“This Is Not What I Signed Up For.” Unsettling Exodus of Pastors Leaving the Ministry

“This Is Not What I Signed Up For.” Unsettling Exodus of Pastors Leaving the Ministry

Written by Jesse T. Jackson |
Thursday, September 23, 2021

A professor from the University of Dubuque Theological SeminaryChristopher B. James, gave his thoughts as to why he believes the trend of pastors leaving ministry is occurring. James said, “In addition to being a hard job with mediocre pay, many pastors don’t think it’s worth it to try to maintain dying churches and are curious what Christian life & leadership might look like outside the clergy role. It’s part of a wider unraveling and reconfiguration of church.” White replied to Prof. James, “I think you’re on to something.”

High numbers of pastors leaving ministry are an an exodus that’s concerning to pastors‘ coach and co-founder Dan White Jr. of The KINEO Center, a place focused on offering healing for tired and traumatized leaders. On May 3, 2021, White posted on Twitter that he knows 28 pastor friends who have resigned this year, most of whom are leaving pastoral ministry altogether. White coaches approximately 70 to 80 pastors a year in his circle of about 500 or so.

Why Are Pastors Leaving Ministry?

White, a former pastor himself, asked “What is occurring?”

It doesn’t seem to be in any particular denomination as White shared that his friends come from a mix of denominations including Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Anglican, MethodistMennonite, and Christian Reformed. Only nine of them were Evangelical pastors and just 10 out of the 28 he mentioned were bi-vocational.

“I’ve been coaching for about 10 years, never seen this kind of disruption.”- Dan White Jr.

White replied to a follower’s question about the average age and lifestyle of those he has seen transitioning out of pastoral ministry, saying in his experience they’ve been between the ages of 35 to 50. Some have served as many as 25 years in the pastoral ministry. “I do think it’s some kind of inner crisis with ‘what are my desires, really?’ coupled with a pain threshold ‘the attacks and loss are just too much; I’m miserable,’” he wrote.

He revealed that about half the 28 pastors he referred to were “People of Color” when someone asked if the majority of those who have left the ministry were African American pastors. He also stated that all of the 28 left by their choice; they weren’t forced out or fired.

A professor from the University of Dubuque Theological SeminaryChristopher B. James, gave his thoughts as to why he believes the trend of pastors leaving ministry is occurring. James said, “In addition to being a hard job with mediocre pay, many pastors don’t think it’s worth it to try to maintain dying churches and are curious what Christian life & leadership might look like outside the clergy role. It’s part of a wider unraveling and reconfiguration of church.” White replied to Prof. James, “I think you’re on to something.”

The active Twitter thread contains a handful of pastors currently in ministry and some who have left the ministry. One pastor told White, “As a minister struggling with whether to stay in parish ministry, I’m so hurt by all the replies that blame clergy for quitting. I’ve given my life to the Church, asked my family to sacrifice & ended up with my a** kicked. American church is broken.”

A former pastor of 30 years also wrote, “I’m one of those. After 30 years I felt God was calling me out of paid ministry into the marketplace. I’m convinced that many, many pastors have lost the ability to speak the same language of those outside of the church.”

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