Already concerned about the coming pastor shortage — due to fewer young adults choosing a ministry career and many veteran pastors planning for retirement — many of us are alarmed by new statistics.
A 2021 Barna study revealed that 46% of current pastors under age 45 are considering leaving the ministry, compared with 34% of those over age 45.
Pastors are not exempt from the Great Resignation. In recent years, I have witnessed more pastor friends exit vocational ministry than at any point in my lifetime.
Major factors seem to be burnout, pandemic fatigue, political toxicity, hypercritical church members, and health concerns (physical, mental, and emotional).
I empathize with those considering leaving the pastoral ministry and do not criticize their decisions. Pastoral ministry is more challenging now.
A pastor can work hard, serve faithfully, love their people, and lead with innovation, yet find themselves feeling frustrated, exhausted, and ineffective.
While ministry can be messy and chaotic, there are good reasons to consider staying in a pastoral role.
St. Francis de Sales is attributed to the adage, “Bloom where you are planted.”
Sometimes we have to plow up stumps, bring in extra topsoil, and plant many saplings before new blooms appear and our ministry begins to bear fruit.
Here are 7 good reasons to consider staying in ministry:
- To fulfill your sense of calling. In every profession, there is a learning curve. You sometimes think, “I didn’t sign up for this.” Ministry is no exception. Yet your sense of calling compels you to stay with it.
- To make a difference. Churches are composed of imperfect people at various stages in their spiritual journeys. There are no perfect pastors, either. Yet you can make a huge difference in the lives of your parishioners by serving alongside them. But here’s the rub: You will likely not know the difference you are making until years later.
- To be a part of the new thing God is doing. In Isaiah 43:19, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Like Isaiah’s day, I sense God is birthing something new, and the labor pains are intense. Pastors get a ringside seat to this new thing but must hang around through the birthing process.
- To maximize your gifts and minimize your regrets. Some pastor friends who transition from ministry find a less stressful, more fulfilling life away from vocational ministry. Others feel incomplete and contend with questions about how different life would be had they stayed and guided a church through a turbulent time. Persevering through the grind of ministry may enable you to maximize your gifts and minimize your regrets.
- Because perseverance is a powerful part of your witness. As pastors, we preach about the importance of perseverance during tough times. Romans 12:12 urges, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” During this challenging season of ministry, we can demonstrate perseverance in our mission.
- Because problem people don’t have the final word. I have served wonderful churches through the years; every one had high-maintenance people. However, the perpetual complainers, self-appointed critics, and church bullies are less influential than they think. They do not have the final word on the direction of God’s church.
- Because coaching is available to help you learn new pastoral skills for changing times. In seminary, I learned preaching, biblical interpretation, ethics, pastoral leadership, and pastoral care. I did not develop other skills like adaptive leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry, conflict management, team building, and healthy differentiation. The Center for Healthy Churches is one of many groups that can help you enlist a coach to walk alongside you as you sharpen or upgrade your tools for ministry.
If Moses could continue leading after a meltdown, if Jonah could still serve after being swallowed up, if Paul could keep evangelizing after a shipwreck, and if Barnabas could remain in ministry after a sharp dispute, you might be empowered to continue service through a tough chapter of ministry.
The Apostle Paul encourages us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
This is a challenging season and an opportune and adventurous time to be in pastoral ministry. Maybe God has called you to stay with it for a time such as this.
(Barry Howard is pastor at Atlanta’s Church at Wieuca and a leadership coach and columnist with the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.)