“One thing I have noticed is that when pastors leave or are let go, denominations do little in the way of helping. I’m sure there are exceptions to this but I know a few who feel left out in the wilderness.”
Jesse, a chaplain, made the comment above on a recent article on our website. Many people, from what I’ve recently gathered, share Jesse’s frustration and they’re asking some challenging questions:
What are denominations doing to support current pastors and those looking to transition out? How are denominations following up with pastors who have already left the ministry? And what is happening on a denominational level to support young and new pastors to give them a better understanding of the hardships and realities of a pastor’s life?
Because I believe these are valid questions and think many who have pastored within denominational structures deserve solid answers, I called a handful of denominational leaders regarding such topics. Most I talked with asked to remain anonymous. Since it isn’t my desire to cause a divide amongst pastors and their respective denominations and because I understand this can be a sensitive subject, I gladly agreed to their requests. That being said, because it’s also my desire to find a solution or at least put us on the path of finding a solution to this mass pastoral exodus, I’m going to give you my honest opinion on the subject. As you’ll find in my conclusion at the end of this article, we have a long way to go.
If you’re new to the conversation, I’d encourage you to read some statistics on why some pastors leave the ministry. This should help you get a better idea of why this issue requires more attention.
An Argument to Be Made
Without a doubt, there could be an argument made on both sides. From those who think very little is being done by denominations for pastors who have left the ministry to those who are quite pleased with the effectiveness denominations have on retaining and supporting their pastors. Such is the case with Dick Bruesehoff’s recent comment on our site:
“Thank you for raising what certainly are huge concerns in many denominations and for many of us who are working every day with pastors and their families. And while I certainly do see that many pastors are struggling with discouragement, loneliness, overwork and conflict, some of the statistics [in your previous article] don’t match the actual experience of at least my denomination. Thankfully we do not have 50% of our newly-ordained pastors leaving ordained ministry in the first five years. In fact our experience is that even after 15 years, less than 10% of pastors have left ordained ministry. And our experience is that a large majority (at least 7 of 10) do retire as pastors.”
Although I appreciate Dick’s comments, and have since followed up with him via email to get a better understanding of his position regarding this subject, I don’t think the situation in which his denomination sits is the norm. Quite the opposite from what I’ve gathered.
Lisa, whose father traveled to different churches during the last two years of his life working as a pastor to pastors for the Baptist Conference of British Columbia, also commented on our site. She said, “I know that not all denominations have support systems like this in place and I think that’s a disservice to the people who are serving in their churches and not just the pastors.”
There were several outlets available to me when I served as pastor in a large denomination. They did a decent job offering resources to pastors, whether it was a quarterly publication written for encouragement and edification or offering time at retreat centers for pastors and their families. Some denominations, especially larger ones, even enlist pastors or leaders as directors of pastoral care. They might provide a confidential number to call and offer support or counsel for struggling ministers or they’ll provide a list of Christian counselors for their pastors to seek out.
Even though the outlets most denominations offer can be beneficial, most (possibly all in some cases) are only available if the pastor reaches out.
You might be thinking, “How will denominations know whether the pastor is struggling if the pastor doesn’t reach out?” Well, the problem with that question is that the question is the problem.
Is There a Good Solution?
Continue reading on the next page