Running their Race: Why Pastors Stay: 1 of 3

By: William D. Shiell

Part 1: Characteristics of Resilient Pastors

Ministers inspire and motivate me. For the last two years, they’ve faced tests and trauma that we haven’t seen in church life in over 100 years. Some have decided to end this season of ministry, many for excellent reasons. However, over 60% have agreed to renew their call to the local church. Their decision doesn’t necessarily mean they will be in their church for the rest of their lives. But it does mean that they are staying at their post and remaining in church ministry for the foreseeable future. Based on the insights we just learned from a survey we conducted, pastors are staying because of their calling and community support around them.

Last month, nearly 400 pastoral leaders responded to a survey Northern Seminary, Seminary Now, and The Grow Center for Church and Mission co-sponsored. We wanted to learn at a deeper level why so many are not joining “the great resignation.” Ninety percent of Northern’s class of 2021 told us that they feel an even stronger commitment to the local church when they graduated than when they first enrolled. That trend holds for many more.

First, let me share a profile of the respondents.

  • 75% Men, 25% Women
  • Half are age 40-60 years old
  • 32% are vocational
  • 25% are persons of color

Admittedly, we talked primarily to pastors who have decided to continue forward. They are a bit biased and eager to endure. What are the qualities of these resilient pastors? First, they are staying where they are and are not looking to leave. 81% have decided to remain in their current context. When asked to rank the reasons why they are staying, they chose two characteristics above compensation: call and community. 93% have a strong sense of call to their churches. 48% have a supportive community around them, whether staff, spouse, and or friends in their context. These characteristics are similar across age, demographics, ethnicity, size of church, and co-vocational ministries.

Their decision to stay does not mean they avoid trouble. All are weary. As one pastor told me, “I’m fatigued and criticized but not burned out.” They have learned technology, dealt with masks, navigated political divisions, and endured criticism over opening and staffing daycare. They are lonely church planters and still trying to figure out financial resources.

However, to endure, they have simplified ministry. They have focused more on preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. As a result, they spend less time and emphasis on vision, strategy, and administration and lean into “what gives me life.”

We might assume then that resilient pastors are confused about the future. When surveyed, 71% have a clear or very clear sense of direction for their context. What gives them life is not the new things (technology, innovation), but the ancient practices of teaching, prayer, and care.

In summary, I want to tell you about one young pastor. He’s an experienced leader who moved to his current church right before the pandemic. He and his family have had challenges making friends while simultaneously enduring COVID-19. He’s drawn strength from remembering what a former basketball coach taught him. He explained that during basketball drills at practice, “my coach told me to run through the line. Now I’m just trying to run through the line.” Or in the words of the preacher of Hebrews 12, he’s decided to “run the race marked out for him” all the way.

If you’d like to learn how to become more resilient in your ministry or learn how to support your pastor, Northern Seminary will be hosting a series of Webinars through 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

  • 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 7pm CST via Facebook Live @northernseminary

February 16, 2022

William D. Shiell

President, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Preaching

ABOUT William



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