Ed Stetzer Disputes the Stats Claiming Pastors are All Miserable and Want to Quit the Ministry (Part 1)


It appears that being a pastor will almost kill you, everyone is quitting, and those who stay in the ministry wish they could get out.

At least that’s what I hear at conferences, on Twitter, and on the interwebs.

The problem—it’s not true and the false report is hurting pastors and the reputation of the church and ministry.

Pastors are not quitting in droves, but bad stats are certainly spreading in droves.

The Problem

People are legitimately concerned about how many pastors are leaving the ministry. You can hear some disconcerting numbers.

The most common stat batted around is 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month. Recently, I think someone must have decided that number needed updating, so they added an extra 200 and now you hear 1,700 pastors. If you Google it, the claim is everywhere.

The problem is that we cannot find any research that validates those numbers, and the research we do have doesn’t come close to that. The Wesleyan church has done an internal study and LifeWay Research has done some research as well. When extrapolated to the whole of the pastor population, neither approaches 1,500 pastors leaving each month.

But, unfortunately it’s part of a much larger pattern of shocking statistics.

Shocking Statistics Redux

There are several claims we see a lot. “Christians and non-Christians divorce at the same rate.” We’ve sort of debunked that statistic. Then there’s the claim that the church is dying despite no real researcher anywhere believing that to be true. Or, my favourite headline, “Youth Groups are Driving Teens Away from Faith.

So where do these stats come from?

Various sources help spread these numbers. Some formerly cited them, but have since taken them down.

However, one that is frequently cited today is the Francis Schaffer Institute’s Into Thy Word. It’s a webpage by people who love the Lord and love pastors, but they give some stats they say they received from two conferences held in 2005 and 2006.

  • 77% of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage.
  • 75% of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.
  • 72% of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons.
  • 38% of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • 30% said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.
  • Those are pretty stunning statistics! But we should look a little deeper at those numbers.

The webpage indicates that these surveys were from the two conferences in California. That’s important and helpful, thought it is often left out when people quote the stats. First, this means the numbers were based on what we call a “convenience sample” and are not representative of pastors in the U.S. Secondly, the conference could have been for pastors with troubled marriages or ministries. That would obviously skew the responses received.

But then the website also gives a broader statistical look where they say, “Here is research that we distilled from Barna, Focus on the Family, and Fuller Seminary, all of which backed up our findings.”

Here they cite the “1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month” number, which we’ve already discussed. They also contend “50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.” This is a particularly stunning number since the divorce percentage for all marriages is not that high, according to marriage expert Shaunti Feldhahn. This would mean pastors’ marriages are worse than the culture.

They continue with other stats that they say “backed up” their stats. citing Barna, Focus, and Fuller. They claimed:

  • 80% of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

But They Are Not…

None of the ministries cited, however, have these stats numbers. I spoke to both Barna Group and Focus on the Family about their inclusion. Furthermore, I can’t find any reference at Fuller.

Click here for more.

SOURCE: CT The Exchange – Ed Stetzer