In studying about minister health, I have come across some startling statistics and studies. One such statistic is that nearly 1400 ministers across America quit ministry every month. At a time when churches are shrinking and good ministers are hard to find, this is a disturbing statistic. And these ministers are not being replaced, particularly preachers. In my own fellowship, Harding University has commissioned a study for why so few people are going into preaching. The reason undoubtedly has to do with the poor experiences that so many ministers have.
Fuller and Pastoral Care Inc have reported research about reasons why ministers leave the ministry. Here are the top 5 of 10 reasons that they give, with quotes.
1. The Ministers Have a Vision that the Church Does Not Share.
"The most disheartening thing ministers go through is to feel they have a message and direction from God for their church but the people are not willing to listen or respond. In one survey, ministers and laity were asked the purpose of the church. 90% of the pastors state the purpose of the church was to reach the lost but when asking the laity, 90% report the purpose is to meet their own needs! Only 10% of the laity stated the purpose was to reach the lost."
When I saw these statistics, I was blown away. Jesus stated that his mission was to reach the lost. Without this mission, there would not even be a church, and we would not have salvation. Of course this is our mission. And yet, 90% of church members believe that the purpose of the church is to meet their own needs--despite Jesus' clear call to his disciples to "deny themselvs." No wonder so many ministers quit. It is frustrating to constantly try to get people to believe and do what they clearly do not want to believe and do. Most ministers are high on vision and integrity, and so they just finally get so frustrated with lack of support for Christ's mission and the inward nature of members that they just quit.
2. Lack of Denominational Support.
For Churches of Christ, this translates into a feeling of lack of support from elders, other ministers, or influential "informal leaders."
3. Feeling All Alone.
"A pastor's work is never done. They report working between 55 to 75 hours a week, often burning a candle at both ends. Most of the calls a minister receives is not to check on how their pastor is doing but because of problems either in the church or in their lives. Complaints seem to come in on a daily basis. 40% of the ministers report having serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month! Over time, pastors report feeling that others are only caring about themselves, complaining about most everything, and have attitudes of “what have you done for me lately”. Most pastors feel unappreciated. They give so much time to others but who is there for the pastor?"
Loneliness comes, in part, from reason #1 - feeling like no one proactively supports the vision of reaching the lost. Elijah felt this way (1 Kings 19), partly because he was so exhausted. In response, the angel of the Lord told him to eat and rest. And God told him that he had reserved 7000 who "shared his vision." Ministers can better deal with this lonely feeling if they take better care of themselves and make sure that they "have a life"--do fun, non-ministry related things. Still, this is a problem. To work 55-75 hours a week, striving to help others in every way, and to receive daily complaints and serious conflicts every month is enough to make ministers quit.
4. Stress on the Family and Health
"Most people never think about how the ministry demands affect the pastor and his/her family, especially long term. As mentioned before, 94% of the minister's families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry. 80% report that it has negatively affected them. Children of pastors often report having negative experiences and many do not attend church anywhere today because of those negative experiences!"
Ministry ought to be a blessing to families, but for many, it is a significant source of stress and conflict. I'm blessed with a wife who is supportive of my ministry, and who is independent enough to not resent the nights that I'm away. I seek to have "songs, prayers, and Bible stories"--a family devotional time with my kids five nights a week, and to take my day off during the week. But kids and spouses experience enough problems from ministry that they report it is at best a mixed blessing.
When those who are not in ministry "go to church," they can find help, healing, and encouragement. For ministers, there is no separation between work, family, and church, and the latter is often a source of conflict.
5. Must Be the Most Spiritual/Can't Be Real
"While ministers should set standards high enough for others to follow and want to achieve, the very nature of double standards propel ministers to further distant themselves among others within the church. According to statistics, 66% of church members expect a minister and his/her family to live by a higher moral standard than they do. This pervasive thought lends itself unrealistic, and when accompanied by the demands of the ministry, ministers and their families feel the pressures and desire to further distance themselves even more!"
Where do ministers go when they face life, ministry, or moral challenges? I have been blessed to always have an elder or two that I was particularly close to that I could share with. Still, every minister knows that he must be extremely careful who he talks to about any kind of struggle. Sometimes this is because certain things are only appropriate to be discussed in leadership circles, and other times it is because there is a fear that what they say may end up being shared inappropriately.
What is most surprising or concerning about the above statistics? How can we help ministers stay encouraged and stay in ministry?