Despite Stress and Ministry Demands, Survey Finds Pastors Are Not Leaving the Ministry In Droves; Only 1% Abandon the Pulpit Each Year

Dennis Skley / Flickr
Dennis Skley / Flickr

Though pastors are stressed about money and overwhelming ministry demands, only one percent abandon the pulpit each year, LifeWay Research finds.

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,500 pastors of evangelical and historically black churches and found an estimated 13 percent of senior pastors in 2005 had left the pastorate 10 years later for reasons other than death or retirement. The study, released today (Sept. 1), was gathered from a survey conducted March 5-18.

“Pastors are not leaving the ministry in droves,” said Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president.

Still, pastors say the role can be tough:

— 84 percent say they’re on call 24 hours a day.

— 80 percent expect conflict in their church.

— 54 percent find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming.

— 53 percent are often concerned about their family’s financial security.

— 48 percent often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.

— 21 percent say their church has unrealistic expectations of them.

“This is a brutal job,” McConnell said. “The problem isn’t that pastors are quitting — the problem is that pastors have a challenging work environment.

“Churches ought to be concerned, and they ought to be doing what they can.”

Leaving the ministry

The survey, commissioned by the North American Mission Board and Richard Dockins, an occupational medicine physician in Houston concerned about pastoral attrition, also examined why pastors leave the ministry and what can be done to support pastors.

Looking back at the leadership of their church 10 years earlier, today’s pastors report relative stability. Forty-four percent say they were pastor of their current church 10 years ago, and 12 percent say the pastor from 2005 now leads another church. Ten percent of pastors from 2005 have retired, and 3 percent have died.

Small segments have left the pastorate, current pastors say. Two percent shifted to non-ministry jobs, and 5 percent stayed in ministry but switched to non-pastoral roles. Combined, those two groups account for known losses of less than 1 percent a year.

In some cases, current pastors didn’t know who led the church 10 years earlier (16 percent) or weren’t sure of the previous pastor’s whereabouts (3 percent). Assuming those cases follow the same pattern as the known instances, McConnell estimates a total of 29,000 evangelical pastors have left the pastorate over the past decade, an average of fewer than 250 a month.

Current pastors say a change in calling is the top reason their predecessors left the pastorate, accounting for 37 percent of departures.

Conflict in the church — something 64 percent of pastors experienced in their last church — is the second most common reason at 26 percent.

Other reasons pastors have left the pastorate include family issues (17 percent), moral or ethical issues (13 percent), poor fit (13 percent), burnout (10 percent), personal finances (8 percent), and illness (5 percent). Lack of preparation for the job was cited in 3 percent of cases.


Switching churches

Many senior pastors are relatively new to their current churches — 35 percent have been there five years or less — but most are not new to the pastorate. Fifty-seven percent of current senior pastors previously held that role elsewhere.

Most said they moved on because they had taken the previous church as far as they could (54 percent). However, 23 percent of pastors who changed churches say they left because of conflict in the church.

Church conflict often took multiple forms in pastors’ last churches, including significant personal attacks against 34 percent of the pastors.

Pastors also reported conflict over changes they proposed (38 percent), their leadership style (27 percent), expectations about the pastor’s role (25 percent), and doctrinal differences (13 percent). Thirty-eight percent faced conflict with lay leaders, and 31 percent found themselves in conflict with a church matriarch or patriarch.

More than a third of pastors (34 percent) say they left a previous church because their family needed a change. One in five found the church did not embrace their approach to pastoral ministry (19 percent). Pastors also cited poor fit and unrealistic expectations (18 percent each) as reasons for leaving. Some were reassigned (18 percent) or asked to leave (8 percent).

Click here for more.

SOURCE: Baptist Press
Lisa Cannon Green

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