Evangelical pastors who resign from their jobs cite a different "calling," conflict, and burnout as three major reasons for retiring from the pulpit, according to a new survey of Protestant churches of four denominations.
The study was conducted by LifeWay Research on 734 former pastors from the Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Nazarene, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Assemblies of God.
A "change in calling" was mentioned as the most common reason to quit being a pastor before the age of 65, which was given by 40 percent of the pastors, followed by 25 percent who said they left because of conflict, while about 19 percent were burned out from the requirements of the position. Some 12 percent quit because of personal finances, and another 12 percent said they opted out because of family issues.
Those who quit pastoral work also said that they had not prepared themselves for constant need of providing counseling apart from keeping in sync with the church boards, and were left without much support in the duty they were performing.
"Almost half of those who left the pastorate said their church wasn't doing any of the kinds of things that would help. Having clear documents, offering a sabbatical rest, and having people help with weighty counseling cases are key things experts tell us ought to be in place," said Ed Stetzer of the LifeWay Research in a press release.
As many as 48 percent of the pastors said they were not told accurately about the support functions of the church.
"Their churches were unlikely to have a list of counselors for referrals (27 percent), clear documentation of the church's expectations of its pastor (22 percent), a sabbatical plan for the pastor (12 percent), a lay counseling ministry (9 percent), or a support group for the pastor's family (8 percent). Forty-eight percent say their church had none of these," the report says.
About 56 percent of the pastors experienced conflicts over the changes proposed by them, while 54 percent of them admitted facing personal attacks. Almost 48 percent said they were not prepared to handle the 'people side' of ministry.
"Many seminary programs don't even require courses on the people side - they're focused on theology, biblical languages, and preaching, which are important, but almost half of the pastors felt unprepared for dealing with the people they were preparing in seminary to lead and serve," Stetzer said.
Both current (84 percent) and former pastors (83 percent) say that the job is strenuous, with a requirement for them being on call 24 hours a day. 48 percent from each group said the demand of the work was overwhelming.
However, differences emerged between the currently serving and ex-pastors over other issues.
49 percent of the former pastors thought their church had unrealistic expectations, while only 21 percent of the current pastors said so. About 62 percent of the ex-pastors felt isolated, which was the case with only 35 percent of the serving pastors, according to the survey.
68 percent of the former pastors say they felt free to turn down unrealistic expectations, and 89 percent of the current pastors said they are free to do so.
"When we see a number of items all looking a little less healthy, they can add up," Stetzer said. "But many of the gaps are preventable. It's going to take a combination of the seminaries, academia, denominational folks, and even outside ministries putting their heads together and seeking God on how best to support pastors."