Writers of short think pieces like this one love to quote statistics about the hundreds or even thousands of pastors who are leaving the ministry each month. However, as Ed Stetzer pointed out on his blog last October, those provocative numbers have yet to be backed up with any solid data or reliable sources.
In fact, actual recent surveys, like the September 2015 study conducted by LifeWay Research, show that while the demands of pastoring a church can frequently feel “overwhelming” to more than 50 percent of senior pastors, the vast majority (92 percent!) also feel regularly encouraged by their congregation.
Being a minister is a challenge, but not necessarily one that swarms of pastors are quitting, and erroneously repeating that they are leaving church leadership at such high rates “is hurting pastors and the reputation of the church and ministry,” Stetzer says.
Both of the ministry initiatives I profiled in this month’s Christian Standard are addressing the stresses of ministry in different ways. In Ohio, 17 churches are participating in Cincinnati Christian University’s Teaching Church Partnership program that gives ministry-minded students hands-on experience with real churches, beginning their very first semester.
Just as schools with good education programs will expose future teachers to the classroom before their senior year student-teaching experience, CCU is requiring ministry majors to explore the worship center, the classroom, and the church office before graduating and accepting a church staff position.
Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA) addresses the pastors who have served in ministry roles between 5 and 10 years—a window that the Lilly Foundation has identified as a transition point when many pastors might face new challenges. The Communitas program not only equips leaders for productive ministry in Los Angeles, but also connects them with a cohort of peers who can provide long-term support.
Both of these initiatives are important, as are efforts to support new ministers, leaders in crisis, women in ministry, small-church ministers, large-church ministers, urban leaders, rural leaders, career pastors looking toward retirement, and many other groups with unique needs.
As these two stories illustrate, none of this happens for any group without significant investments of money, time, and strategic planning. It also requires extensive discussion with real leaders already in the trenches. But if these efforts can lead to thousands of pastors having longer and more productive ministries, that’s time and money well spent—and it’s certainly more helpful than spreading false statistics that hurt us all.