Leaving Ministry for Mission

According to the Harvard Business Review article, “Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?” 4 million people quit their job in July of 2021.  That was down from a peak in April 2021.  The age group with the greatest increase in resignations was the 30–45-year-olds.  Employers all over the U.S. are watching this phenomenon and asking, “Why?”

On November 22, 2021, David Kinnaman and Carey Nieuwhof conducted a bonus episode of ChurchPulse Weekly titled, “Are Pastors Burning Out?”  They revealed the results of a recent study by Barna Group conducted in October of 2021 showing that 38% of pastors have seriously considered quitting full-time ministry in the past 12 months.  Even more shocking is that Barna had conducted the same study in January of 2021 and found that 29% were seriously considering quitting.  That means between January and October of last year, the rate of pastors considering leaving ministry accelerated significantly.  Furthermore, roughly 1/3 of pastors considering quitting have approximately 20 years of ministry experience.

We find ourselves asking the same question employers are asking as they face the Great Resignation: “Why?”  What drives a well-trained minister with years of experience to leave the relative security of established church ministry?  The experience level of at least a third of them would indicate that it is not because they are naïve about ministry.  

In January of 2021, Mission Alive church planter and pastor of Storyline Christian Community in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Charles Kiser and I conducted a study of 13 Mission Alive church planters.  Among the many compelling and helpful insights our study revealed, we learned that in January of 2021, their average age was 44.7 years old.  Contrary to common beliefs that church planters are wild-eyed, impetuous upstarts with no regard for the historic gospel, Mission Alive church planters tend to be seasoned ministry veterans who fervently desire to see God’s Kingdom arrive in visible and tangible forms.  Our study also revealed that while their age when they started varied widely from 23 years old to 45 years old (with some Mission Alive church planters not consulted for the study starting in their 50s and low 60s), the average age of the Mission Alive church planters who participated in the study when they started their church planting ministry was 36.5 years old—hardly newbies at church ministry.  It bears noting that the average age of Mission Alive church planters and the approximate age of 1/3 of pastors leaving traditional church ministry correlate closely.

The factors causing pastors to leave their ministry, especially after 20 years of ministry experience, are beyond the scope of this article and no doubt vary widely.  Yet, we in Mission Alive often hear pastors’ frustrations about toxic leadership, inflexible congregations and a lack of vision—to name a very few.  Some of these pastors reach out to Mission Alive to explore the possibility of starting new, innovative churches.  When they do, we frequently hear their desire to return to the vision and passion that got them into ministry in the first place.  We hear their heart’s desire to genuinely engage people who don’t fit into typical churches, those whose lives don’t match with the local congregation’s, those asking hard questions, and those who have been hurt by previous churches.  We hear their passion for God’s Mission and their desire to connect with the many others in their community who love God and want to connect to Jesus but can’t find a church where they are fully welcome.

According to the same Harvard Business Review article mentioned above, the two industries hit hardest by the Great Resignation are the tech industry and the healthcare industry.  Both industries have “experienced extreme increase in demand due to the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout.”  The past two years of COVID-19 have created additional burdens for those in ministry as well.  The pandemic has forced ministers to become experts at internet communications.  At the same time, COVID-19 has caused a sharp increase in illnesses and deaths, forcing ministers to deal with much higher demands for pastoral care.  On top of all of this, ministers are dealing with an unprecedented polarization in their congregation rooted in how congregants respond to COVID-19, social unrest and the political climate.

If you have resigned from ministry in the past few years (or know someone who has), whether the resignation was out of frustration, exhaustion, burnout or self-preservation, God may still have a place for you in his greater Mission.  While you may need a rest, you may discover your calling has not disappeared.  In fact, as a seasoned pastor/preacher, you may discover your vision is clearer than ever.  Consider this article your personal invitation to explore with Mission Alive whether you are called to reinvest in God’s Mission and develop some new, innovative ways of ministering.  Consider that your best days of ministry may be ahead of you.  

Whether you are 30 or 60 years old, God may have a place for you in his Mission!  Do not be too quick to dismiss the mission of church planting.  There are many ways to start new churches and many roles you could play.  If your heart still burns to see people come to Christ and grow in Him, contact Mission Alive.  We’d love to chat with you about your calling.  Whether you contact Mission Alive or not, we honor your service and want to remind you that nothing you do in the name of Jesus is done in vain.

You can reach us at contact@missionalive.org.

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Tod Vogt, serves as the Executive Director of Mission Alive in Dallas, TX. Prior to working as Mission Alive’s Executive Director, he served as our Director of Equipping. Tod joined the Mission Alive team in 2007 after several years in local church ministry.  Tod began his full-time ministry as a church planting missionary among the Fon people of Benin, West Africa.

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