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July/August 2003 Volume 6 Number 6

for today’s


When you find yourself in a position where it’s time for a career move,
where do you turn?
As a seminary-trained professional involved in denominational, seminary, and local church life, I’ve encountered, within myself at times and in other colleagues, a sense of unrest, unease, and distress with our career—not necessarily our calling.
by Edward Hammett

Because I travel in and out of many churches and seminary classrooms I’m encountering more and more of my peers who “want out of ministry,” “feel trapped in their career,” or who are wondering “what other careers does my ministry degree equip me for?”

Still others indicate the exhausting frustration with their churches and denominations because of the infighting over political and superficial issues that mean nothing to carrying out the Great Commission or the Great Commandment. Others tell me that if they don’t leave the church they’ll lose their family, for their churches expect them to be at every meeting, every surgery, every funeral (and there’s a growing number of these in most of our churches) and to be proficient to counsel the ever-growing complexity of family and personal problems.

So what are distressed pastors to do? If they’re realizing that for their sake, the sake of their families, and the sake of the ministry they need to either take a break from the local congregation or consider another career that fulfills the calling, what should they do?

What career alternatives are out there for this growing host of disillusioned, disenfranchised, and distressed clergy? How can a committed and called person find fulfillment and integrity in other careers and remain true to the calling to ministry? I think there’s great hope and many opportunities emerging. This article will simply try to summarize the emerging opportunities I’m encountering.

Understanding the Distress of Today’s Clergy

Today’s clergy face what seem to be insurmountable mountains of challenges on just about every front of their career and calling. Permit me to simply provide a working list of challenges:

• Most were trained in seminary for a world and a church that no longer exist. Seminaries seemed determined to preserve classical European models effective in a churched culture, while the culture has shifted and the local church needs have shifted. Some seminaries are making needed curriculum changes with high degrees of success. But for some seminaries, we have miles to go before an effective model is found that will produce new leaders.

• Most congregations’ leadership cores and tithing cores are aging out. These changes create many challenges and opportunities that are calling on skill sets and faith formation that many clergy lack and many congregations aren’t ready for or open to pursuing.

• Spiritual leadership, oddly enough, is something that hasn’t often been effectively modeled or taught, and therefore we have some clergy slipping into CEO mentalities and models.

• Church polity is outdated in many ways for our secular culture challenges. Decision making is laborious at best in most traditions, and younger people aren’t going to be stuck in this cycle of getting permission while the older generation feels this is the “way we do things around here.”

• Generational differences are pressing on every front. Worship wars are everywhere because various age groups prefer different styles. Curriculum battles are present for similar reasons. Time frame and program offerings face similar challenges. Blending services often leads to congregational confusion and creates an unhappy exodus or tension-filled church life.

• Pastor’s families are facing challenges every other family seems to be facing these days. Divorce, remarriage, challenges with children and teenagers, communication battles, dealing with family-of-origin issues, dysfunctions, and the stresses related to living in a “fish bowl.”

• Compassion fatigue is epidemic among clergy who are expected to do all the pastoral care themselves. How many times have you as a pastor been called back from family vacations for funerals, emergencies, and often called away from your own family to care for other families?

• Continuing education opportunities are rampant, but many church leaders and members don’t see the need for their pastor to go away two or three times a year for such relevant training. If they “allow them to go” (rather than encourage or expect them to go), they often restrict how much the church will pay for the expenses that might be incurred. Yet the reality is that continuing education is a necessity—not an option.

While this list is only suggestive, it shows us the challenges we face that seem to be contributing to the growing distress. Such issues and challenges are creating a growing leadership crisis in many churches today.

Leadership Crisis in Christendom

The intense and pervasive challenges in our church and culture are creating a leadership crisis in many churches and denominations. Several valuable studies have been done the last several years that document this crisis in much better ways than I’ll summarize here. If you want to do further study, see research and resources on the following Web sites:

These sites will provide statistical data and hard data that explains the crisis pastors are facing in ministry today. I want to share with you some observations and soft data that will put a face to this epidemic among our clergy.

Some of our best and brightest are leaving church ministry for secular careers. Last year, on my personal calendar, I started listing all the pastors from my connections in the southeast United States who notified me they were leaving the church for a secular career. I had at least four names every week listed on my calendar for the entire year.

Let me share with you some excerpts from an email I received this week from a colleague contemplating a career move and struggling with his dissatisfaction:

“As you note in your writing, I’m a pastor who spends much of my time (especially in a retirement community like this) holding hands with folks who expect the pastor to hold hands with them but who do not need the pastor to hold hands with them. I am very much, in Carlyle Marney’s words, ‘a kept harlot.’ I work way too many hours a week, and I spend those hours with people that Jesus would not have invested so much time with. And I can’t go to my supervisor and ask to block out time to build relationships with unchurched people. I could go to the deacons and my deacons would be supportive. But when the phone rings and somebody who knows the Lord wants me to go see somebody else who knows the Lord, I’m still expected to go. If I say, ‘Sorry, but I really wanted to go hang with some lost people,’ I would be out of a job soon enough.

“I have three kids. One is about to start college. The other two will start college soon enough. I need a job that pays. My salary package is actually pretty generous, and I am thankful for that. The people like me and they are supportive of me. Yet what we are doing is not all of what we need to be doing. Indeed, it is my conviction that the most important part of our calling goes largely undone, and that calling is to build bridges to the people like you have been building bridges toward.”

Ministerial burnout is rampant. I know a number of colleagues who are on mood altering medications in order to get help with depression, stress, and mood swings. Other indicators of this are those ministers fighting with sexual temptations, pornography, family pressures, and low self-image and self-esteem.

Two good resources for dealing with ministerial burnout are Beating Burnout (Alban Institute) by Lynne Baab (www.alban.org) and Crashing Without Burning (Smyth & Helwys) by David Matthew (www.helwys.com).

Financial stress and complications. Several colleagues are facing retirement or are currently in retirement with no home (because they have lived in parsonages) and little or no retirement funds because their churches have provided little or no retirement plans and insufficient salaries. Those still working are stressed because their children are moving into college and they have no funds or no savings.

Many churches aren’t able or choose not to provide sufficient salary packages. Research does indicate this is improving in some areas of the country and within several denominations. However, this financial crunch is a major reason some pastors are leaving the church—today’s economy just requires more to live than it used to. The amount of education of many clergy and the amount of their salaries are out of line with other comparable degrees and professions.

These and many other elements are involved in the leadership crises being faced among our churches today. In many parts of the country, there aren’t enough pastors and priests to go around. More churches and fewer priests and pastors create a paralyzing vacuum. In some places this vacuum is forcing the lay leaders to step up to the plate and pick up some of the responsibilities that Scripture says belong to them—but they had relegated to clergy for decades.


One pastor friend was seriously ill for months—and his formerly pastor-dependent church cared for him, supported him through various surgeries and recoveries, picked up the slack, and performed responsibilities of ministry very efficiently and effectively. When he recovered and was back in the saddle again, they handed it all back to him. He refused to take it and then affirmed them and validated their ministry and effectiveness. He suggested that was the way the New Testament church was to function. They refused to continue their ministry and fired him.

Alternative Careers for Today’s Clergy

As we can see, ministry often seems overwhelming and fruitless for the amount of effort one expends, and it seems impossible to meet the mounting and often unrealistic expectations by church members who would prefer to keep things the way they are than change things in order to reach others. Such realities are prompting many pastors to explore alternative careers. Below are listings of those options I’ve noted as I’ve listened to the disenchanted and walked with some of them through this maze of calling and ministry options. Certainly this isn’t an exhaustive list but indicative. Many pastors seeking alternative careers often have a difficult time translating their multiple ministry skills into new careers and new résumés.

Faith-based organizations—offer many opportunities for clergy that often are a win-win for everyone. The pastor’s looking to continue his or her calling, and the faith-based organization needs a person of faith with team-building, fund-raising, and management skills to move them forward. The Peter F. Drucker Foundation offers much guidance these days to FBOs and those in their employment. The current government administration is working very hard to create more FBOs and is investing more time and money into their creation.

Nonprofit organizations—also offer many opportunities. While many FBOs are nonprofit, there are other nonprofit organizations that aren’t FBOs. Working through local business organizations or the chamber of commerce may open the door of opportunity.

Social service agencies—are great matches for people who want to help others. The helping professions are varied and the government offices are always looking for people to help with protective services, counseling, financial counseling, adoption issues, food services, and financial support services.

Teaching—in public and private schools. Higher education, home schooling, and classrooms for people of all ages need teachers, and a minister’s skills often translate beautifully. Sometimes further training is needed for certification.

Management and human resources—are other naturals for those clergy who are appropriately gifted. Businesses of all types are looking for those who manage finances, personnel, resources, and community relations. (www.astd.org)

Writing—captures the hearts of many pastors. Sermon writing and delivery is great training for that first novel, Christian books, management books, or those words that simply share your story. Attend a writer’s conference and see what happens!

Consulting—is natural for some. Take the lessons you’ve learned in the school of hard knocks and create a business forum with others who can help lead churches and leaders forward in faith and function. There’s a growing demand and respect for these entrepreneurs across all denominational lines. (www.coaching.com, www.internal-impact.com)

Coaching—is a growing field and holds much promise for fulfilling the Great Commission and the Great Commandment in many fields of life. We’re told that coaching will have a strong future in areas of spiritual-life coaches, career coaches, food coaches, parenting coaches, marriage coaches, and many other arenas. (www.coaching.com, www.christiancoachesnetwork.com, www.hollifield.org, www.leadingideas.org)

Financial management/fund raising—is another natural for some. Managing budgets, raising funds, and creating multiple funding streams for ministry is great training for many financial careers. Financial planning, financial resourcing, banking, fund raising, and financial oversight for conventions or businesses are just a few places to serve.

Funeral home industry—is another natural. Death is inevitable and many unchurched people need care and support during this time. Bereavement counseling and creation of support services and partnerships with churches for helping people are critical and valuable ministries.

Organizational management—is a career for the administratively gifted. Businesses of all kinds are looking for help in this area in an age of downsizing and retooling of organizations. (www.astd.org)

Research and resource development—are avenues of ministry that many explore and find great satisfaction. Many philanthropists are willing to fund entrepreneurial research and development projects through grants and foundation gifts. (www.fdncenter.org)

Media and Web-based learning—is for those who have passions for television, radio, media, and Web-based learning and design.

Marketing—has become a skill of many clergy that the business world can benefit from and accommodate.

Government/politics—are avenues where the world needs people of faith and integrity. Run for an office in your community, county, state, or nation. Follow your passions and callings in the world.

Pastor in the business world—where many Fortune 500 companies and businesses across the world are hiring pastors to care for their employees and to rebuild trust and integrity in the community in which they serve.

(www.hischurchatwork.org, www.avodahinstitute.org, www.marketplaceministry.org, www.icwm.net, www.marketplaceministries.com, www.ninetyandnine.com, www.transformingsolutions.org)

The Soul of the Firm (Zondervan) by C. William Pollard, and The Gathered and Scattered Church (Smyth & Helwys) by Edward Hammett.

Coaching Helps in Transitions

Some research has been done indicating that about 55 percent of today’s pastors are transitioning locations of ministry each year. The research is also clear that those pastors who stay in ministry in the midst of distress are able to do so because they have a coach/mentor in ministry. Those making career transitions, life transitions, location transitions, or other types of ministry transitions are much happier if they’re coached through the transition. I’d encourage those facing such transitions or distress to consider hiring a coach. Coaching sessions are all about you, about your agendas, and a confidential and trusting relationship with someone. The coach has your best interests at heart and is trained to ask questions to help you discover the best answers for you, to help you avoid blind spots, and to align your decisions with discernment of God’s call. Coaches can be found in many places. You might want to interview several coaches before making your selections. Christian coaches can be discovered by visiting www.christiancoachesnetwork.com, www.holli

field.org, www.coaching.com, or other sites can be found on the link page of www.transformingsolutions.org.

It’s my hope that this article might stimulate a conversation among church leaders, denominational executives, and business leaders and provide some encouragement and hope for those distressed. I’m convinced that God’s doing a new work among his people and is scattering many of his best and brightest into the workplace in daily life to be salt, light, and leaven in the world.

I hope this article will stimulate dialogues online and in learning communities of searching persons. If you want to dialogue more about this article, join my online community. If you’re interested visit www.transforming solutions.org. R

Edward Hammett is a congregational and personal coach with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. His most current book is Reframing Spiritual Formation: Discipleship in an Unchurched Culture (Smyth & Helwys). (www.transformingsolutions.org)

©2003 REV. magazine. All rights reserved.