Recently I had the opportunity to sit with 13 American Baptist Executive Ministers and hear
something positive. The presenter, via our zoom meeting, was Bill Shiell, the president of Northern Seminary. In the age of the “great resignation” the topic was simply, “Why pastors are staying in ministry.” Yes, pastors have been worn down by adapting, mediating, and caring. But the Northern Seminary study revealed the timeless reasons pastors, men and women, new and veteran, across racial identifications, remain in local church ministry. (I personally speculate there are similar reasons why people stay part of churches.)
The number #1 reason pastors remain committed to ministry: 93% report a convinced knowledge of call. Pastors who do not intend to leave ministry, almost always state they will remain in their current ministries, unless God is definitely calling them away. Pastors who remain in ministry are committed to their local church and context. Most often call takes on a geographically place most often expressed in the conviction that “God has called me here.”
The #2 reason why pastors remain in ministry is having a supportive family, network, church, or community, or a combination thereof, but most importantly family. Although lower than 93%, a support network was cited by 43% as the reason they remain in ministry. Not surprisingly, compensation was a very distant third.
Northern Seminary’s study also revealed is that in a world of pandemic and division, what caused pastors who remain in ministry to embrace their first passions: preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. The past two years reminded pastors that these were the most important callings. Relationships became more important to pastors, as I believe was true of people in general. Pastors who remain in ministry worked to simplify their calls, by de-prioritizing church administrative tasks. I suspect there are things, often small things, that drain pastors of life. I also suspect church governance also drains pastors of passion and life. Church conflicts over COVID policies and political convictions were cited as being exhausting dynamics for pastors.
But then encouraging news: When pastors were asked what they need, the two top needs cited were the practices of spiritual formation and meaningful relationships. Possibly the data had a conclusive loop; the needs pastors cited were the same things that confirmed and deepened their call. Interestingly, in this survey pastors expressed little interest in learning new methods or strategies. The pastors surveyed were less interested in “how to”, than the deepening of their relationship with Christ and others.
My interpretation of the data, is the struggles of the last two years have acted as a Holy Spirit formed reminder of what is timeless and most important, our relationship with Christ and others, and unmovable confidence in the timeless Good News of Jesus. When I review 38 years of pastoral ministry, which is included my current gig, I remember times of discouragement and exhaustion, but when asking myself, “Why are you staying?”, I most often stumbled back to the answer that Jesus has asked me to stay. I think we are finding the blessing in the whirlwind, dependency upon Christ, and love of others.
In Jesus name, Dale