“I’ve probably thought more about retirement since this (pandemic) started than I had,” says one USMB pastor. “Before, I was really committed to going until mandatory retirement, but this has made me question whether I really want to do that. This is a much harder job than it normally has been.”
Thom Rainer, the former CEO of LifeWay, writes that up to 50 percent of pastors are planning on leaving their current ministries once a new normal is established after COVID-19. (EFCA: “Encouraging Pandemic Pastors: How a Tough Job Got Even Tougher,” October 2021). He cites six reasons pastors are leaving ministry:
- Pastors are weary from the pandemic.
- Pastors are dispirited by division among church members.
- Pastors are discouraged about losing members and attendance.
- Pastors are uncertain about the financial future of their ministry.
- Pastors are receiving much more criticism as they implement changes, address cultural challenges, steward resources and shepherd their flock.
- Pastors’ workloads have increased greatly: on top of increased pastoral care needs, most have had to adjust their ministries to provide a myriad of new things to meet their church’s needs.
Not only has COVID brought intense challenges, but so has our current cultural and political climate. Pastors must deal with stark disagreements and vastly different viewpoints even among their own church family. One pastor writes, “Working to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4) among the family of God in our miserably polarized culture is painfully, nauseatingly, exhaustively and devastatingly difficult. Please pray for your pastor!”
Praying for our pastors is certainly one thing we can do to encourage them during this time. We can let them know we realize this has been a tremendously challenging time, and we are praying for them and their family. We can write them notes of encouragement. But there is much more that can be done.
Many pastors would benefit from having a counselor or ministry coach to help them process personal concerns and even deep wounds. USMB offers LEAD Coaching, an excellent, life-changing program that churches can easily provide for their pastor.
Being with other pastors has benefitted many, especially groups that provide confidential sharing. USMB offers several LEAD Cohorts that provide this kind of safe space.
Spouses need this kind of care as well. They also carry a heavy load as they’re integrally involved in the things that happen in the church and as they care for their own families. A date night might be a small thing to give to a pastoral couple. And it costs at least $80 to $100 for a nice meal out and to pay for babysitting. A $25 gift card doesn’t cover much these days—maybe a pizza to bring home, but that’s about it.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
“A joy, not a burden.” We all want our pastors to enjoy their work. Most do, and most find being a pastor to be a high calling, a privilege. There are many pastoral joys, especially as lives are transformed by Jesus. But there is a toll on our pastors in these trying days that we must recognize and do everything we can to give our support, love and care for those who care so much for us.
Don Morris is the USMB national director. He and his wife, Janna, live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they attend Cross Timbers Church.