Running their Race: Why Pastors Stay: Part 2 of 3

By: William D. Shiell

Part 2: What Resilient Pastors Want

Pastors are the wisest people I know. When I’m in a room with people from various professional fields, I still look to the pastors for discernment. They are simultaneously CEOs, caregivers, counselors, communicators, HR managers, and volunteer coordinators. If they are co-vocational, they carry out these roles as their ministry and their churches in the marketplace. In the next twelve months, these ministers don’t want more training in strategy or innovation. Instead, they want deeper formation, stronger relationships, and mentoring.

In January, Northern surveyed pastoral leaders and asked a simple question: “Why are so many staying in ministry.” Nearly 400 responded to that question. In my previous post, I described the two characteristics of resilient pastors: a strong sense of call and community in their contexts.

We also asked what would be most helpful to them to stay in their contexts over the next twelve months? Again, the answers were the same across every demographic, age, and among most persons of color. The first is more profound spiritual formation. These pastors have sustained their call by praying for God to call them again on Saturday night. They face doubts about their ministry and certain opposition and counted any resistance as an opportunity to be numbered “among the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). They now want further training in spiritual disciplines and a group of people to hold them accountable as they grow and mature.

For example, one pastor said,

Pastors need help coping with a lack of ‘success.’ Even before covid, many were already struggling with years of work that (by measurables) often doesn’t seem fruitful. That has been intensified now that many are in decline. They need coaching on ‘how to thrive when your ministry doesn’t.

Even when ministry seems unsuccessful, pastors want to discern wisely what to preach and how to preach about complex issues. According to one pastor,

As a pastoral and prophetic voice in my sphere of ministry, it has been difficult to know when to say what and how! I’m thinking about presidential politics, racial tension, pandemic controversies, and such. The things that are ripping us apart. As a pastor, like it or not, I have been given a voice to which people are listening, and tremendous wisdom is needed. All of the technology stuff – how to do a good live stream, and so on – I’m not convinced these are the skills I need most.”

Secondly, coupled with formation is deeper relationships. Pastors view denominational leaders suspiciously and lack trust within their local support networks to share their concerns. They want to grow deeper in their communities but also recognize how difficult it is to support others when the community is suffering. For example, one pastor serving in a rural community asked, “How does the church take on the position of encourager and energizer in a town that has experienced a number of defeats and discouragement?”

Resilient pastors are especially concerned about people who have drifted away from church during COVID. They want to build friendships with the disengaged or those who have not decided to “join a church.”

Among co-vocational pastors, spiritual formation and community are especially tied to resources for ministry. Among co-vocational pastors, 46% need training in resources and grants for their ministry calling. These pastors are among the loneliest, while also finding the greatest support from their spouses.

Pastors who stay want to go deeper in their faith and in community. As one wise pastor shared, “I see a pastor as being one who is called to lead others to a deeper faith relationship with God. The only way I can truly do that is to go deeper myself. This is always a struggle.”

To learn more about how to cope with the perceived lack of success or to support pastors as they remain in ministry, join us for the following webinar series hosted by the Grow Center:

Resilience in Ministry Series – The Global Pandemic along with tensions stemming from race, politics, the economy, and finances have affected the lives of pastors and ministry leaders throughout the country. It has changed the scope of what pastors are asked to do and requires pastors to be flexible in their ministries. There is a need for resilience in ministry. What does this look like? What does success look like? What is needed to create a culture for a long-lasting ministry. In Part 2 of this seminar we invite a panel of pastors and church leaders to tackle this question. Pastor Greg Armstrong will be our host and moderator.

  • Leadership Resilience: Finding Long Term Success in Ministry – Part 1, Wednesday, March 16th from 11:00 – 12:00 PM CST on Facebook Live @northernseminary and @growcenternetwork

PANEL: Dr. Deb Gorton, Dr. Rob McKenna, Dr. Derek McNeil,  Host: Greg Armstrong, Founder and Lead Pastor, Renew Church

  • Leadership Resilience: Finding Long Term Success in Ministry – Part 2 Wednesday, March 25th from 12:00 – 1:15 PM CST on Facebook Live @northernseminary and @growcenternetwork

PANEL: Dr. Mark Quanstrom, Paco Amador, Jaslyn Dixon, Kensen Lam

Finally, join Northern Seminary for a webinar on “Staying Power through Courageous Preaching,” March 24th at 7:00 pm CST via Facebook Live @northernseminary

February 17, 2022

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William



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