We are facing a full-blown pastor crisis.
Currently, there is a massive shortage of clergy/pastors and other church staff.
The signs are everywhere.
Because of the work I do, it is much easier to see the negative than the positive. That said, I generally tend to be a hopeful, optimistic and positive person. I am not taking the alarmist approach, I am instead confronting the challenging reality that we are facing.
Almost half of Pastors in the United States are thinking about leaving ministry altogether. Leaving ministry, not just their current church or role.
This number has been rising at breakneck pace. Consider the following numbers Barna published regarding the number of pastors in the US seriously considering leaving ministry:
• In January of 2021, it was 29%.
• In November of 2021, that number rose to 38%.
• In March of 2022, that number hit 42%.
• Today, it is around 50%. That number is higher for pastors serving in mainline denominations.
The number of active pastors shrunk greatly in the last 2-4 years in the light of the pandemic, most to retirement, some to burnout, others to death. It was a large exodus.
Seminaries are shrinking. Many have closed and are merging with other seminaries. One large denomination started offering seminary education for free at its seminaries to try to attract more pastors. The result was only a small increase in seminary enrollment, not nearly enough to even replace retiring pastors. Churches searching for pastors are struggling to find any candidates, let alone quality candidates who are a fit. I know of churches that have been looking for pastors for more than 2 years!
While many of our numbers reflect the reality in US churches, the pastor crisis is not limited to North America. In central Africa, many countries are struggling to find and keep pastors. The pastor crisis is a global crisis of varying degrees depending on the nation.
In the United States this may be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, season of ministry for pastors and church staff in the history of the church. Certainly, the Christian church is facing the most perilous (and simultaneously opportune) time in its history. We have entered the Post Christian Era in the United States (you can see my blog on the post Christian era for more).
There is more division in society in general, but specifically in the church as well. Even the kindest of church members now have an edge post-pandemic that they did not have before. Just as in our society, there is more meanness and conflict in the church than in the past. Expectations have increased and resources are at best flat. In adding online programming and broadcasting to our ministries, we did little to no subtraction. There is growing emotional fatigue amongst people, including pastors.
There is not a week that goes by where I do not talk at least one pastor or church staff member off of a ledge. There are weeks where I listen to more than a dozen different pastors express their struggles in tears.
Consider the following recent numbers from Barna:
In just seven years, pastors reporting ‘Excellence’ in their:
• Spiritual well-being dropped from 37% to 14%.
• Mental and emotional health plummeted from 39% to 11%.
• Physical well-being fell from 24% to 9%.
• Overall quality of life dipped from 42% to 18%.
• Level of respect they felt from the community tanked from 22% to 10%.
• Level of ‘true friends’ dropped by 50% from 34% to 17%.
• Satisfaction with being a pastor dropped by 20% from 72% to 52%.
According to Pew Research, only 31% of pastors in the United States consider themselves to be healthy.
While all statistics can be manipulated or challenged, we must not deny this clear pattern. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, and the church is notorious for denying problems.
Barna also found that somewhere between 1,500 and 1,700 pastors quit ministry each month (2019). That is 50-57 pastors who leave ministry each day!
We have a pastor crisis on our hands.
Pastors are usually the caregivers, but even caregivers need care. Even pastors need love, support, and encouragement. This is truer than it has ever been in the US. Pastors need pastors too. Without healthy pastors, church staff, and leaders, we cannot have healthy churches. Healthy churches are critical to healthy communities. The stakes are high.
While there are many elements to this crisis, it is primarily a crisis of leader health. There are plenty of pastors serving who desire to continue to serve. There are many leaders in our churches who desire to embrace God’s call on their lives.
As leadership guru Patrick Lencioni notes, ‘health trumps everything.’ Our corollary is simple: “Outside of the work of God through the Gospel, health trumps all. In leaders and in churches. Health is the greatest factor in the effectiveness and longevity of pastors, ministry leaders and churches.”
We must continue to focus on the primary call of the church to make disciples. We must pursue excellence in all things, including the care, support, and encouragement of our pastors, church staff, and other leaders. We must empower current and future leaders, especially those under 25. We must join together to improve, guard, and sustain the health of the pastors and staff in our churches and ministries.
We have a pastor crisis. It is a crisis that demands our response.
Half of US pastors are considering leaving ministry.
Only 3 out of 10 pastors in the US consider themselves healthy.
Communities need healthy churches. Churches need healthy pastors.
Our Pastors need us.
We do not have another generation to get this right.
To learn more about church and leader health, contact us at amazed15.org.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries