If I went by the conversations I have heard at associational pastors conferences, state and national conventions and conferences, and now various online sites, I would have concluded that my ministerial colleagues are not only under intense pressure and stress but that the brethren are leaving the ministry in great numbers.
Not so according to a recent LifeWay study: Research finds few pastors give up on ministry
Though pastors are stressed about money
and overwhelming ministry demands,
only one percent abandon the pulpit each year,
LifeWay Research finds.
This is the first time the matter has been studied. Whatever anecdotes we like to relate, whatever we have heard in the past, whatever we think and feel about pastors quitting the data show that about one out of one hundred leave the ministry in a given year for reasons other than death or retirement.
Other interesting results include,
- 65% of senior pastors have been at their present church for longer than five years.
- 44% of senior pastor were at the same church ten years ago.
- Only 8% of pastors surveyed said they they left their previous church because they had been asked to leave.
- Only 21% of pastors said that their church had “unrealistic expectations” of them.
- 92% of pastors agreed that their church “regularly provides [them] and [their] family with genuine encouragement.”
- About half of pastors said that “they often feel that the demands of ministry are more than [they] can handle.”
Every pastor ought to have a venue for the typical gripe session about churches, lack of financial support, obstreperous deacons, pressures on wife and kids, loneliness, stress, pressure for growth in church membership and giving. But sometimes these gripe sessions achieve critical mass and become emotionally unhealthy. A little perspective is always good.
- Most pastors are in a stable situation. They have been at their present church for a good, long stretch.
- Most pastors don’t feel beleaguered to the point that they are serious thinking of quitting.
- Very few pastors are forced to resign.
- The overwhelming proportion of pastors feel encouraged by their church.
But some do feel heavily beleaguered, hopeless, hapless, ineffective, and pressured.
These deserve a hearing, a heavy dose of sympathy, some concrete help, and serious prayers.
These also deserve a candid assessment by a trusted colleague or counselor:
- “You sound pretty depressed. Have you considered seeing a physician or counselor?”
- “You are in a tough church situation. It may not improve. Have you assessed the possibility of relocating? How can I help you?”
- “While I sympathize with you, do you think you have unrealistic expectations of both your church and what constitutes success as a pastor?”
- “Have you considered that you might do X and Y differently and have more success and more satisfaction?”
I served only three congregations for roughly five, ten, and fifteen year tenures. There were pressures in each. There were problem people in each one. There were successes and failures in each one. I did some things right and some things wrong in each. I did appallingly stupid things in each, though less so as time passed. In the begining I had unrealistic expectations, a fantasy picture of the role of a pastor, and I had no clue about some things that were expected of me. But God was gracious and the congregation was loving and supportive sufficient that I thank God for each of them.
A few things that helped were:
- God was always sufficient. While I didn’t always see it, I never doubted it.
- There were always folks in each church who looked respectfully to their pastor and who supported him and tried to help him succeed. Most of the active congregation was like this.
- In every church there were people who were particularly helpful and whom God used, unknowingly to them, to provide encouragement of opportune occasions.
- There were people in each church who had an understanding of unique pressures on the pastor’s wife and who were stalwart encouragers of my wife, and family.
- There was always a wise, usually older, man who knew just how to have that delicate conversation with me about some problem or deficiency in my work. I learned that such occasions were golden and such people were invaluable.
- I figured out early on that I wasn’t on the megachurch track, so I might as well do the best I could where I was.
- I learned that I was totally incapable of pastoring three churches at once: the one I had, the one I left, and the one was was dreaming about. One church at a time was best suited to my gifts and calling.
But what about that one percent who does quit? Over the course of a decade, that means one of ten. Over the course of a 40 year working lifetime, that approaches half. We should do more, do better, to avoid any attrition.
My conjecture is that there is far more support available to the pastor who thinks he is in a black hole than the hard-pressed brother is aware of or thinks. Sometimes you have to ask.