Vision Conflict By Dr. Charles A. Wickman

(excerpt from “Measuring the Level of Pastors’ Risk of Termination/Exit from the Church” by Dr. Charles A. Wickman)

The term vision conflict does not exist as a named dimension in any of the literature associated with research involving clergy. However, numerous scholarly and popular press sources discuss clergy’s feelings of disparity between what they expected to happen by answering the call to ministry and the events that actually take place that create a sense of conflict about what they think should be the results of their ministry. From the outset of Wick man’s (1984) practitioner work that informed the development of PaRI, one of the frequent areas of discussion with clergy revolved around their sense for why they were called into the ministry and the irregularity between what clergy expected the call to entail and what actually occurred: “Once in the ministry there are problems and pastors can begin to question whether they were called” (C. Wickman, personal communication, July 23, 2008). The negative satisfaction, limited sense of joy, loss of meaning and calling—as depicted in items 6, 19, 26, and 28 (Table 1)—these are indicators that ministry expectations have fallen short of actual experiences and that vision conflict exists.

The connection between a sense of unrealistic expectations in ministry and vision conflict are unquestioned. Lehr’s (2006) research examining clergy concluded that ministry lives tend to be constructed around great demands, high stress, unrealistic expectations, amid environments of conflict, and are thus vulnerable to lapse in to codependent practices that bring further endangerment. According to Clinton (1988), there is an inner expectation for ongoing ministry development in the life of clergy even though trials and frustration are natural experiences for clergy. Weber and Goetz (1996) support the notion that vision conflict may be a result of not understanding the difficulty of the clergy role when they write, “the pastor who is most Christlike is not the one who is fulfilled in every moment of his ministry but the one whose ministry has in it unbelievable elements of crucifixion” (p. 30). Hoge and Wenger (2005) interviewed clergy who left the ministry and noted that ministers had a much different expectation about how their time would be allotted than what actually took place. Those who left the ministry “did not attribute the problem to specific conflicts within the congregation or with denominational officers; their complaints were more general, more colored by self-doubt, and more typical of individuals who are depressed” (Hoge & Wenger, 2005, p. 115). The foregoing perspectives suggest that clergy may not adequately be prepared for what they will experience in the ministry and that what this research labels as vision conflict is a natural part of what the ministry holds (White, 2007; Wickman, 1984).

The degree of disparity in the ministry expectations on the part of both parishioners and clergy exemplifies another crucial example of vision conflict in the literature (Kisslinger, 2007). Hands and Fehr (1994) observed of clergy that they were “people who had to live behind a professional façade which would impose considerable demands on their mental and emotional health” (p. xii).  According to McIntosh and Rima (1997), the unrealistic expectation by clergy to achieve success becomes coupled with personal dysfunctional realities that are a carry-over from needs from an earlier time of life. The majority of tragically fallen Christian leaders feel “driven to achieve and succeed in an increasingly competitive and demanding church environment” (McIntosh & Rima, 1997, p. 14).

The connection between the clergy’s sense of call and their motive for entering the ministry is also seen in the literature as informing an understanding of vision conflict (Jinkins, 2002). A healthy view of motive begins with values and yields beliefs, which lead to intentions, which result in behaviors (Winston, 2002). However, for some clergy, examining the motives connected with entering the ministry are covered over with false motivation or are not considered at all. Willimon (1989) posits a common tendency on the part of clergy to fail to properly evaluate the initial reasons for entering the ministry. Wood (2001) identifies motive as being a contributor to lower numbers of young people choosing pastoral ministry when he states, “why in the world would a talented young person commit to a life of low salary, low prestige, long hours, no weekends and little room for advancement” (p.19). For many clergy members, financial realities multiply the cost of their decision to minister by requiring bivocational roles in order to afford the pursuit of their calling (Bickers, 2000, 2004).

Maloney and Hunt (1991) emphasize the importance to differentiate between circumstance and personality—outside-the-person traits and individual motives. Such a differentiation allows for a clearer picture in defining the impact of individual traits such as a sense of calling that lie “somewhere between interest and feelings ” (Maloney & Hunt, 1991, p. 19). The connection between motive and vision conflict can also be seen through the willingness or ability of the clergy to adjust to changing social conditions and work circumstances. Beebe (2007) posits that little attention is paid to the internal psychological dynamics surrounding social expectations of the clergy role, and that those circumstances have greatly changed in the last three decades.  Snyder (1979) posits that some clergy have great difficulty in managing change but that the technological age portends inevitable and ongoing social change. Lack of sufficient motivation to navigate uncertain social change is related to increased vision conflict.

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