About one-third of you readers are laypersons. This article is for you. Of course, I know pastors and other vocational ministry leaders will be reading as well. Perhaps, more than my article, they will be reading your comments. They will be searching eagerly to see if anyone has a word of encouragement. They may be anticipating the responses will be a barrage of negativity they have become accustomed to receiving.
Please hear me clearly. The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime. Some are just weeks away from making an announcement. They are looking for work in the secular world. Some will move to bivocational ministry. Some will move to marketplace ministry.
But many will move.
Why has this period of great discouragement ensued? Of course, it is connected to COVID-19, but the pandemic really just exacerbated trends already in place. We would have likely gotten to this point in the next three to five years regardless.
I also want you to know that these pastors do not think they will be leaving ministry. They just believe the current state of negativity and apathy in many local churches is not the most effective way they can be doing ministry.
So, they are leaving or getting ready to leave. There are many reasons why, but allow me to share the top six reasons, understanding that they are not mutually exclusive.
- Pastors are weary from the pandemic, just like everyone else. Pastors are not super humans. They miss their routines. They miss seeing people as they used to do so. They would like the world to return to normal, but they realize the old normal will not return.
- Pastors are greatly discouraged about the fighting taking place among church members about the post-quarantine church. Gather in person or wait? Masks or no masks? Social distancing or not? Too many church members have adopted the mindset of culture and made these issues political fights. Pastors deal daily with complaints about the decisions the church makes.
- Pastors are discouraged about losing members and attendance. For sure, it’s not all about the numbers. But imagine your own mindset if one-half or more of your friends stopped engaging with you. And pastors have already heard directly or indirectly from around one-fourth of the members that they do not plan to return at all.
- Pastors don’t know if their churches will be able to support ministries financially in the future. In the early stages of the pandemic, giving was largely healthy. Church members stepped up. Government infusion of funds for businesses and consumers helped as well. Now, the financial future is cloudy. Can the church continue to support the ministries they need to do? Will the church need to eliminate positions? These issues weigh heavily on pastors.
- Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly. One pastor recently shared with me the number of criticisms he receives are five times greater than the pre-pandemic era. Church members are worried. Church members are weary. And the most convenient target for their angst is their pastor.
- The workload for pastors has increased greatly. Almost every pastor with whom we communicate expresses surprise at their level of work since the pandemic began. It really makes sense. They are trying to serve the congregation the way they have in the past, but now they have the added responsibilities that have come with the digital world. And as expected, pastoral care needs among members have increased during the pandemic as well.
Pastors are burned out, beaten up, and downtrodden.
Many are about to quit.
You may be surprised to discover your pastor is among them.
Posted on August 31, 2020
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
“Rest is not something you do apart from ministry, rest is something you do as a part of ministry,” is what we say here at En Gedi Retreat. I talk with pastors everyday who need rest and I can second that many are fully burned out. However, Covid is not the problem, Covid is what revealed a deeper problem in our churches: for years pastors have favored programs instead of transformation, numbers instead of maturity, talented staffs instead of discipleship, single pastor leading instead of a multiplication of and delegation, and work til you drop instead of healthy rhythms of rest. Covid took the people out of the pews and revealed the weaker muscles we have ignored for decades.
We don’t need a new kind of program, we need a new kind of person. We need to stop asking “What Would Jesus Do”, and start asking “What Did Jesus Do?” Then go do what he did.
Mr. Walker makes a couple of accurate points in his assessment of pastoral ministry. However, much of what he states reflects the same attitudes that have led pastors down this path of burnout for years. “Rest as part of ministry”? Mr. Walker may believe in this concept but the overwhelming majority of average church members do not. Most people, inside and outside the church, operate under the misinformed premise that ministry is not that difficult. They consider pastoral ministry to be a “cush job” where a man works a few hours a week, delivers a couple of teaching sessions, occupies a plush office during the week and gets paid far too much for his work. I am one of those ministers who demands “transformation over programs, maturity over numbers, staff over discipleship, and single pastor leadership over delegation”. My insistence on developing ministry that yields true, long term, spiritual results has only brought grief to me and my family. While ministry has always been far more demanding spiritually, physically and especially emotionally, these pressures have multiplied exponentially over the past 20-30 years. Yes, that is a long time but consider it case study of a life-long minister and pastor whose primary opposition has come from church members, most with attitudes similar to that of Mr. Walker, who say they want one thing but are unwilling to support the pastor who has the courage and commitment to God to challenge his congregation to higher spiritual goals. I leave you with this example: a few years ago I sat in a regular monthly meeting of our board of elders and listened to a woman from the congregation, who had been a member of that congregation much longer than I had been pastor of that particular church, as she railed against my insistence on preaching so much from the Bible. This woman, who was considered to be a leader among the congregation, told me that my 28 minutes sermons were way too long, that the mixture of songs chosen for our time of worshiping through music was very much “not to her liking” and that any deviation from a written program was unacceptable. I very gently tried to explain that many of my sermons and entire services were designed to lift up those in the congregation who were down, to inform those who were less informed in the ways of God that others and to “challenge long-time Christians to aspire to a deeper relationship with God.” Her reply was shocking but reflected the root of the problems pastors face today. The woman stood, pounded on the table and vehemently exclaimed, “I don’t want to be challenged! I want to come to church, be made to feel better about myself and then go home, all in less than an hour!” How many of my 7 elders spoke up in defense of the Word of God and in defense of my efforts to continue spiritual growth in all members of my congregation? ZERO! Absolutely no one would defend a service designed to make all of us better Christians and a service format that had been designed largely by the elders with whom I sat that night. In other words, the pastor was left to be “hung out to dry”, to absorb all criticism, no matter how spiritually repugnant,all by himself. No one stood with me that night except God Himself. You may say, “That is your view of the encounter and the condition of the congregation. It is probably biased.” I say, “It may be slightly biased, but after years to reflect on this encounter, I see where I was much closer to following the will of God than was this woman or the board of elders.” I wish I could say that this type of incident is isolated. However, as I talk with other ministers who dare to bare the scars of ministry, I hear the same story line over and over. I will admit that the average church in America today has a man in the pulpit who is unwilling to step out at the leading of God’s Spirit and preach the Word of God. But how many of those ministers arrived at that place in life where they were willing to compromise in order to maintain some semblance of order in his life and in the life of his family? How many have their backs to the wall, knowing that they are called by God to a congregation to be their spiritual shepherd, only to have those sheep to turn and reveal themselves as wolves draped in wool? “What DID Jesus do?” indeed. He insisted on doing the will of the Father and for His love and courage He received crucifixion in exchange. A huge number of pastors today are much more like Jesus than they would deign to admit lest they be accused of spiritual pride. We preach the Word. We recognize that programs that are not infused with God’s Spirit and conducted at His leading are worthless. We recognize that value of mature Christians in the congregation who can join the pastor in following God’s Word and His plan to grow other mature Christians by involving and delegating to other seasoned Christian leaders as, together, we move closer to God. However, the battle takes its toll. Many of us become discouraged, exhausted and burned out, feeling that we are holding ourselves together with “scotch tape and bailing wire”. There are some minsters who fit the picture that you paint. But for every ONE of those there are THOUSANDS who could use a kind word and an offer of help as they minister to a people who do not want to be challenged to greater things in Christ. May we all be like Paul as I paraphrase his words from his letter to the church in Philippi: “Brothers, I don’t count myself to have “arrived” or reached the apex of my service to God. But, forgetting the past and looking forward to the future, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. Help your pastor. He already has enough criticism.
Incredible insights and comments, Bud. Thank you.
Pastor Bud , I agree with much of what you say but my overall impression is that you have a great deal of anger and bitterness in your head. I pray this is just within this forum to vent your feelings and doesn’t appear in your congregation as such.
I pray you find peace and direction for your family during this period of turmoil
(I am not a Pastor.) You have shed light on a major problem in Christianity today. I hope you continue to preach the word the way God called you to do. Jesus taught about Hell as well as Heaven. He taught against Sin as well as comforting people. Where would we be if He only tried to make people feel good about themselves? I am blessed to have a Pastor that preaches Heaven AND Hell. If he doesn’t step on my toes once in a while or challenge me then what’s the point? Pastor Bud, I say, PREACH ON!
Bud, I appreciate your candid revelations. I don’t hear bitterness as much as pain-such as the Holy Spirit also feels when God’s children are in turmoil. May God bless you for your diligent efforts on behalf of His kingdom, and heal the wounds your unresponsive elders and cantankerous parishioner(s) caused. I have found that God is intimately concerned about individuals, and that means individual ministers too. I hope you and the hurting preachers you described will find help, rest, and rejuvenation. May the God of peace be your refuge.
Thank you for speaking the truth on this. I have been a member of my church now for around 30 years, ever since I was a teen and seen things change tremendously and continue to go downhill. As a leader myself I was being bullied inside the church by leaders who were well respected by our Pastor and he did nothing to help me. A Pastor in no way can do what we expect, only lead as God has called him to. That’s what I needed. I stayed so long because I was told all churches are like this one and nothing will go as I want it to. I stayed because I was told I took the commitment to teach and they don’t have any other teachers. We have the same leaders teaching for around 15 or more years. It took this pandemic for me to see what is really going on in that church.. We as believers must do our part to be a body of Christ. To many of us are afraid to share the Gospel with others or get outside our comfort zone and spend time with other people not in our click. God wants us to see others as he sees them and love them not judge them. Being a disciple and loving others is what we all should be doing not just going to a church building . If we as believers don’t disciple others or share our struggles and praises how will we further Gods kingdom . The lost world wants to see Christ living inside us not just inside a building but out here in this crazy sinful world. We must be the salt on the Earth !! Allow Christ to live through us !!
Thank you Carl
I can seriously relate to this article. Having been in ministry for 33 years does take a toll and I have been considering moving on to a secular job. As someone commented earlier, this article does help because I know I am not alone.
You are certainly not alone, Dick.
I was weary even before the pandemic. I thought I would be able to do ministry until I was 70. I am in good health physically, but the toll of trying to change a church culture was too much. Therefore I informed my leadership at the beginning of 2019 that I would be retiring in April of 2020 after Easter. This was done so that they could begin the process of finding a replacement. (FYI – I am Lutheran – Missouri Synod.) This is not usually done in our denomination, however, the leadership did not want to go through the experience of a vacancy if possible. God did answer that prayer and honored that decision. The new pastor arrived in June of 2020. I delayed my retirement one month until May 31, 2020.
The church finally had the formal “installation” of the new Pastor this August. The preacher at that service, of which I was a part, mentioned that most congregations see the change of Pastors as an interruption. Meaning that the face of the primary shepherd has changed, but the ministry as they “want it” will continue. Instead he challenged him to be a disruption, especially in the face of the current pandemic. A disruption is where the culture of ministry is challenged to change, to be different than what it was.
When I heard that, I realized why I made the decision I did in 2019. I realized why I was so tired and exhausted and at times scared to move on. When I began at Hope in 2010, many in the congregation saw me as an interruption. Even perhaps a positive disruption as they had been through several major ministry challenges in the past 10 years prior to my arrival in 2010. These included a major embezellement by the preschool director, questionable actions regarding ministry practices which forced the leadership to privately investigate the Sr. Pastor and accusations directed toward a children’s/youth ministry volunteer from another member regarding inappropriate physical touches with their grandchildren at an activity not associated with the church.
My focus was on the task they asked me to do – Bring in young families and they said they were willing to have a “contemporary service” in order to accomplish this purpose. I was aware of the above three factors previously mentioned, but unaware at how much had not been done to heal wounds from those hurt by the above three things.
I soon learned that although the leadership wanted a contemporary service, they wanted it on their terms. Their vision and my vision were two entirely different things. In the end, I felt the some of the leadership – mostly the “unofficial” leadership, was giving lip service to the contemporary service idea and really wanted the status quo to remain. I pushed forward as much as I could in the next several years. But it took a toll.
In many aspects perhaps it was for the best. I really am glad now that I am not facing the pressures of leadership during this time. Being certified as a personal trainer in 2016 and having worked part time at the local YMCA since then, I now hope to focus on how I can help other Pastors regain balance in their ministry – spiritually, mentally and physically. I’m wanting to start a blog to fulfill that purpose. As I said in a presentation I made for our FL-GA District recently, many Pastors are neglecting to take care of themselves physically. It’s like they say in the airline industry during preflight instructions regarding air masks – “You need to take care of yourself first, before you are able to help the person next to you.” How can we do ministry effectively if we are not taking care of ourselves.
One way I did that was to retire earlier than I thought I would. However, that brings me to the point of sabbaticals. Why are churches so reluctantly to grant sabbaticals to their leadership?
Thanks for letting me vent.
Retired from Professional Ministry
Not Retired from Ministry
(Another side note: In 2018 I was part of a leadership training by an outside consulting group called Cornerstone. Two of the founders were former Directors of Christian Education in the denomination I serve and I was a friend of theirs. They shared with me during the training that they began to realize that they were able to do more to change the church from the outside as consults, that on the inside in their former positions. Interesting.)
Great comments, Craig. I pray this next phase of ministry will be your most rewarding. If you haven’t gotten to know Sam Rainer at West Bradenton Baptist, I know he would love to hear from you.
We have talked. I see him on a regular basis most Monday nights when he comes to work out at the Y where I am employed part time. Blessings
Many of the problems pastors face are natural consequences of the fact that they are doing ministry in the context of organizations. You are right in noting that the pandemic only exacerbated the issues. Organization is man made and operates by human philosophy, and operational principles. Pastors are expected to work as employees doing God’s business. This contradiction will eventually create the degree of attrition you are talking about.
Thank you, Claudius.
I agree Claudius. The authority God gives is to His church, never to an organization or institution or board. We have perpetuated this model since the Roman Catholic Church established the institution to have authority. It will not be authorized by God and cannot carry His glory. That is for the sons of God to do. God is raising the true church to the standard of Christ, and judgement is beginning in the house of God. We might as well get with God’s agenda.
This sentenced resosnated with me, “They just believe the current state of negativity and apathy in many local churches is not the most effective way they can be doing ministry. ” The word apathy jumped out. I feel like some church members made the decision that church is “non-essential”. I’m not thinking about leaving but for me that is the biggest discouragement is lay members’ apathy. When it feels like many don’t care you ask youself, “why should I?” The answer is the Lord. I am doing it for Him. But many laypeople don’t understand how many big sacrifices pastors make just to be their pastor – sometimes it is financially, or a sacrifice of loneliness – lack of community, lack of freinds their age in their church, and a lack of freinds for their family. And when people are apathetic or treat church like it is “non-essential” it makes making any of those sacrifices so much harder, and makes you at least day dream about being somewhere else, even in the market place. It is a constant battle to remember this is a season and to remember that you are doing it for the Lord who sacrificed everything for you. But I just wish everyone understood how much power they really had to discourage or encourage their pastor with their “ministry of presence” to each other.
Very well said, John.
That is the sentence that leaped out at me. The apathy is a killer. Your words were very well spoken and an encouragement!
Thom says, “ I also want you to know that these pastors do not think they will be leaving ministry. They just believe the current state of negativity and apathy in many local churches is not the most effective way they can be doing ministry. ”
With all the love and respect I can possibly convey, THIS is how a very large number of us ‘lay persons’ feel. We are not leaving the Church, but we recognize that the local church is no longer the most effective way to be proclaiming the gospel, loving our neighbors and serving our Master.
Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Do not be afraid to let your ‘church’ or career die. God is at work. When you let go, you will find that life will change beyond your ability to imagine— and God will be glorified even as folks discover what was originally intended for them all along!
Spot on article. I work with a area of churches and see the weariness…and work hard to be that support.
Blessings on your ministry, Mitch.
Thank you for sharing this and putting to words what is taking place. It is refreshing to hear. We’re all in this together.
Yes we are indeed!
Frankly, this was a shock to me: “The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches.” I believe your insight, however, is on-target. The pandemic has merely accelerated the trends that were already in place. That’s true, I believe, for our whole culture.
If your assertion about the “vast majority” is true, I am very grateful to be in the minority. Certainly, the pandemic has added challenges to me, but I am fortunate to serve a relatively healthy church. I hope your blog will be a wake-up call to Christians to put their political agendas aside and serve the Kingdom together.
I read this passage this morning. It is a refrain from Psalm 80. Seems timely:
Turn us again to yourself, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.
Make your face shine down upon us.
Only then will we be saved.
I would estimate I have heard these comments from eight of the ten pastors with whom I have spoken.
Blessings, my friend.
I am part of a group of international clergy women under 40 and I can tell you that you are accurate. I hear from many, many colleagues who are desperately looking for a way out of their current jobs as pastors because of how negative and awful their congregations have been to them.
Thank you for your article. You are right on target.
Thom- in a strange way this is encouraging to me because it lets me know I’m not alone. As a bivocational pastor of 18 years I feel the weight of all of these items except for the increased criticism. But that is because the 3 most vocal critics in my church haven’t returned to church or engaged since March. Perhaps addition by subtraction in their cases. I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel at this point, but it is tempting. I just don’t feel released by God from my current assignment and don’t think the grass is any greener anywhere else. I think if I stepped away it would be from ministry altogether to just focus on my family and business. I”m thankful to have that option unlike many of my full-time fellow pastors. I am exhausted and tired of refereeing so many political fights over Covid, masks, school policies, political candidates, etc among God’s people. These are revealing many competing idols and ideologies to the true God.
For a minute I thought I wrote this lol. I am right there with you my brother!
Thanks, Michael. Blessings on your ministry.
I just paused to pray for you and your church.
Ask any of your parishioners in the private sector if their workload hasn’t increased at least 3-fold and their hours almost doubled. We work days, nights, parts of weekends and federal holidays and are always available. We also fear checking emails in the morning to see how much is in our in-boxes. Some people even check them during the night. No one has it easy right now.
I’m a layperson and we discussed some of these things in our homegroup last night. The idol of tradition is believed to be a stronghold in the church that has been revealed during Covid.
We discussed that the reason for our choices being the Great Commission needs to be reiterated over and over again. This stronghold can only be removed through prayer. May God open the eyes of the blind and ears of the deaf to his purposes.
We are so thankful for our pastor!!!! They are serving in chains must like Paul during this season. May Paul be your encouragement Pastors as you Are SUFFERING.
May your tribe increase, BJ!
Mark, it’s not the work load at all. It’s the weight of the churches. That’s not to minimize the truth of what you say about those in our congregations all are hurting. But who is often called to shoulder that weight of hurt? We pastors. Who is often on the receiving end of that undercurrent of rage and frustration? We pastors. That’s why we feel such a weight right now. Suck it up buttercup isn’t helpful. We are hurting.