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‘Change in calling’ top reason black, evangelical pastors quit: study

Some 15% of black and evangelical pastors have walked away from the profession in the last decade and their top reason for doing so is a “change in calling” followed by church conflict. And for many of those who remain, the job often feels overwhelming, a new survey from Lifeway Research shows.

The survey, which involved 1,576 pastors from evangelical and historically black Protestant churches, was conducted from August to September and sponsored by Houston’s First Baptist Church and Richard Dockins. The results of this study were compared against data from a similar study in 2015.

While the survey shows that most pastors in the study have faithfully stayed in ministry in some form over the last decade, among those that leave altogether, 32% cited a “change in calling.” For 18% of the spiritual leaders, conflict in their church was the primary factor that led to them calling it quits, while 13% cited burnout. Other issues cited by pastors for leaving the profession include being a poor fit with their church, family issues, moral or ethical issues, illness, personal finances or just lack of preparation for the job.

While the survey shows that a majority of pastors have managed to remain in ministry despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it also shows that many pastors often feel overworked and are concerned about the impact of the job on their families.

A majority, 63%, felt their role was frequently overwhelming, while 71% said they were on call 24 hours a day. Some 50% described the job of being a pastor as greater than they can handle, while significant minorities shared feeling isolated and challenged by unrealistic expectations. Approximately one in five pastors further described being frequently irritated by church members.

“The impact of the pandemic may be most noticeable in pastors’ increased agreement that the role of being a pastor is frequently overwhelming, which jumped from 54% in 2015 to 63% today,” Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, said in a statement. “But there has also been a shift in how some pastors think about their work. Fewer pastors agree they must be ‘on call’ 24 hours a day, declining from 84% to 71%. Perhaps even more telling, the majority of pastors (51%) strongly agreed with this expectation in 2015, while only a third (34%) strongly feel this obligation today.”

Instead of just leaving the pastorate altogether, when faced with a professional challenge at a church, the study showed that 19% of pastors in the survey simply moved to a different congregation. Some 47% of the pastors in this group felt they took the church as far as they could, while 33% said their family needed a change.

And even if they didn’t cite conflict as a reason for leaving their church, some 69% of pastors in the survey indicated they have dealt with some kind of conflict in their congregation. Some 39% reported experiencing a personal attack, while a similar percentage said they faced conflict over changes they proposed in the church.

Disagreements also cropped up over issues like leadership style, doctrinal differences and even politics.

“Churches are groups of people, and even like-minded people do not always get along,” McConnell explained. “It would be naïve to think a church would not experience disagreements. The important thing is whether that church maintains unity and love for each other as they navigate those differences or stoops to personal attacks as many pastors have experienced.”

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