By Mark Dance
Each time a pastor prematurely exits the ministry race, I grieve. I also grieve each time I hear the awful pastor retention stats, which are unsubstantiated and sometimes exaggerated. Here are a couple of examples of recent headlines and bylines from usually reliable sources:
“Epidemic: Another Pastor Burned Out and Quit Last Sunday: Unfortunately, that pastor wasn’t the only one to have such a story last Sunday. Hundreds did. This year, thousands will leave the ministry, burned out and hurting.”
“Too Many Pastors Are Burning Out: More than 1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month. This staggering number includes some of the brightest, most inspiring pastors in the country.”
We’ve all heard, and perhaps shared, these “staggering” scary stats about pastors who leave the ministry every month. The truth is sometimes worse than myth, but fortunately not in this case.
The prevailing myth: 1,500/1,700 pastors leave the ministry every month.
The promising truth: 250 pastors leave the ministry every month.
In September 2015, the results of a Lifeway Research survey of 1,500 pastors of evangelical and historically black churches found only 1% of pastors abandon the pulpit each year. I can think of at least three implications from this groundbreaking research.
1. Pastors Aren’t Quitters.
I was 16 years old when I surrendered to the ministry. Soon after I shared that call with my church, my pastor told me only about 1-in-10 people who start in the ministry will finish in the ministry. I’ve heard that statistic several times since then. If that’s true, how does it sync with this study?
First of all, many who say “yes” to the ministry never actually started in the first place. As I look back to those I’ve known who publicly shared their call to the ministry, many of them changed their mind along the way in high school, college, or seminary. Career confusion is normal for students, as well as adults.
Current pastors say a change in calling is the top reason their predecessors left the pastorate. We all know pastors who aren’t a good fit for that role. For those who do eventually step onto the front lines of ministry, most don’t quit—which is awesome.
“Now also finish the task, so that just as there was an eager desire, there may also be a completion, according to what you have” (2 Corinthians 8:11).
2. Ministry Is Tough, But So Are Ministers.
I talk to pastors every day and can attest to the fact they have one of the hardest jobs on the planet. What this survey says to me is that pastors aren’t quitters or wimps.
- 84% say they’re on call 24 hours a day.
- 80% expect conflict in their church.
- 54% find the role of pastor frequently overwhelming.
We love pastors, and it’s a great privilege for me to serve this tough tribe on behalf of Lifeway. Our desire is to encourage and equip these brave servants of the church.
“But as for you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
3. Ministers Need Encouragement.
The results of this survey remind us that those who are still serving on the front lines of ministry need encouragers to root them on. Their race isn’t over yet.
- 53% are often concerned about their family’s financial security.
- 48% often feel the demands of ministry are more than they can handle.
- 21% say their church has unrealistic expectations of them.
If you’re a pastor, encourage your comrades “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). Every pastor needs a pastor in their life and ministry. Who can you be a Barnabas to?
If you’re a lay-leader in your church, treat your pastors like friends or family members, because they’re both. Provide a listening ear and a safe place for your pastors to share their dreams, as well as their nightmares.
“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
At the end of the day, most ministers consider it a great privilege to serve the Lord and His beautiful bride. We understand the price of pastoring and are more than willing to pay it.
“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry” (1 Timothy 1:12).
MARK DANCE (@markdance) is the former director of Lifeway Pastors. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net.