Why are so many pastors leaving the ministry?

Most pastors can point to a specific time or setting in which they received a call to pastoral ministry. Often they pursued the calling despite the warnings of others. They believed this calling was from God, and they chose to follow it. Their preparation typically has involved years of education and continued development. The journey began as a response to a personal call.

As I reflect on 35 years of ministry, I realize that many of my former colleagues are no longer pastors. Somewhere along the line, they left their "calling" and undertook a different path for their lives. Reflecting on my friends who used to be pastors, I realize that they are now a majority. Those, like me, who have stayed in ministry are actually the minority. The attrition rate has been high and the cost to souls is astronomical.

For some pastors, leaving the pastorate was the result of assuming that their calling was permanent and they were therefore protected. They neglected the spiritual disciplines or spiritual integrity needed to continue in ministry. They now realize that they should have given more attention to their own Christian development. They know now that ministry depends on moral purity.

The majority of my acquaintances, however, simply encountered such turmoil and situational conflict that they felt they could not continue to pastor. Too often, they had no friend or accountability group to share their pain or provide emotional or spiritual support. Many well-meaning Christians in their congregations ignored the signs of "battle fatigue." Instead, congregations overwhelmed my pastor friends with unrealistic expectations, negative criticism and misplaced anger. Some congregations even assumed the perfect pastor was "out there," so their fallible pastor was terminated.

Could these tragic results have been avoided? If the answer is "yes," then both clergy and laity share the responsibility. The results might have been different if someone named Barnabas had cared enough to voice a few words of encouragement or provided some spiritual mentoring. One solution proposed by Focus on the Family is a congregation's annual participation in Clergy Appreciation Month, and a habit of affirmation throughout the year.