Barna data collected in October of 2021 and March of 2022 show that U.S. senior pastors are increasingly more likely to have considered leaving full-time ministry in the past year. What are some of the factors behind this uptick?
The Barna research offers a glimpse into what’s causing pastoral burnout—and perhaps influencing their decisions to leave or stay. Here, we’ll explore pastors’ prioritization of self-care and spiritual formation during their time in ministry.
Despite Challenges, 47% of Pastors Cannot See Themselves Doing Anything Else
At first glance, pastors seem to be doing okay. When looking at all U.S. Protestant senior pastors, most at least somewhat agree that, despite ministry challenges, they cannot see themselves doing anything else (47% strongly agree, 30% somewhat agree) and that they feel rewarded in their role as pastor (31% strongly agree, 44% somewhat agree).
As you can see in the above chart, pastors' agreement is more muted, however, when it comes to saying self-care is a priority. Lifting another layer—looking specifically at pastors who have or have not considered quitting in the past year—exposes some of the stark contrasts in pastors’ well-being and self-care.
While 63 percent of pastors who have not considered quitting full-time ministry strongly agree they cannot see themselves doing anything else despite the challenges of being a pastor, only one-quarter of pastors who have considered leaving (25%) says the same. Additionally, pastors who haven’t considered quitting are more likely to strongly agree they feel rewarded in their role as pastors compared to those who’ve thought about leaving (44%. vs. 13%).
A side-by-side comparison shows that pastors who have considered quitting full-time ministry are more likely to agree they feel like their own spiritual formation has taken a back seat to pastoral duties (24% vs. 8% of those who haven't considered quitting strongly agree). They are also more likely to say they often feel depressed (13% vs. 2% strongly agree), and just one in 10 agrees they prioritize their self-care as a pastor (10% vs. 18% strongly agree).
Is spiritual formation indeed moving to the back-burner for pastors who are contemplating a career change? When it comes to weekly faith practices that might help sustain pastors' well-being, data highlight notable differences between pastors who have considered quitting and those who have not. While all pastors prioritize praying throughout the week, pastors who have considered leaving are less likely than other pastors to prioritize reading the Bible for personal devotions (70% vs. 80%) and time to worship (58% vs. 68%) on a weekly basis. Still, the majority of either group is engaging in these practices weekly. Could the sense that spiritual formation is taking a backseat be compounded by other stressors?
Between the stressful situations that cause pastors to consider leaving ministry and their struggles to prioritize self-care and spiritual formation, pastors who are burning out and considering quitting full-time ministry are in need of encouragement, rest and refreshment.
Dr. Matthew D. Kim, professor at Gordon-Conwell University, offers thanks and encouragement to pastors in a recent Barna Mini Masterclass episode, stating, “[Pastors,] thank you for your faithful service to God, especially in light of what we’ve gone through these last years. It’s a tough time to be a pastor and serve God in this way. ... Remember that God has gifted you and has wired you with a personality and the ability to communicate in a very unique way. ... I pray that you would be encouraged in this next season of ministry.”
About the Research
March 2022 Pastor Survey data: Barna Group conducted this online survey among 510 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 10–16, 2022. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2022