Baptist churches could soon face a shortage of clergy like other religious traditions. Emily Brown, in February 2022 Pertinent article, “The Great American Clergy Shortage is Coming,” noted, “About 3,544 Catholic parishes in the United States are short of a pastor” and “In the Reform Jewish denomination, between 5% and 10% more congregations seek a rabbi than in a normal year.
A survey we conducted last fall suggests that Baptist churches may now or soon will struggle to call new pastors due to fewer clergy available.
Our survey, initiated on October 17, 2021, was an attempt to understand the growing number of resignations of Baptist pastors in 2020 and 2021. We invited pastors who had left their Baptist congregations between July 1, 2020 and October 17, 2021, to participate . For the survey, the definition of “pastor” included those who held leadership, associate, youth, children’s, music, college, and other staff positions in congregations. In the 17 days the survey was open, 100 pastors responded.
One of the most disturbing results of the survey was that many pastors left the ministry of the congregation altogether. Only 26% of our respondents have resigned to accept new ministry positions in the congregation. Sadly, 72% left congregational ministry altogether after resigning. Of these 72%, 5% were retiring, an additional 5% were leaving for further education, and 33% were working in non-congregational positions.
However, the most disturbing result is that 29% of respondents who had left their church had not obtained any other position at the time the survey was conducted and were absent from work.
“The most disturbing finding is that 29% of respondents who had left their church had not obtained any other position at the time the survey was conducted.”
Statistics can be mind-numbing, so let’s pause for a moment. In 15 months, 29 Baptist pastors left their posts with nowhere to go – vocationally. The difficulty of ministry in 2020 and 2021 was so personally and professionally overwhelming and exhausting that these ministers chose (or their church chose for them) to leave without a plan for their future.
While Baptist pastors are fired or kicked out is certainly nothing new, 29 out of 100 seems like an extraordinarily high number. Unfortunately, we don’t have historical data for comparison. However, through our survey, we have feedback from pastors who have left their churches.
One pastor noted that church leadership had embraced a corporate culture, resulting in a “deep disconnect and rejection of a holistic, healthy lifestyle for ministers and, therefore, congregants.” Another retired pastor wrote, “Vice Deacon President publicly chewed me up in the parking lot. That’s when I started planning my retirement day.
A pastor who left to pursue a lifelong dream said, “The despair I felt in congregational ministry was in stark contrast to the euphoria I felt chasing my lifelong dream. life. …I felt the call away from the institutional church that was draining life energy and moved to what gave me life energy.
Other pastors gone without work in sight used the following descriptors about their congregational experience: burnout, church abuse, cultural differences, authoritarian structures, political infighting, power struggles, toxic, false accusations, and unrealistic expectations.
To make ends meet, a pastor drove for Instacart and worked in a call center. Another said: “I don’t know if I will choose to serve again in a clergy role.” And finally, one noted, “When I think about applying for other church jobs, my stomach churns. Since leaving the church, my blood pressure has gone down, I don’t need sleeping pills, and I feel better.
“When I think about applying for other jobs in the church, my stomach churns.”
These experiences and feelings pastors mirror those of workers of all professions who were part of the great society-wide resignation of 2020 and 2021. Emma Goldberg, in a May 13, 2022, New York Times article, observed that the resigned workers realized “that they could find better ways to earn a living. Higher salary. Stable hours. Flexibility.”
Goldberg quoted office administrator Porsha Sharon: “The last generation, they were miserable at their jobs, but they stayed because that’s what they were supposed to do. We are not like that. … We’re like, ‘This job is overworking me. I get sick because my body shuts down and I get over it.
Many pastors in 2020 and 2021 were also “over it” and decided they could no longer stay in their churches.
While we certainly sympathize with pastors who have resigned, we are also concerned about the future and who will lead our churches.
It turns out that our investigation also revealed that those who quit were mostly experienced mid-career pastors. Of the 100 pastors who participated in the survey, 32 were in the 40-49 age range and 28 were in the 30-39 age range. Further, with three exceptions, these 60 pastors had between six and 25 years of ministry experience. Our sense from these survey results is that Baptists have lost significant numbers of trained, equipped, and seasoned pastors, those who would likely be better prepared to serve churches through the current challenges of congregational life.
In other words, the pastors we need the most are the ones we have lost during this season of increasing resignations.
“The pastors we need most are the ones we have lost during this season of increasing quitting.”
Many of these experienced mid-career pastors, with decades of ministry ahead of them, have indicated they have no plans to return to congregational ministry. Add to this reality declining 2021 enrollment of full-time seminary students, which means fewer young ministers will be trained to take on pastoral roles. So, we have lost experienced mid-career pastors and we recognize that there may be fewer young pastors following the Baptist pipeline, and the question we have now is: who is going to serve as pastor of our churches? ?
Where will our churches, small and large, find qualified, trained and healthy pastors? Will there be enough ministers to lead our churches in the next five or ten years? Or even next year?
Editor’s Note: The authors will present a workshop on their survey findings at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Dallas on Thursday, June 30 at 1:30 p.m.
Carol McEntyre is pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri, and former immediate moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Pam Durso is president of Central Seminary.
Leaving the Church: So Many Baptist Resignations
Leaving the Church, Part 2: Grand Baptist Resignations and COVID
Leaving the Church, Part 3: ‘Opposition to Leadership’