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.
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The hyper political partisanship and all of its symptoms – deeply digging into positions, refusing to listen, criticizing endlessly, shaming, “destroying” the opponent, winning at any cost…. these carnal, cultural markers have infiltrated the church. Sheep have turned into wolves in many occasions and the pastors are having to defend themselves from their own. Not only that, pastors are being forced to navigate through waters they have no clue how to navigate. How many of our SBC pastors are trained in pandemic management? Yet, we’re being asked to fly a plane as we build it with no aviation experience, no engineering experience, all the while remembering hundreds of our friends are on board with varying opinions of how we should be doing it. I wish we were immune to criticism and negativity. I wish people leaving didn’t hurt so bad. I wish some church pruning weren’t so painful. I wish helplessly seeing a church implode could just be shaken off and easily walked away from. Lord, help me in my weakness.
In skimming the comments, as the Body of Christ, we tend to use guilt to minimize change. As Jesus asked … who is good? Yet, we His people use our understanding of “good” to measure each other and ourselves. As Jesus proclaimed … who is loved? Every single one of us; and especially those who are unlovely. I am using that (His love) as my hope in walking and showing up in these negative times. From what I’ve learned, the Father allows us (me) to change. We can be light and show love whatever “title” in life we have.
Awesome article!!!!! Quitting does sound tempting at times but it’s usually when I don’t feel like putting in the work that change requires. Thankfully, 100% of my members returned when the doors of the church were allowed to open again. While we were out they continued to give so that they would have a place to come back to. I am so thankful for them.
This is a sad but revealing article, thanks very much Thom. I wonder if we will have a break soon? Will Pastors bounce back? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do, be resilient?
I think Paul had much more hardships he endured in his ministry. Imagine if he had quit. I also know responsibility can weigh heavily on pastors and church members. Pastors need a district pastor to talk to, a burden shared is a burden halved.
As a church member with 50 years of dealing with family illnesses caused by a genetic disease. I have not always had the support of the pastor, deacons and church members. Being a widow as well I never hear from them. I do not allow this to change my relationship with God. I will continue to attend my Church because the Pastor is faithful to scripture and does not allow politics in the organized service.
Thank you for your faith and charity.
But Paul had the blessing of practicing ministry when the world did not expect an immediate response. Sadly, many of us pastors have done it to ourselves – by not establishing proper boundaries (but we are called to serve – often to our detriment) and not advocating for ourselves. Once we start to overextend ourselves we probably won’t stop until things fall apart. The savvy parish/congregation keeps tabs on their Pastor because they aren’t an employee that can be replaced, they are someone who they call to be their shepherd.
We have been praying for a supporting our pastor and I will expand it. to all pastors and churches. We need our pastors and families and they need us.
Lord keep us focused and string to help the Pastors stay strong in You.
I left the ministry due to sabotage and demoralizing behavior by church music staff who preferred their previous pastor and didn’t like my leadership, despite me righting the ship and keeping the doors open and growing the church. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. The misogyny in the church is a story that must be told.
I agree with this article 100 percent. The main thing I would add that I keep seeing over looked especially in 2020 is that it’s not just head pastors feeling this way. Associate pastors and pastoral staff are just as exhausted. Many having to wear more hats than they expected. I hear this especially of student pastors many whom became their churches media person, had to train church members how do things like zoom or even access a live stream at home. All while trying to navigate their own ministerial roles and encourage parents and teens who are going through unusual times.
Your article is spot on. I’ve seen stats that 30% of people have left the church. 50% of millennials have left. They are predicting 20% of churches will close in the next 18 months. The pastors I talk to say the children aren’t coming back. Last week a children’s ministry pastor I spoke with told me before Covid she had 75 kids she is down to 0. She is doing admin work to get paid. People say “the church has left the building.” No they haven’t. They left the church. Many aren’t going anywhere, they aren’t watching facebook or services online and they are not doing ministry. We have to make a shift. People are scared and lethargic a tough combination. There is opportunity it will be a battle. It is tough for a pastor to battle when he is already exhausted. Satan has gotten a foothold. It is going to take more then the pastor.
I think one thing I would add to the above is that some pastors are thinking right now, “I have been here, faithfully teaching, shepherding and counseling from Gods word for XX years, and after all that, the congregation is going to major on COVID issues while the gospel we have been proclaiming and embracing is going to be second place?” In many cases, it’s not finances or attendance, but the feeling that the maturity and gospel-living that should be over-riding so many COVID issues just doesn’t seem to be there, and it leads to a sense of fruitlessness.
Circuit-riding preacher telling about God’s love on each dusty pathway and through each forest grove. Circuit-riding preacher turned his back on fame to share the GOOD NEWS of Jesus’ name. As I understand it, ministry has always been difficult. I suspect it is better now. All who minister in any capacity are called by God to do so. Thus, it should not matter what people say or think – but pastors are human and words hurt. One of my daughters is a music minister in a Southern Baptist church in Texas. She expressed to me that she is wanting to quit due to constant criticism. All I can do to help is to pray and offer encouraging words. Again, if one is called by God, he must press-on to the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Dwayne