Add Pastors to the Great Resignation


According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, more Americans quit their jobs in April 2021 than in any other month on record. This record was then broken in July 2021, which was then broken in August. And then it was broken again in September. This is called the “Great Resignation”.

Derek Thompson, writing for Atlantic, notes that most of those quitting are low-wage workers getting better jobs in industries that raise wages to get desperately needed new employees. So, as Thompson writes, this part is more accurately a “big change” than a “big stop”.

But for many, it’s also a matter of burnout. People in jobs that have been particularly impacted by all things COVID – think educators, healthcare workers and

… pastors.

As the Washington Post reported last month,

“an exodus of clergy…left the ministry in the past two years due to a powerful combination of pandemic demands and political stress. Amid fights over masks and vaccination mandates, how far religious leaders can go to express political views that could alienate some of their followers, on whether Zoom creates or stifles the spiritual community, pastoral exhaustion has been brought up.

It’s true. A survey conducted by Barna Research in November last year found that 38% of all Protestant pastors said they had considered leaving full-time vocations ministry in the past year. That was a 9-point increase from when Barna asked the same question in early 2021. When you bracket age groups, an alarming 46% of pastors under the age of 45 plan to leave the ministry. In the pastoral health survey, only 36% fall into the healthy category when compared to categories such as spiritual, emotional, professional, physical and financial.

As quoted in an article written by Bob Smietana of Religious News Service,

“Chuck DeGroat, professor of counseling and Christian spirituality at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, said pastors have long had to mediate disputes over church theology or practice, such as the role of women in the church or the so-called “worship wars”. of the last decades. They now face additional strains from the pandemic and polarization, with people willing to leave their churches over mask policies or talk of race.

What has most stressed pastors are the deep polarizations that have made their role as spiritual leaders agonizing. Whatever the issue, whatever the decision, you were going to alienate and anger one group or another. And these are inevitable problems and decisions:

  • conspiracy theory(ies) sweeping the congregation
  • to get vaccinated
  • open or closed
  • masked or unmasked
  • the 2020 election
  • the response to the death of George Floyd

Added to this is the shift to all things digital, which was not a skill taught in seminary, and the social isolation that many pastors felt from the practice of ministry.

I write all of this with deep empathy as a pastor myself. It has been two difficult years. I had to deal with similar decisions and similar problems as all the other pastors. And the same fallout.

But if you attend Meck, don’t worry. I’m not in the 38% (and if I were younger, I wouldn’t be in the 46%). It’s not that I’m better than those men and women (I’m definitely not), it’s just that the stress of the past two years has eased for me. The vast, vast majority of Meck members and attendees supported and even celebrated our response to the issues and decisions made. For that, I am both grateful and humbled.

But we still had families leaving, people angry, disagreements expressed and conflicts raging.

So to all you pastors who are teetering on the edge, please, for the love of Jesus and your church, try to hold on. The fact that the last two years have left you so drained shows that your heart is in the right place and in the right game. We need you. Your church needs you. The world needs you. Don’t make a decision in light of a season in life that you might regret for the rest of your life.

And to all of you connected with a local church, could you say a prayer for your pastor? Could you give them a sympathetic pardon on any answer to a question or decision they had to make that you may have disagreed with? You know it couldn’t have been easy and they went for it with a clear conscience. And ask yourself – is the masking, an election, a vaccine, at the level of doctrine, mission or Christian community? Leadership is a difficult role. Can’t we agree to disagree…pleasantly?

The Great Resignation shows no signs of slowing down. Unfortunately, even when it comes to pastors. But they don’t leave for a better salary. They are leaving,

…because people don’t make life easy for them.

James Emery White


Derek Thompson, “Three Myths of the Great Resignation”, AtlanticDecember 8, 2021, read online.

Michelle Boorstein, “The First Christmas as a Layman: Exhausted by the Pandemic, Many Clergy Have Quit Over the Past Year,” The Washington PostDecember 24, 2021, read online.

“38% of American pastors have thought about leaving full-time ministry in the past year,” barnaNovember 16, 2021, read online.

Bob Smietana, “For some pastors, the past year was a sign from God that it was time to stop”, Religious News ServiceMay 7, 2021, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His last book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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