I was just looking at some of the data from a couple different Barna surveys of pastors from last year and where they’re at in relation to their ministry. They asked the question, have you given real serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year in January of 2021 and 29% said yes. Then by October 38% were saying yes. And of those under the age of 45, 46% of them were saying yes.
The way the question is worded, it’s not saying have you felt like quitting some days, which I think all of us do no matter what our job is, but the question was real serious consideration to quitting being in full-time history. That’s really quite significant. They’re actually looking for a way to leave ministry.
The question is why is that? Why do you think it is? I know in my world, anecdotally, as we’re seeing pastors leaving churches, most of the pastors I’m seeing leaving a ministry are also leaving the ministry, at least the vocational pastoral ministry.
On one level it’s anecdotal, but I have a pretty broad spectrum of involvement as I’m involved in transitional ministry seeking to find pastors. I would say it’s pretty clear that the number of applicants coming into positions that are open is down, which would indicate that there are actually less people out there, which is a bit of a surprise.
We actually thought in our transitional ministry, as we seek to feel lead pastor positions, there would be a lot more people who are associates in larger churches who’ve been laid off or have layoffs in pending who might be looking at these roles, but that is not happening.
Allow me to speculate as to why, which isn’t all speculation because I’ve talked to a lot of different people. In addition to the basic workload of the ministry, which can be intense and can sometimes be crazy situations, a lot of pastors in the last couple years took a lot of, let me just say it frankly, a lot of crap over COVID-19 restrictions, and being pulled in multiple directions.
In addition to that, they have the same load as everyone else in the culture, the trauma and disruption of personal life that everybody else faced through the pandemic and beyond. The great resignation, of course, hits on pastors as well. Pastors are not immune to that.
But I would say additionally, and this is something that was actually percolating a little bit, even pre-COVID. This may be my conviction coming out as you may know I’m involved in an alternative model of church, 12Church, which really is quite different from what we call legacy church or church, as we know it. There is an inherent weakness in legacy church or church as we know it or church as we’re doing it, if we’re honest wasn’t and isn’t accomplishing its goal of reaching people, growing people and making disciples.
Ministry for the most part is what newspaper people refer to as feeding the goat. There’s a newspaper that comes out every week or every day and you’ve got to feed the goat. You have to produce content for that machine, which is the way a lot of pastoral ministry is. The services and classes always come and we’ve gotta produce the content for that and the truth is a lot of people just aren’t prepared to do that anymore. It doesn’t feed their soul.
It seems in some cases, I would say, hypocritical and yes, while some pastors may be moving away from the faith, a lot of them are not moving away from the faith. A lot of people who are “deconstructing their faith” aren’t actually deconstructing their faith, but are deconstructing their church involvement. They’re moving away from church as we know it, and they still want to walk with Christ.
They still want to be disciples, but they can’t continue in it as it is and it can be an integrity issue. It can be a capacity issue, but some people are just saying we’re not gonna do it. We’re just not going to do it.
And as I heard someone comment on a podcast recently, when thousands of people are doing something like deconstructing their faith, or in this case, pastors moving away from the ministry, maybe the problem isn’t with those people. Maybe the problem is with the larger system.
So where do we land this little observation? Well, I would say that if you are seriously considering quitting being in full-time ministry, I just wanna ask you to reconsider. Think about what that means and what that looks like to make sure that you are walking tight with God and not making decisions from a place of fatigue. That you’re actually running to something versus running from something.
As you think about your decision or think about even continuing ministry, the best thing you can do is self-care. The best thing you can do is decide right now to set a sustainable pace of life and ministry. If the church or the role you’re in does not allow you to live a balanced life where you take care of your health and take care of your family while still working hard and putting in an honest week’s work, then let them let you go. But you set a sustainable pace and be in it for the long haul.
I would just say, whenever you’re considering a career move, whether it between ministries or out of ministry, it’s very important that in addition to all of the pros and cons and everything else that we do, it comes down to, you’ve really got to hear from God. I learned this in my very first pastoral transition. You can do all the pro and conning you want. You can make all the charts you want. But you’ve got to be in the place where you are really in a place of rest, a place of abiding in Christ as in John 15. Asking the questions and seeking advice from wise people in your life and being open to the leading of the Spirit. Sometimes in direction you may not have thought of or sometimes the direction is to stay exactly where you are, but ultimately it comes down to hearing from God.
So I would encourage you to pursue the Lord, to seek his face, to hear his voice, and to make your big decisions from a place of rest and abiding. Wisdom to you as you wrestle through what it means to be a disciple who makes disciples in this season, whether it’s in vocational ministry or not, that is the call.
Keep walking that walk. God bless and press on.