitude, behaviour, and outcome. Schaufeli and Salanova (2014) consider it a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption, while Swati and Sayalee (2013:315) state it as

being focused in what you do (thinking), feeling good about yourself in your role and the organisation (feeling), and acting in a way that demonstrates commitment to the organisational values and objectives (acting).

It is important to note that engagement is an internal state of being; it is "something the employee has to offer and cannot be required as part of the employment contract or objective-setting process" (Bridger 2015:4).

Mann and Harter (2016) assert that there is a worldwide employee engagement crisis. This workplace or employee disengagement is costly. It costs financially - at least £37.2 billion per year in the British economy (Byrne 2015:11), $500 billion in the US economy (Clifton 2016), and 75.6 billion in Germany (Nink, 2016). It costs in productivity - only 32% of US employees are engaged at work (Mann & Harter 2016) and many of India's patriarchal, command-and-control system businesses curb productivity (Chaturvedi & Rajgarhia 2018). It costs in creativity - 59% of engaged employees consider themselves creative compared to only 17% of disengaged employees (Krueger & Killham 2006). It costs in personnel turnover and lack of retention - there is a 10-15% difference between highly engaged and less engaged work units (Harter et al. 2002:15-17). It costs in ill health and absenteeism - disengaged employees in the US are more likely to experience health issues ranging from physical pain to depression (Harter & Adkins 2015; Imamura et al. 2016:7-8). There are noticeable benefits of employee or workplace engagement, such as increased customer loyalty or engagement, profitability, and productivity, as well as decreased personnel turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidents, and quality incidents or defects (Rios & Ray 2016).

Workplace or employee engagement increases in different ways. Engaging managers can contribute to employee engagement by responding to employees' feedback, indicating that they have been heard (Bridger 2015:80). This entails effective listening that acknowledges, responds to, and acts upon what is being heard (Baumruk 2006:27). Some managers have recognised the value of listening and paying attention to everyone, "regardless of their communication style" (Stibitz 2015). Listening to employees and putting their feedback into action contributes to personnel retention, according to 48% of respondents in a study of 6,602 participants (CareerBuilder 2013).

Employee engagement increases when there is greater participation by employees in decision making, with employees contributing more readily when they perceive a safe and secure environment and

feel that they are allowed to voice their relatively unfiltered thoughts and ideas wholeheartedly with confidence and not fear negative consequences, such as undeserved anger or disrespect (Yoerger et al. 2015:75).

Klammer, Skarlicki, and Barclay assert that

organizational improvement programs are often successful to the degree that they are informed by the ideas of their members [as they] have considerable knowledge concerning where the opportunities for improvement lie (Klammer et al. 2002:127).

Opportunities to provide input into decisions increases buy-in, contributing to effective organisational change (Klammer et al. 2002:127). Lewis (2016:218) contends that organisations spend much energy obtaining buy-in from their employees, which normally follows after plans are made. Employees need to be convinced of the significance of the plans. She suggests that co-creative methodologies can be used to include those affected by the proposed change from the beginning, inviting them to co-design change, contribute their expertise, be heard, be valued, have a role in shaping their destiny, and co-creating an attractive future that does not need to be "sold" to them (Lewis 2016:218).

Being heard enables stakeholders to become active participants and provides a basis for development (Elisha-Primo et al. 2015:14-15) and leaders' empowering behaviours, namely assisting "employees to feel safe, confident, persevering, and flexible", contribute to "employees' positive state of mind towards their personal work and life" thus boosting their psychological safety (Park et al. 2017:360-361). According to Swati and Sayalee (2013:315) the top drives of engagement, in order of importance, are 1) senior management's interest in employees' well-being, 2) challenging work, 3) decision-making authority, 4) evidence that the company is focused on customers, 5) career advancement opportunities, 6) the company's reputation as a good employer, 7) a collaborative work environment where people work well in teams, 8) resources to get the job done, 9) input on decision making, and 10) a clear vision from senior management. A defining factor contributing to employee engagement is "upward employee voice and senior manager receptiveness to voice" (Ruck et al. 2017:912), while employee disengagement occurs when there is an inability to change in the workplace, because of not being heard (Catling et al. 2017:141), resulting in fatigue and powerlessness (Catling et al. 2017:144). The feeling of having little input or voice within an organisation is equated with (un)fairness within the organisation (Catling et al. 2017:143).

One may ask why good employees, who are not heard, remain in bad organisations. According to Buchko et al. (2017:733-734) good employees remain in bad organisations because of economic dependence (needed financial compensation), psychological commitment (societal values and social status of perceived organisation), and interdependent commitment (a lack of quality alternatives and the investment that has already been made). Buchko et al. (2017:738) states

employees who find themselves in abusive organizations are similar to individuals in abusive relationships. The mechanisms that cause people to remain in situations of domestic abuse may be the same ones that cause employees to stay in abusive organizations.

There are, in some instances, hindrances to workplace or employee engagement, namely "successful companies seek out ideas from all employees and then put good ideas into practice", however, insecure managers perceive employees' well-meaning feedback to be challenging them and as a result often do not solicit employee feedback (Simon 2015). When employees are not heard, it is detrimental to the organisation, because of the loss of access to important information, the lack of respect and trust of the personnel, and ultimately the financial implication with regard to personnel turnover that affects client satisfaction (Carr 2014:viii). However, positive outcomes of workplace or employee engagement include employees reporting to being more innovative in their jobs when they feel included by their leaders (Prime & Salib 2014:2). A millennial focus group summarises it by stating

What incentives [sic] me is not beer and pizza but being heard and recognized. I want to be involved and able to have an impact (Ndlovu 2017).

In effect, being heard is a positive contributor to workplace or employee engagement and in establishing a healthy relational ecology.

4.2 Civic virtue

A key contributor to enhancing workplace engagement is the nurture of civic virtue among employees. Civic virtue, a component of organisational citizenship behaviour, is "the willingness of an employee to speak up and make constructive suggestions, which is often critical for organizational change" and is the "responsible and constructive involvement in the governance of an organization" (Klammer et al. 2002:122-123). It includes: 1) keeping informed of the organisation's goals and intentions, 2) encouraging co-workers to be informed and to participate responsibly, 3) sharing ideas and suggesting improvements, and 4) being willing to identify and speak out regarding potential problems. Employees who speak up increase organisational effectiveness, yet organisations are not always successful in generating civic virtue in their members. Civic virtue benefits include the generation of new ideas and a feedback mechanism necessary for the growth and improvement of organisations (Klammer et al. 2002:122).

People engage in civic virtue when procedures to voice (speak up) are provided and they perceive they are heard by their superiors (Klammer et al. 2002:122). Voice procedures include "employee empowerment programs, appeal processes, suggestion programs, open door policies, and participative management" and "committees, open line phones, ombudspersons, question and answer newsletters" as well as suggestion boxes, digital feedback tools, and engagement surveys (Steinbach 2018), but these

may not be related to civic virtue if employees do not feel that they are being heard by the organisation's leaders (Klammer et al. 2002:122-123).

Being heard is an "important mediator in the relationship between voice and civic virtue" (Klammer et al. 2002:127). Linked to civic virtue is the idea of voice behaviour. Voice behaviour refers to "... making innovative suggestions for change and recommending modifications to standard procedures even when others disagree" (Van Dyne & LePine 1998, cited in Ilkhanizadeh & Karatepe 2017:8-9). It benefits the organisation by improving

the quality of work life, providing new ideas for improvement in complaint handling, and encourage others to display voice behavior" (Ilkhanizadeh & Karatepe 2017:16).

Noticeably, highly engaged employees exhibit voice behaviour (Ilkhanizadeh & Karatepe 2017:9).

4.3 Being heard

"The precise nature of the listening process [including being heard] is difficult to conceptualize" (Meyers 2000:149) and the construct being heard is subjective with "no one precise manner in which clients [feel] understood" (Meyers 2000:152). The experience of being heard is linked to the experience of being emphatically understood (Meyers 2000:155, 169) and factors contributing to this include safety and trust (Meyers 2000:164). For some, the experience of not being heard or understood is experienced as 1) a loss of self, 2) frustration, 3) feeling shut out, and 4) feeling alone (Meyers 2000:157), while attentiveness and giving feedback are signs of being listened to and heard (Meyers 2000:159; see Fisher 2016).

Being heard comprises, among others, the process of voicing (Carr 2014:vii, 50). Voice refers to the mechanisms through which employees can express their opinions and concerns, and signals to employees that their ideas are welcome (Klammer et al. 2002:123). Voicing occurs in three phases: willingness, engaging, and assessing (Carr 2014:50-51).

The process includes a willingness to offer voice, engaging by participation, assessing if the voice has been heard by observing how input is received and acted upon, and a decision to continue if the outcome is favourable (Carr 2014:50-51). Voice is ineffective when employees feel organisational decision makers do not hear them and is only valuable when

the person perceives the other party is actually listening to what is being said, and is taking these views, concerns, and suggestions into consideration when making decisions (Klammer et al. 2002:123; Brown 2017:63).

Burris, Detert and Romney (2013:22) investigating speaking up and being heard, found that 1) agreement between managers and employees regarding employees' high level of voice leads to favourable outcomes for employees, 2) negative outcomes arise when employees overestimate their voice relative to their manager's perception, and 3) positive outcomes arise when employees underestimate their voice relative to their manager's perception. Employees overestimating their voice in comparison to their managers' perception of their voice results in employees being seen and rated as worse performers (Burris et al. 2013:31, 33), while underestimating voice results in being rated as better performers and includes a lower risk of being fired (Burris et al. 2013:33). A manager's perception of the employee's voice has great influence and feedback to employees when their voice has been constructive and could assist in aligning managerial and employee perceptions regarding their voice (Burris et al. 2013:36). Employees learn from their interactions with their supervisors, as well as how their supervisors treat others, whether they will be heard or not (Klammer et al. 2002:123).

Scientists (and in like manner managers as persons with organisational power and or knowledge) have benefited from the special status of "expert", which confers legitimacy as well as the right to speak and be heard (Roth et al. 2004:156). This has provided a disproportionate measure of voice (to speak and be heard) to those in higher positions, often allowing the "experts" uncurtailed time and focus to present their ideas as opposed to "non-experts" who are considered as offering their opinion (Roth et al. 2004:168-169). One way to counter a speaking and listening imbalance is to address the balance of power by giving all role-players equal opportunities to speak uninterrupted while others listen attentively (Brown 2017:58).

Personal identity and self-esteem have been associated with feeling valued by an organisation and with an organisation's policies and procedures being highly symbolic of its values (Klammer et al. 2002:123).

The degree to which an employee believes their suggestions are heard or considered is the degree to which they believe they are part of the social contract that values them and treats them with respect and dignity (Klammer et al. 2002:123). Voicing can be exercised or withheld, as Ruck et al. (2017:906) states

In practical terms, an employee can exercise voice by chatting to colleagues over coffee; by raising a work issue with their line manager; or by expressing an opinion in an annual employee survey. Likewise, the employee can exercise silence by withholding an idea in a project meeting; by holding back on asking a question at a meet-the-CEO event; or by not mentioning criticisms in an engagement survey.

Not being heard is observed at macro-, meso-, and micro levels. At the macro-level (nationally) both Jammine (Duvenage & Serrao 2015:xiii) and Duvenage (Duvenage & Serrao 2015:78) state that governments do not listen to people, for example, the failure of the South African public to convince the government of their aversion to the manner the government has chosen to implement e-tolls. The meso-level (organisationally) and micro-level (individually) are the foci of this article2, namely that the church as an organisation does not always listen to its employees (clergy) and subsequently the latter do not consider themselves to be heard, nor do managers or leaders always listen to those entrusted to their oversight, resulting in the same outcome.

4.4 Employee engagement concerning clergy

Clergy face a unique challenge in that their context is religious by nature and that they as individuals, their families, their community, and the very institution they are employed by, are tightly woven together, making it very difficult to understand conflicts between personal life, family, and work (Knight Johnson 2018:2). This dualistic experience of church as both spiritual community and employer complicates relational and workplace dynamics (Knight Johnson 2018:4-5). Although clergy speak positively of the church while viewing it through the lens of community, "noting how the congregation's approach aligns their own belief that a church is more than a conventional workplace", conflict arises when 1) they experience "the church as an inflexible employer", and 2) they voice their disappointment and frustration with "the congregation's approach that conflicts with the pastor's ideological notion of church as a mutually supportive community" (Knight Johnson 2018:5). For clergy, workplace practices

means care for family and care for self are important components in how a church functions as an employer, promoting a healthy approach to work-life integration (Knight Johnson 2018:8).

However, sometimes "clergy compartmentalize work, family, and personal life as a response to competing demands" (Knight Johnson 2018:16). For clergy, the notable differences between corporations and churches include, among others, motivating factors such as profits (corporations) and religious beliefs and values (churches), while similarities include assessing either of these two by size, budget, and employment benefits, such as "salary, autonomy, security, and support" (Knight Johnson 2018:11).

Being heard or having a voice is an important aspect of workplace or employee engagement for all employees, including clergy, which in turn contributes to workforce retention for employers. The cost of disengagement, including lack of retention, has been considered in the preceding sections and clergy are not exempt from it. The following sections discuss the research methodology, findings, and discussion concerning the contribution of being heard to clergy retention.



A research opportunity was identified, namely a shortage of clergy, and a research question formulated, namely, why are clergy in South Africa leaving full-time pastoral ministry? This was followed by a classic grounded theory exploration of pastors trained at the bible college of a charismatic megachurch.

Evans (2013) describes grounded theory as a "methodology for inductively generating theory." This is achieved by using four types of coding: open, selective, axial, and theoretical (Evans 2013). Data are obtained via multiple sources: interviews, memos, records, and other means as "all is data," according to Glaser (Evans 2013). Open or substantive coding develops a set of categories and their properties, while selective coding selects one category as a core concept and groups other codes around it (Evans 2013). Axial coding is a set of procedures, using a coding paradigm, to reassemble data in new ways following open coding, while theoretical coding conceptualises "how the substantive codes may relate to each other as hypotheses to be integrated into the theory" (Evans 2013). Birks and Mills (2015:10) consider essential grounded theory methods to include

initial coding and categorization of data; concurrent data generation or collection and analysis; writing memos; theoretical sampling; constant comparative analysis using inductive and adductive logic; theoretical sensitivity; intermediate coding; identifying a core category; and advanced coding and theoretical integration.

Grounded theory, since its inception in 1965, has evolved into four streams, 1) classic grounded theory (Glaser), 2) qualitative data analysis (Strauss), 3) constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz), and 4) feminist grounded theory (Wuest) (Evans 2013). Classic grounded theory, based on the original work of Glaser and Strauss in 1965 and 1967, and selected for this study, evaluates the empirical grounding of theory by means of 1) fit, 2) understandability, 3) generalizability, and 4) control (Evans 2013).

Participants were sourced from Hatfield Training Centre (HTC), a church-based training institution at Hatfield Christian Church (HCC) located in Pretoria, South Africa. Permission to access student records dating back to 1989 was obtained and yielded 188 potential participants. The research criteria and limitations for selecting participants were: 1) commencement of undergraduate-level theological studies at HTC during 1990-2010, 2) employment in a full-time pastoral ministerial capacity by a church, 3) subsequently leaving full-time pastoral ministry, and 4) residing in South Africa. Ethical procedures followed included: 1) obtaining informed consent, 2) obtaining permission to use and reuse data, 3) communicating freedom to exit the study at any time without negative reprisals,

4) assuring confidentiality, 5) selecting venues conducive to participant safety and emotional wellbeing, and 6) offering support where needed. Participants, ten in total, were all male. There were very few females in the sample population and those contacted had declined participation. Full-time pastoral ministry positions held by participants included student pastor, assistant pastor, associate pastor, pastor, congregational pastor, or district pastor. Some of the participants, after training, proceeded to respond to their call at other churches while others did so at HCC itself.

Data collected via semi-structured interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, coded, and compared in cyclical patterns until categories and their properties were identified. Theoretical saturation was achieved when no new codes or categories emerged and the process concluded with the construction of the substantive grounded theory. Coding of incidents produced 4,010 rows, 235 unique codes, and 7 main categories. Incidents (also known as episodes using Osmer's terminology) were labelled as ministry experience incidents or MEIs, which could be either positive or negative in nature. These coded and sorted MEIs resulted in the discovery of a basic social process called responding to the call. Being heard was identified as an important positive ministry experience incident that reinforces the call, while not being heard was a negative ministry experience incident that weakens responding to the call (Joynt 2012:217).



The data yielded 235 codes that were clustered into 12 categories. These 12 categories were further clustered into 7 main categories that comprised a core category responding to the call with its six supporting categories (preparing for the call, growing in the call, fitting into the call, defending the call, conflict in the call, and leaving the call) that described the basic social process responding to the call. The category not being heard with its 26 codes, which is the fourth highest number of codes of the 12 categories, forms part of the supporting category fitting into the call (Joynt 2012:189). Properties of this category include: wanting others to speak up to support being heard, frustration at not being heard, not receiving feedback regarding suggestions, a desire to contribute but not being heard, being considered too inexperienced, namely "too young" to be heard, and actually being heard.

Although the category being heard accounted for a small number of codes that contributed to clergy leaving full-time pastoral ministry at a church, it was fourth highest of the twelve categories that constituted the basic social process of responding to the call. The breakdown is as follows: 1) 89 codes for calling (28,8%), 2) 44 codes for leadership (14,2%), 3) 34 codes for control (11%), 4) 26 codes for (not) being heard (8%), 5) 22 codes for leaving (7%), 6) 21 codes for conflict (6,7%), 7) 19 codes for church as institution (6%), 8) 14 codes for (not) being affirmed (4,5%), 9) 13 codes for fit (4,2%), 10) 11 codes for challenging (3,6%), 11) 10 codes for job description (3,2%), and 12) 6 codes for finances (2%). These figures total 309 codes, as a number of the 235 unique codes were used more than once when a fit was found for more than one category.

6.1 Speaking up and not being heard

Participants experienced situations of not being heard and indicated their frustration with 1) being the only person speaking up and not being heard, 2) others not speaking up and therefore not contributing to them being heard, 3) repeatedly speaking and not being heard, 4) not receiving feedback, and 5) wanting to contribute and not being heard.

Interview 1:

Because maybe if it is just not me saying these things and more people speak up, maybe someone would realise something but people don't speak up. (Participant 1, male, 35 years)

Interview 2:

It's just that he was so frustrated because he had spoken to Pastor XXX [the senior pastor] lots of times. (Participant 2, male, 32 years)

Interview 3:

No, I wasn't heard. And I never got anything [feedback]. At one stage I wrote something about a programme. I worked out a whole thing for teaching students and how they should be given out as assistants to pastors. (Participant 3, male, 76 years)

Interview 11:

I just don't know, it sometimes felt that you weren't most probably heard and that you wanted to contribute and that you wanted to do, um just wasn't well, heard. (Participant 8, male, 41 years)

Interview 2:

... there would be some [backing from the parent church] even if there's a meeting that's called and both sides are heard. There was nothing like that. (Participant 2, male, 32 years)

6.2 Lack of experience and not being heard

Participants indicated their frustration with being considered too inexperienced due to their age, namely being "too young", or their marital status, namely being unmarried.

Interview 1:

"Jy's Pietie en ek is al twintig jaar in die ministry, wat weet jy?" [Translation: You are young and I have been in the ministry for twenty years, so what do you know?] That kind of attitude, like, ok well, then at some point you don't challenge anymore. [...] that is a general leadership issue "I have been in the position for 15/20 years and you are still learning". (Participant 1, male, 35 years)

Interview 2:

Ja [Yes]. I could make decisions. Ja [Yes] that was beginning I would say, um, ja [yes] February, March [date redacted]. That's when I started moving, not entirely, because I only became the pastor over the younger guys in [date redacted] after I was married. (Participant 2, male, 32 years)

6.3 Actually being heard

One participant indicated that at times, his leader actually listened and he felt heard.

Interview 1:

Um, he was very open minded. We had a meeting once or twice a month. Just had some coffee. And he asked, he actually asked... (Participant 1, male, 35 years)

Codes derived from open coding and grouped to form the axial code being heard/not being heard included 1) being the only one who speaks up, 2) giving input: age difference shouldn't be a barrier but it is, 3) giving input: lack of opportunity to do so, 4) giving input: only able [qualified] to do so when married, 5) leadership determining appropriate age to be heard or give input, 6) colleagues not heard by the leadership, 7) input not received or opportunity not provided to give it, 8) issues "pushed to the side", 9) letters unanswered, 10) no opportunity given to speak or defend oneself, 11) no opportunity to engage or communicate, 12) not allowed to question leaders, 13) observing someone else not being heard, 14) repetitive cycle of not being heard by leaders, 15) self not heard by the leadership, 16) self not heard by the leadership ("still learning"), and 17) stating that people don't speak up (Joynt 2012:181-183).



Clergy respond to a call while other professions may consider theirs a response to a vocation. A number of factors influence clergy's negative response to that call, namely not being heard contributes to their decision to leave full-time pastoral ministry.

Firstly, participants indicated the following barriers to not being heard: being the only one who speaks up and lacking support from others who feel the same; being considered too young or unmarried and therefore too inexperienced to be heard; observing others not being heard thus negatively affecting their own voicing (see Klammer et al. 2002:123); experiencing a lack of opportunities to engage, communicate and provide contributions; experiencing the trivialising of matters important to them; not receiving feedback concerning suggestions made, (see Bridger 2015:80 and Baumruk 2006:27); being prohibited from questioning a leaders' authority; and experiencing a repetitive cycle of not being heard by leaders. Secondly, participants' workplace or employee engagement was reduced (interview 1 and 2) or eliminated (interview 3 and 11) by means of the above barriers. Personnel turnover increased and retention decreased due to their leaving full-time pastoral ministry. Thirdly, civic virtue, namely making constructive suggestions for organisational change, decreased when feedback was not provided (interview 3) underscoring that providing mechanisms for contributions is only effective to the degree participants feel they are heard and can contribute meaningfully to their organisation (see Klammer et al. 2002:122).

7.1 A practical theological lens

The four tasks of practical theological interpretation was used to reflect on the findings regarding the role of not being heard contributing to clergy leaving full-time pastoral ministry (Osmer 2008:4). Firstly, the descriptive-empirical task seeks to answer the question: what is going on? (Osmer 2008:4). The research data indicate that clergy leave full-time pastoral ministry due to a number of factors, including not being heard, which has been discussed in the preceding sections.

Secondly, the interpretive task seeks to answer the question: why is this going on? (Osmer 2008:4). Classic grounded theory discovers the core category responding to the call and its various properties, including the property not being heard. Episodes (Osmer 2008:12) describes ministry experience incidents (MEI's) related to not being heard while situations (Osmer 2008:12) describes not being heard's contribution to clergy's choice to leave. The context (Osmer 2008:12) was being in full-time pastoral ministry. Participants experienced not being heard because of being a lone voice speaking up, being considered too inexperienced (too young or unmarried), ceasing to speak up when observing others were not being heard, being unable to contribute, and not receiving feedback when contributing suggestions to the organisation, namely practicing civic virtue. The value of being heard was considered in the light of workplace or employee engagement and civic virtue in order to answer the question: why is this going on?

Thirdly, the normative task seeks to answer the question: what ought to be going on? (Osmer 2008:4). God listens to his people (1 Jn 5:14-15, Ps 66:17-20) and his people are instructed to listen to one another (Ja 1:19). In addition, God is "not heard" by his people (Je 7:13) while his people do not listen to one another (1 Ki 12:13-15). In specific reference to human interaction, clergy and the church should be the model of listening in a manner that persons sense they are heard. Being heard consists of the process of voicing (Carr 2014:vii, 50), which includes a willingness to speak up, engaging by participating, assessing the effect of voicing by observing the response to it, and deciding to continue if the outcome is favourable (Carr 2014:50-51). It should be noted that there are exceptions, when voicing needs to proceed despite an unfavourable response. Jeremiah repeatedly warned Israel of pending calamity because of their disobedience and their refusal to heed his warnings regarding their fate (Je 18:18) and he personally suffered unfavourable outcomes.

Fourthly, the pragmatic task seeks to answer the question: how might we respond? (Osmer 2008:4). The church as an organisation could facilitate the process of voicing by providing numerous and varied opportunities for employees to speak up and be heard, to engage by participating, and to see for themselves how their input is received and acted upon ( see Carr 2014:50-51). By taking their input seriously (Klammer et al. 2002:123; Brown 2017:63) regardless of the employee's style in communicating their ideas (Stibitz 2015) and providing feedback (Bridger 2015:80), the church as an organisation can contribute to greater workplace or employee engagement. Acquiring empathetic listening skills and engaging with the other will also contribute to increased levels of engagement.



Clergy play an important role concerning the church's mandate to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20). A clergy shortage negatively affects the church in fulfilling its role of replicating the Christian faith spiritually, numerically, and geographically. This article, based on a classic grounded theory study (Joynt 2012), identified factors contributing to a shortage of clergy in South Africa. A basic social process responding to the call and its six properties was discovered and the category not being heard, comprising 26 codes, formed part of the supporting category fitting into the call (Joynt 2012:189). Findings indicate that clergy leave full-time pastoral ministry for three reasons, namely 1) not being called in the first place, 2) having a bi-vocational (parallel) or seasonal (sequential) call, and 3) leaving due to a number of factors, including not being heard - the focus of this article. Participants indicated frustration at being the only one to speak up and not being heard (participant 1), frustration at repeatedly not being heard (participant 2), receiving no feedback on suggestions made (participant 3), desiring to contribute but not being heard (participant 8), and being considered too young or not yet married and thus unqualified, by lack of experience, to be heard (participant 1). The value of the study is that it identified the basic social process responding to the call with one of its properties, namely not being heard, as contributing to clergy leaving full-time pastoral ministry.

Limitations included sourcing participants that met the required criteria mentioned in the preceding methodology section. Additional limitations included using non-research specific software, such as Microsoft Excel, instead of ATLAS.ti or NVivo; excluding other denominations and theological training institutions in South Africa; and not evaluating the preparation of clergy within the selected theological training institution, namely HTC.

With reference to being heard, future research in the area of retaining clergy called to full-time pastoral ministry could investigate the presence and effectiveness of empathetic listening skills training at seminary and university level. Empathetic listening consisting of deciding to listen with empathy; using clues to convey intentional listening; listening for underlying feelings, needs, or values; remaining present; responding verbally; looking for clues that the speaker has finished speaking; and, reflecting on the experience afterwards (Tayal et al. 2017) needs to be compulsory and not provided as an elective, if at all, at these institutions. Future research could include the investigation into the presence and effectiveness of empathetic listening skills training in continuous professional development (CPD) programmes in accordance with professional accreditation standards. Clergy acquiring these skills and using them effectively could provide an example to congregants to emulate. Future research could include the investigation into the presence and effectiveness of empathetic listening skills training in clergy resiliency programmes (Elkington 2013:11-12) that prepare clergy for the personal cost of a ministry career as well as realising the value of hardship in their shaping as clergy - including not being heard at times. However, we need to remember that clergy, as part of humanity, also desire and need to be heard.



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Date Published:: 24 June 2019



1 This article was presented in draft form as a conference paper at the annual meeting of the Society for Practical Theology in South Africa held from 17-19 January 2018 in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa. Both the conference paper and subsequent article focus on one of the core categories of the author's PhD dissertation, namely (not) being heard.
2 An EBSCOhost search conducted on the 2nd of May 2019 using the keywords clergy + "being heard" delivered only nine results, of which none were academic in nature and only two were remotely relevant to the topic. The following databases were accessed: Academic Search Complete, Africa-Wide Information, Atla Religion Database with AtlaSerials, Audiobook Collection (EBSCOhost), eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), E-Journals, ERIC, Family & Society Studies Worldwide, Humanities Source, Library & Information Science Source, MasterFILE Premier, New Testament Abstracts, Newspaper Source, Old Testament Abstracts, Philosopher's Index, PsycARTICLES, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, Teacher Reference Center, TOC Premier. The lack of research in the area of workplace engagement and church leaders is noted by Miner, Bickerton, Dowson & Sterland (2015:58).

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