In the wake of the resignation of the pastor of a megachurch in our area, the local paper published an article citing the findings of a survey related to pastoral attrition:
“LifeWay Research also found that 40 percent left pastoral work before age 65 because they had a change in calling, 25 percent cited a conflict in a church, 12 percent left because of personal finances and 12 percent left for family issues. The online survey conducted in 2015 asked questions of 734 former senior pastors who left in four Protestant denominations, and respondents could choose more than one reason.”
In reviewing these results, most of us realize that if a person is continually dealing with conflict, financial concerns, or family issues, he or she will probably consider “a change in calling” for personal well-being and relational health! We expect too much of our senior leaders and often fail to provide the support they need in setting boundaries.
Most of the challenges cited here relate to boundary issues. Both lay clergy leadership may have difficulty knowing where one’s responsibilities leave off and another’s begin. There are often assumptions on both sides that are not only wrong but create an environment that feeds distrust and power struggles.
Of all the work/life balance issues that pastors address, those related to family are most sensitive. These may range from how much time the clergy person spends with family to how much the church expects from the spouse and children.
Financial concerns, of course, are often left unaddressed by leadership. Staff members don’t like to address issues of adequate compensation and the lay leadership would rather assume that everything is going well as long as the staff member stays with the church. When one clergy person of my acquaintance left his former church, he was able to express in the exit interview how poorly he had been compensated. This did not help him, but it did provide a wakeup call for the personnel committee to address the needs of those who were still on staff.
There are ways to address these concerns, thus improving pastoral satisfaction and tenure. Church leaders can provide coaches for pastors to support them in setting healthy boundaries. They can also promote an atmosphere where their clergy leaders can be honest about the pressures that they face, calling upon outside consultants and denominational staff to facilitate such discussions. They can work to provide the resources—spiritual, professional, and financial—that their clergy leaders require.
The key thing to realize here is that clergy leave the ministry every day; that is not news. This story only saw the light of day because of the high profile of the minister involved. If lay leaders do not step up and accept this responsibility, stories like the one in our local paper will only multiply.