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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Goodbye pastor

Why do some pastors leave the ministry? A study of 963 clergy from the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-­Missouri Synod, Assemblies of God, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides some answers. The study is part of Pulpit & Pew, a project of Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C.

Those surveyed left parishes in the last eight years to become chaplains, teachers or to leave the ministry entirely. Clergy joining denominational staffs were not included.

Researchers at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., learned that reasons for leaving included more attractive job opportunities, conflict with parish staff or members, burnout, and conflict or disillusionment with the denominational body. Half the respondents reported feeling lonely, isolated or burned out. They also cited competition with other clergy and fear that discussing ministry problems with church leaders could jeopardize future calls.

The study will help the ELCA support and retain clergy, says Craig Settlage of the Division for Ministry. Each year about 46 pastors resign and 43 are removed from the ELCA roster.

"Some people resign because they discern that their gifts don't match with ministry," Settlage says. More concerning, he says, are those who remain called to the ministry but leave due to conflict or compensation. The division is studying clergy indebtedness along with the LCMS and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Many of those removed from the roster exceed "on-leave-from-call" status for reasons such as child-rearing or disability, but will later return.

Settlage says the division is researching how to help synods support and retain clergy. "Our program of First Call Theological Education (www.elca.org/firstcall) has gone a long way toward helping new pastors," he says. "That's one of the success stories in the ELCA."

Researcher Dean Hoge of Catholic University says pastors also might need a support system independent from denominational authority.


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