Pastoral Attrition

Summary of Insights, Challenges and Experiments from Mission Summit Conversations (June 2013)

  • Insights
    • Formal and informal peer support groups, free or low cost retreat centers, coaching, and regional staff are all helpful resources.
    • Some younger clergy view leaving the ministry as one of several natural career transitions.
    • Experienced pastors need to have strong supportive relationships and new pastors need mentoring
    • Families are equally impacted by the problems the pastors face
    • The decrease of regional staff is having a negative impact on churches that may be leading them to become “toxic” to pastors.
    • Pastoral Ministry is not for everyone, ministers could benefit by assistance in determining the areas of ministry where they may be best suited
    • Churches need help in recognizing behavior patterns that lead to attrition
  • Challenges
    • How can seminaries help prepare pastors for realistic settings and expectations?
    • Data — there is lack of clear information about how severe the attrition problem is and how it varies by region.
    • Ethnic/Cultural diversity — it may well be that the issue of attrition plays out in different ways in different ethnic and cultural groups, but there is no clear information on this.
    • Recognize that many pastors are introverts by nature and it may not be easy for them to seek out the needed relationships
    • Pastors need self-care skills
    • Redefine concepts around what it means to be a successful pastor
  • Experiments
    • Increase the realism about pastoral ministry among those entering ministry by having more early practical ministry experiences.
    • How can pastors and congregational leaders discuss the nature of pastoral leadership and clarify expectations?
    • Provide Options for Bi-vocational pastors, retreats and conferences just for them
    • Create mentoring opportunities between new pastors and seasoned pastors.  Teach seasoned pastors how to be strong mentors
    • Create processes/means to help after a failed pastorate, how does one recover, can a failed pastor ever get a church again, how does a church protect itself from a pastor who may be too damaged to serve?

Summary of Insights, Challenges and Experiments from the Mission Table (November 2013)

  • Insights
    • It takes 6-7 years for pastors to get fully acquainted with a church and 10 years to make significant differences.  Many pastors do not make it past five.
  • Challenges
    • Some of the challenges faced include:
      • Financial challenges such as salaries and benefits, student loan debt
      • Church gatekeepers
      • Unfair expectations
      • Lack of Commitment – from church and pastor
      • Established conflict – situational
      • Acedia or lack of care
      • Ambition and pride
      • Understanding the call vs the job
      • Lack of spiritual growth
    • Emotions faced include:
      • Loneliness
      • Anger
      • Discouragement
      • Spiritual depression
      • Family pressure
      • Broken-heartedness
      • Fear
  • Experiments/Projects
    • Seminary preparedness on practical church conflict and money
    • Training the church on pastoral care
    • Renew a theology of servanthood
    • Training on boundaries
    • Pastoral mentoring for young pastors

Continued Day 2 – Summary (November 2013)

  • Proposed Projects
    • Promote clergy retreats
    • Re-tooling of interim ministers
    • Train church leadership to address issues of boundaries
    • Develop resources for boundaries training for lay leaders
    • Encourage having a spiritual director
    • Bring pastors together socially to foster connections that continue
    • Embrace the classic spiritual disciplines to grow spiritually
    • Create resources for unmarried pastors


Read the full notes:

Mission Summit Conversations:

Mission Table:


Summary of Insights, Challenges and Experiments from the National Leadership Council Meeting (April 2014)


  • Attrition is acute and immediate
  • We are having trouble finding ABC related pastors to follow those who are retiring and getting fired

Next Steps

  • Excellence in women pastors is increasing; we need to create those opportunities more
  • The graduation rates of ABC pastors are good. We need to look at why our churches are not calling these ABC candidates at higher rates.

Views expressed are the sole opinion of conversation participants. They do not express the views of American Baptist Churches USA, or individual American Baptist churches. Conversation notes and summaries are shared to allow American Baptists and friends to easily review and use these Mission Summit Conversations and the Mission Table learnings as they wish.