Have you noticed the high turn-over in pastoral leadership in evangelical churches?
Though this has been a reality for a long time, it seems almost phenomenal in the last twenty years or so. In a 2002 issue of Facts and Trends Magazine 30 – 40 % of pastors will drop out of professional ministry leadership sometime before retirement. Fifty per cent of those in full-time ministry drop out after 5 years. In 1995 the vocational life of a pastor was down to 14 years (from 20 years in 1984). One pastor (Jim Henry of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida) has found that only 1 pastor in 20 will actively serve until retirement.
In other words, the prospect is that at least 50% of those pastors who are now training for ministry will be disillusioned and drop out after just 5 years of ministry. And the likelihood that those serving will contnue in pastoral ministry for more than 20 years is not that great! Unless we come to a better understanding of how typical problems in ministry can be overcome, the future is not very optimistic for those training for ministry at the present time. This is a serious problem that requires a lot more attention than we have been giving it.
Anecdotally, we all know of pastors that have dropped out of ministry; in fact, we probably know a lot of them. We usually conclude that they just weren’t cut out for the work of the ministry or that they had some serious deficiency. We tend to ignore the tremendous pain that comes to these people and also to the churches that they have served. In some recent research that I conducted in my own denomination, pastors struggled with conflict in the church or a lack of support from church leaders. Many noted the lack of a good ministry evaluation process and several of the thirteen who responded about transition in their experience indicated a lack of support from Denominational leadership after communication broke down with church leaders. Under a question of outcomes for these individuals, one spoke of the accumulation of a large debt, the experience of “feeling burned,” a loss of confidence for ministry, and a significant degree of marital strain. Another identified feelings of loneliness, purposelessness, doubt and depression. This person also referred to financial strain and the loss of fellowship with former friends and colleagues.
What magnifies the trauma of pastoral failure is the spiritual and emotional implications of having to give up a role to which one has felt called by God. Career changes, even several times, are not uncommon for the general population — also among Christians. Most of us don’t have difficulty with that reality. What makes it especially poignant for pastors is that pastoral ministry is regarded as a life-long calling. Some would dispute that conclusion but the fact is that most people enter pastoral ministry because they have some sense of conviction about the pastoral office and service as a sacred calling. But there are also grave implications in pastoral drop-out for the life of the church and the effectiveness of its mission. True Gospel witness can’t help but be seriously impaired by the frequent occurence of this kind of pastoral demise.
Second Wind Ministries exists, in part, for the purpose of seeking to understand this phenomenon, helping pastors survive in ministry, and making it possible for many more to complete their calling to receive God’s, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” I am in the process of developing a course of study for the use of denominations, educators and pastors on why this trend exists and what can be done to turn it around. Please contact me for further details.