Why 734 Pastors Quit

By Dick Koehneke

“Why 734 Pastors Quit (and How Their Churches Could Have Kept Them)”

(In many congregations October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  Here are excerpts from an article by Lisa Cannon Green that appeared in Christianity Today in January 2016.  I hope the insights it contains will be helpful and useful.)

No sabbatical. No help with counseling. No clear picture of what’s expected.  Hundreds of former evangelical pastors say these were the crucial elements missing from the final churches they led before quitting the pastorate.

A recent study by LifeWay Research points to ways churches can encourage pastors to stay in the ministry, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville-based organization.

“Almost half of those who left the pastorate said their church wasn’t doing any of the kinds of things that would help,” Stetzer said. “Having clear documents, offering a sabbatical rest, and having people help with weighty counseling cases are key things experts tell us ought to be in place.”

In August-October 2015, LifeWay surveyed 734 former senior pastors who left the pastorate before retirement age in four Protestant denominations: the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

Trouble begins early, the survey indicates, with 48 percent of the former pastors saying the search team didn’t accurately describe the church before their arrival.

Their churches were unlikely to have a list of counselors for referrals (27%), clear documentation of the church’s expectations of its pastor (22%), a sabbatical plan for the pastor (12%), a lay counseling ministry (9%), or a support group for the pastor’s family (8%). Almost half say their church had none of these (48%).

Most expected conflict to arise, and it did: 56 percent clashed over changes they proposed, and 54 percent say they experienced a significant personal attack. Yet almost half say their training didn’t prepare them to handle the people side of ministry (48%).  “These things are interrelated,” Stetzer said. “If you’re burning out, chances are when conflict arises you’re not going to respond well, and that will make the conflict worse.”

Almost across the board, the former pastors report more negative views than 1,500 current pastors who answered the same questions a few months earlier, in March 2015.

Current and former pastors agree the job is demanding: 84 percent of current pastors and 83 percent of former pastors say they feel on call 24 hours a day, while 48 percent of each group say the demands of ministry often feel like more than they can handle.

The churches in which current pastors serve look markedly different, according to the surveys. Current pastors report their churches are more than twice as likely as those of former pastors to offer a sabbatical plan and a list of counselors for referrals, more than three times as likely to have a lay counseling ministry and a document listing expectations of the pastor, and more than four times as likely to have a pastor support group.

(My question:  What do you see here that you can use in your congregation?)