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Pastors in Crisis: Reasons Why So Many Ministers Are Considering Quitting Vocational Ministry

quitting vocational ministry

After a year of great challenges that have included weathering a global pandemic and its many effects, widespread and ongoing civil unrest, and a contentious election season among a string of issues, America is reeling as it begins to move toward an unknown “new normal.”

One of the effects of the past year is an unprecedented number of ministers saying they are considering quitting vocational ministry. 2020 was an especially harsh year of ministry for pastors, and 2021 hasn’t yet turned out to be any easier.

Scott Free Clinic has been working on the front lines of the mental health disaster and spiritual needs coming out of the pandemic, and part of that has included trying to respond to a record need and demand for “Pastor Care,” which is Christian clinical counseling specifically for vocational and bi-vocational ministers. In order to address ministers wrestling with whether or not to continue in ministry, we need to understand some of the reasons why they have been so deeply impacted by events over the past year. Following are some of the reasons Scott Free Clinic has seen as to why some ministers are so overwhelmed, based on our service to ministers, as well as other reports from other sources:

Depth of impact on lives, and therefore on ministry.

For some people, the pandemic was a mild disruption — they were able to work from home, didn’t lose any income, and the hardest part of the past year were the social distancing restrictions, something some people actually thrived in. But for others, their lives were rocked to the core — family, friends, church staff and church members died from the COVID-19 virus, others became very sick from it and barely survived. Others lost jobs, incomes, homes, friends, and social connections; they became isolated and alone. Conflict between spouses and family members, as well as church members, increased. All of this demanded a massive amount of shepherding and pastoral care from ministers. For many pastors, the demand for shepherding was greater than they had ever experienced before, and that has led some to consider quitting.

Unparalleled criticism from their congregations.

Criticism is a common consequence of being a church leader, but most pastors receive more support and encouragement than they do criticism (or else they don’t last long in that local church). But things have changed dramatically for many pastors over the last year, chiefly in the widespread level of unrestrained criticism they are receiving. Many pastors say it’s as if they “can’t do anything right” because they’re getting criticized for just about any direction they lead or decisions they make. If leaders require masks to attend a service they are criticized, if they don’t they are also criticized. If they only hold services online they are criticized, but if they have in-person services they are criticized. They’re criticized for wanting to continue online services even after in-person meetings resume, or they’re criticized for thinking online services won’t be as important then. The criticism has been so pervasive and persistent that this is a primary reason why some pastors are considering quitting.

Suddenness and scope of change.

The pandemic didn’t force “slight” change, it forced dramatic changes. Pastors were forced to change some of their thinking about several things related to ministry, they were forced to learn new skills, they were forced to develop new habits, and they were forced to work longer and harder — all of this because the times demanded it. That has caused many pastors to feel so overwhelmed and disoriented some think quitting would be the way out.