Why So Many Staffers Are Unhappy

Burnout. Frustration. Resentment. How can we avoid these staff killers?

It  happened again today. Twice. Two different guys in different states contacted me to catch up. And once again the conversation turned to an all-too-familiar tale. They are growing to resent anything having to do with professional ministry and they have either left ministry or are seriously thinking about it. And it breaks my heart.

These are guys who came up under me, one in my college group and one interned at a large church where I was on staff. They were leaders at every level. They were passionate and motivated. They did all the grunt work, finished seminary, paid dues, sacrificed so much and now they are … done. Or at least real close to being done.

And they are not alone. Surveys consistently place the number of ministers leaving ministry every month in America between 1,500 and 1,800. That’s over 20,000 per year, or one about every two to three hours. And while a good many of this number are senior pastors, I would estimate that at least half or more are actually associate pastors of every persuasion, from worship to students, from pastoral care to missions, and everything in between. These are the folks I want to talk about. Why so much frustration, so much discontent? Why are they so unhappy, and who or what is to blame?

Truthfully, there is not one easy answer to these questions. But after years of seeing this up close and personal, I do believe there are some common themes that are present in these situations more often than not. So over the next few days I’m going to address one big issue every day. So let’s put down our preconceived ideas and come to the table with open hearts and open minds and see if we can’t at least begin a great conversation about why so many church staffers are so unhappy. No one seems to be talking about this huge issue, and nothing will ever change if we can’t at least talk about it. So let’s talk.

If we can understand what’s going on, we can better communicate to each other and those we work with to hopefully get in front of this issue.

So before we dive into some of the overarching reasons for this trend, I wanted to give you some big picture perspective on the sheer enormity of the problem. Let’s take a look at the numbers:

a. 100 percent of pastors surveyed said they had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church or from a moral failure.

b. 1,500-1,800 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout or contention in their churches.

c. 90 percent of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week, and 50 percent feel unable to meet the demands of the job.

d. 50 percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.

e. 80 percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

f. 50 percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

g. 80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.

h. 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

i. Almost 40 percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

j. 90 percent said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry.

k. 80 percent of adult children of pastors surveyed have had to seek professional help for depression.

l. 70 percent of pastors do not have a close friend, confidant or mentor.

m. 56 percent of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends.

n. 95 percent of pastors do not regularly pray with their spouses.

o. 80 percent of pastors surveyed spend less than 15 minutes a day in prayer.

p. 70 percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

q. Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

While those of us who have been or still are on church staff may not be totally surprised by most of this information, it is still overwhelming and lies in stark contrast to all that we may have hoped ministry would be. Over the next several days, we’ll begin to get into some of the root causes and reasons behind this epidemic and begin to talk about what we can do about it.

(These statistics came from across denomination lines, and have been gleaned from various reliable sources such as Pastor to Pastor, Focus on the Family, Ministries Today, Charisma Magazine, TNT Ministries, Campus Crusade for Christ, Global Pastors Network and the New York Times.)

It’s important to remember that this is a complex issue that will not be solved by a few simple blog posts. That said, our goal here is to help bring the issue into the light, help anyone going through this to know they are not alone, highlight some of the glaring contributing factors and give some basic info on how to deal with and hopefully change them. Simple enough, right?

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Mark Clement
Mark Clement is a writer, director and producer who spent 15 years on church staff from church plants to mega churches and has spent the last twelve years as a communications consultant to hundreds of churches, non-profits and corporations around the globe. He is the founder and CEO of Big Picture Media Group, VideoAnnouncements.TV and Dirtfish Films. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog. He is the proud father of three adult children and lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Tammy.