You might say we are beginning to witness the proverbial straw that is about to break the camel’s back. The camel, in this case, is the Protestant ordained ministry. (Including, of course, Lutheran pastors.) The straw is the current pandemic, and all the ways it is contributing to the work-related stress of pastors in this already infamous year of our Lord, 2020.
And yet the “straw” metaphor doesn’t do Covid-19 justice. This pandemic and its consequences would have been hard to even imagine just ten months ago. Yet here we are.
I retired from parish ministry less than two years ago. Apparently just in time. And while I am currently coaching numerous not-yet-retired Lutheran pastors, I have been personally insulated from the “new normal” full-time pastors are dealing with in this pandemic era. So I was surprised to come across Pastor Thom Rainer’s latest article just posted on August 31st. The title alone gained my complete attention: “Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit”.
Who is Thom Rainer? He is the former CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, and currently leads the coaching ministry Church Answers. And while Thom is Southern Baptist background, I’m convinced his insights apply to mainline Protestant pastors in general—including Lutheran clergy.
Early in his article Thom writes this: “The vast majority of pastors with whom our (coaching) team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime.” (Keep in mind Pastor Rainer has been in ministry for almost forty years.) Here are the six reasons, as described by Thom Rainer, why many pastors are “about to quit.”
- “Pastors are weary from the pandemic just like everyone else.” No surprise here.
- “Pastors are greatly discouraged about the fighting taking place among church members about the post-quarantine church. Gather in person or wait? Masks or no masks? Social distancing or not?” Rainer also mentions the added stress when these conflicts have been politicized.
- “Pastors are discouraged about losing members and attendance.” Pastors I have been coaching are, this summer, seeing in-person attendance that is only 30 to 50% of pre-Covid levels. And Rainer adds this: “Pastors have already heard directly or indirectly from around one-fourth of the members that they do not plan to return at all.”
- “Pastors don’t know if their churches will be able to financially support congregational ministries in the future.” And while giving might be healthy up to this point there is apparently mounting anxiety about whether this will continue to be the case in 2021.
- “Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly.”
- “The workload for pastors has increased greatly. … They are trying to serve the congregation the way they have in the past, but now they have the added responsibilities that have come with the digital world. And as expected, pastoral care needs among members have increased during the pandemic as well.”
This pandemic has, in my view, created something of a “perfect storm” when it comes to the matter of clergy supply. Even pre-Covid we were seeing the reality of many more pastors retiring than new pastors being ordained. Now that trend will undoubtedly be accelerating, due in part to many pastors retiring sooner rather than later.
Lutheran CORE’s Congregations in Transition (CiT) ministry coaches are available to help confessing Lutheran congregations who are or soon will be dealing with a pastoral vacancy in these uncertain and unnerving times. If you are a congregational lay leader at a church that already has—or soon will have—a vacancy, or you are a pastor who will be retiring in the next one to two years, we can help. Our coaching assistance, while at a distance, is comprehensive, and is customized to address your congregation’s unique ministry challenges. If you want to know more, contact me, Don Brandt, either by email (email@example.com) or phone (503-559-2034).
And for every lay person reading this, do what you can to thank and encourage your pastor!
Dr. Don Brandt
Director, Congregations in Transition