Why are we hearing about quitting now?
Two topics that have been the focus of much attention in America recently have been the impact of COVID-19 and political conflict. The church has not been immune to either of these outside influences.
Throughout 2020 pastors described to Lifeway Research the rapid pace of change within their congregation triggered by the pandemic. Pastors were forced up a steep learning curve on new technology. Within weeks churches added online worship options and online giving options.
It seemed each week pastors received new information on what their church could/could not do, what was/was not safe, and where they could/could not go. The speed of these changes and the lack of reliable information at times made the already stressful job of being a pastor even more demoralizing.
In many cases what has made continuing seem impossible is not the need for sacrifice, but the failure of other believers in the church to share the load they are called to carry. No pastor is called to do the work of a church alone. When each believer uses their spiritual gifts, it not only benefits others in the church, it lightens the load of others, including the pastor.
By July of 2020, pastors’ greatest pain point had become maintaining unity within their church. As their church navigated safety concerns, members of their congregation voiced differing opinions loudly, often reflecting the political leaders they listened to.
As the nation was fixated on politics and the pandemic, it is not surprising that people noticed and pointed others to any pastor who chose to walk away from one of these flashpoints.
There are no tracking studies to show whether the number of pastors leaving the pastorate has changed significantly in 2020-21. Because of the long-term nature of the pandemic, it is likely there has been an increase in pastors leaving the ministry, but it is also likely the number is still small. Even if the number of pastors leaving because of conflict doubled, the overall percentage of pastors leaving would still round to 1% a year.
The reality is that most pastors that reach an impossible point in their current church go on to serve another church. They don’t leave the pastorate. They shift to a congregation where they are a better fit or the conflict is not pointed at them. When we asked pastors the reasons they left their previous church, 54% say they took their last church as far as they could, 34% say their family needed a change, and 23% say there was conflict in the church.
In addition, 19% say the church did not embrace their approach to pastoring, 18% were reassigned, 18% were not a good fit for the church, 18% say the church had unrealistic expectations of them, and 8% were asked to leave their last church.
How do so many pastors not quit?
Most pastors believe God has specifically called them to the role of pastor. Until God gives them a different assignment, this assurance that they are where they are supposed to be provides a reason to dust themselves off and get up again when they find themselves knocked down.
One of the realities that research on the well-being of pastors has often failed to capture is that God uses difficult seasons. It is easy to paint a picture of well-being that reflects a single point in time. At this moment, the pace of change is more than I can handle. Right now, I can’t stand this conflict. Today, I don’t have what it takes. But most of us, if we had to choose, would trade some pain today if it led to genuine, long-term wellness.
God’s promise to work all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose is not something we typically see immediately. It is often a refinement or a reshaping of us that occurs in a fire that brings new growth and renewal to our lives.
Ultimately pastors know they are not alone. As discouraging as today may seem, pastors have faith that God is present and cares for them personally. God often shows this care through others he places in the pastor’s life. Research has shown the value of the pastor’s spouse, time with family, and being able to share their struggles with a Bible study group in their church. All of these predict higher likelihood of a pastor staying in ministry.
Nobody celebrates when a pastor shows up to work on a Monday morning to serve their congregation another week. In the same way, nobody applauds when a custodian, or software programmer, or customer service rep arrives at work. It is their work. The reason we are surprised when a pastor doesn’t continue is because it is such a low percentage who actually quit.
This article originally appeared here.