Is My Pastor About to Quit?

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.”

  1. “Pastors are weary from the pandemic just like everyone else.”  No surprise here.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.”
  4. “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.
  5. “Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly.”
  6. “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 (pastordonbrandt@gmail.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




Weekly Devotional for October 22, 2017

WHY DO WE GIVE?

 

Devotional for October 22, 2017 based upon Matthew 22: 15-22

A young boy wanted a hundred dollars, so he prayed to God for an entire week, but nothing happened.  Finally he decided to write God a letter, requesting the hundred dollars.  When the Post Office got the letter addressed to God, they forwarded it to the White House.  The President was very impressed and touched, so he instructed an aide to send the boy five dollars.  He figured that five dollars would mean a lot to the boy.  Which it did.  So the young boy sat down and wrote a note, which read, “Dear God, Thank you very much for sending me the money.  However, I noticed that for some reason you sent it through Washington.  As always, they kept most of it.”  

In our Gospel reading for this morning Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (verse 21)  Most of us accept the fact that we do have to give to Caesar.  What Caesar wants, Caesar gets.  And most of us just kind of accept that.

Giving to Caesar is not a problem for most of us.  But for many, giving to God is a huge problem.   So I would like to ask the question, WHY DO WE GIVE?  Many churches hold their annual stewardship campaign during this time of the year.  Why would we want to tell God in writing what we plan to do in providing financial support for and being involved in the ministry of the Church this next year?

First, we give to God the things that belong to God in RESPONSE to all that He has done for us.  Times are tough.  Money is short.  Maybe financially times are tougher for you than they were a few years ago.  But do you still have your health?  Do you have people who love you?  Do you have food to eat and a warm place to sleep?  Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?  Do you have a home in heaven?  The truth is that we all have much to be thankful for.  And so we give to God the things that belong to God, first of all, in RESPONSE to all that God has done for us.

Second, we give to God the things that belong to God as a REMEDY to the enslaving power of wealth.  There comes a time for all of us when we have to decide what role money is going to play in our lives.  Will we have money, or will money have us?  It’s really interesting – and tellingly significant – that as people’s income grows, the percentage of their income that they give to charities declines.  The more people earn, the less proportionately they give.  You would think it would work the other way around.  The more I earn, the more discretionary income I have, so the more I should be able to give.  But that’s not the way it works.  

A wealthy TV evangelist was dying in his mansion.  He gathered his followers all around him to hear his one last wish.  “Before I die,” he said, “I would like to take one last ride.”  They asked him what he would need for that one last ride before entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.  He replied, “I would like a very small camel and a very large needle.”

It’s happening to people all around us.  No one of us is immune.  People who used to worship God now worship money. And so we give to God the things that belong to God as a REMEDY to the enslaving power of wealth.

And then third, we give to God the things that belong to God as a REMINDER of who is number one in our lives.  According to Deuteronomy 14, the whole purpose of the tithe is to teach us to always put God first.  It’s simply a matter of priorities.  It is simply a matter of doing what Jesus said – “Give back to God the things that belong to God.”  Seek first His Kingdom, and then trust Him to provide and to take care of you.  

This coming week ask yourself, “Am I truly giving back to God the things that belong to God?”

May the Holy Spirit so live in your life that you will find giving back to God easier, more important, and certainly more enjoyable than giving back to Caesar.

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE