Why Ministers Leave Ministry, Part 2

Continuing from Saturday's post:

Statistics provided in 2009 by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.:

* 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.

*80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor's children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.

*33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.

* 75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

* 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.

*1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.

Now, the top 5 reasons pastors leave ministry.

The #1 reason pastors leave ministry could be put, "Inability to realize a vision." That is, the pastor wants to go somewhere the congregation doesn't. This creates conflict and discouragement. Moses comes to mind here. To be fair, though, sometimes a person is just a poor leader or doesn't have a vision worth following.

Lack of Denominational Support is #2. The Church of Christ translation is "Elder/Preacher" conflict.

#3 is loneliness. See #5.

#4 is pressure on family and health. The minister's spouse is often neglected for the sake of the ministry. A common statement made by the spouse is "My spouse loves the church more than he/she loves me!" An unexpected visit to the pastor's home by a church member, the endless hospital visits, the phone calls, complaints made by laity and vacation times cut short because of someone being in the hospital or passing away are only a few of the stressors a pastor's family face. If these escalate or continue for a long period of time, further problems within the family may develop, which leads to another 
stressor – the pastor's family is not suppose to have any marital or family problems.

#5 is the sense they can't be a real person. This is the old, "Facebook syndrome." It's the feeling, "I can't put what I'm really doing because if I put anything that suggest I'm enjoying myself, spending any money, living to high on the hog…people will react negatively." It's also, if people find out I argue with my wife, get frustrated with my kids, or whatever…they'll be critical. I can't be me and be loved by the church. This is related to #3 – loneliness. If I can't be real, then who can really know me?

Moral Failure didn't make the top 10 list. However, lack of appreciation, stress/burnout, lack of motivation, and others did.

What do you think about the statistics? What does it say about church life, and, if we want to be fair, the people in or out of ministry?

Next post: Some solutions.

Author: Tim Spivey

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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2 Comments

  1. After more than thirty years in full-time ministry, my reactions include: Some ministers need to appreciate that some pressures are self-induced and some pressures are part of life experiences and not limited to church ministry. I believe the primary frame for dealing with ministry challenges MUST be the belief/understanding/awareness of calling.

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  2. Tim, I recently was at a session at the Christian Scholars Conference with Jack Reese and Pat Keiffert from Missional Church Institute. Pat is a Lutheran who gave some “friendly” observations about the Churches of Christ. You may be referring to these very same issues in your #2 above, but he described this issue of conflict between elders and ministers as endemic to our tradition more than others.
    His observation is that our ecclesiology and practice puts elders at the top of the power structure in churches, but they often are the most untrained in theology, biblical studies and pastoral care. They may know a lot about Scripture, but they do not have enough theological “sophistication” to help them navigate the conflicts that inevitably rise from their relationship with a minister who does have significant theological training but is lower on the hierarchy of power in the congregation (this certainly is not always the case because some elders are theological or biblical scholars in some congregations). This is not an issue in other traditions because the senior minister/rector/senior pastor with the theological training also yields the power in the relationship between elders/presbyterers/vestry.
    What are some solutions? My suggestion is to moderate the power balance so that ministers have more actual administrative and ministerial “power” (influence) in the relationship. One way that we did at my prior church was the inclusion of the senior minister in most of the meetings of the elders, and the participation of the senior minister in all ministry-related decisions of the elders. There are no easy solutions, but there at least should be some healthy balance.
    Another possibility might be some encouragement/requirement that all elders have some “continuing education” or basic seminary type courses as requirement of service. I’m not sure how this would be done, but perhaps ACU and others could provide more elder training seminars to increase the theological training of elderships.
    Thanks for a good and important series.

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