Driven to despair by stress, loneliness, political divisions and other worries like their church being in decline, more pastors now say they considered quitting their jobs compared to a year ago, new data released by the Barna Group show.
The research draws on data collected in surveys conducted in January 2021 and March 2022 that show the share of pastors who have given serious consideration to quitting being in full-time ministry within the last year, increasing from 29% in 2021 to 42% in March of this year.
Data collected for the 2021 study was collected online from 413 Protestant senior pastors from Jan. 22–27, 2021. While the data collected from March 10–16, came from an online survey of 510 Protestant senior pastors.
More than half of pastors, 56%, who considered quitting full-time ministry in the last year, said, “the immense stress of the job” was a huge factor behind their thinking. Beyond these general stressors, two in five pastors, 43%, report that “I feel lonely and isolated,” while some 38% say “current political divisions” made them think about calling it quits at the pulpit.
An equal 29% share of pastors also said they felt like quitting because they weren’t optimistic about the future of their church; they were unhappy with the impact the job had on their family or they had a vision for the church that was in conflict with where the church wanted to go. Another 24% of pastors say they considered quitting because their church is steadily declining.
While pastors who have not considered quitting experience some of the same challenges highlighted by those who have considered it, the research shows that the difference maker for them is their mindset to ministry.
Some 83% said they did not consider quitting because they believe in the value of their ministry; 75% say they have a duty to stay and fulfill their calling to ministry, and 73% say they are satisfied with their job. A majority of pastors who have not considered quitting also cite strong family and community support and confidence in their ability as leaders.
The March measure of discontent among pastors also reflects a steady increase in the share of pastors who reported last October that they were “seriously considering” leaving full-time ministry as they struggle with their overall well-being amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly four out of 10 mainline Protestant pastors, or 38% of them, said they were “seriously considering” leaving full-time ministry in October.
Joe Jensen, Barna’s vice president of church engagement, told The Christian Post at the time that the growing number of pastors now looking to leave their full-time positions is cause for alarm.
“This particular stat, this is the highest we’ve ever seen it,” Jensen said, pointing to the burnout he believes many pastors are experiencing in the wake of the pandemic.
“We’ve been tracking this in our State of Pastors report that we did with Pepperdine University in 2016, 2017. We didn’t have this exact stat but we were tracking burnout. [And] pastors were feeling burnout and the risk factors involved,” Jensen said.
He explained at the time that pastors, in general, shy away from counseling and mentoring, but they need to understand that it’s OK to ask for help.
“Pastors traditionally don’t feel comfortable for a number of different reasons to seek out counseling, to seek out mentoring. You know it needs to be OK within a Church community and the Church culture for a pastor to say, ‘you know what? I need help.’ I need some counseling. I’m struggling emotionally,” he said.
“But to be quite frank, for whatever reason, a lot of pastors don’t feel comfortable being vulnerable within a leadership context,” he added. “I really think that churches need to communicate and say, ‘Hey pastor, it’s OK not to be OK.'"