A growing number of clergy are leaving Christian ministry, taking cover at jobs better suited for their mental health and spiritual well-being. No longer in the pulpit, what message are they sending?

Last year, Barna reported that 42% of pastors have considered quitting. That’s a 13-point increase from 29% in 2021.

Realizing they cannot hide behind the pulpit, some clergy are looking for the exits at their churches. After being called to ministry and attending seminary, they have decided to change careers despite the years of personal and financial investment required to train and prepare.

And you can’t call a business meeting to keep them. They are leaving the church to save their personal relationship with Jesus.

Yes, it’s a calling. But, if you know Jesus, then you know that being obedient to God can get you into trouble with the ruling authorities (in other words, a church council and/or the deacons).

Pastors are getting into trouble for repeating after Jesus. This is not unusual, as martyrs were killed for their faith.

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” Tertullian, an early Christian author, said. But fighting over COVID-19 restrictions or where to place the bust of the former pastor is just not worth it. Keep this job and the church just the way you like it.

For these clergy and their families, they are leaving the church and stepping out on faith. It is a faith that many argue is in dire need of reframing.

“Burned out by the pandemic, many clergy quit in the past year,” Michelle Boorstein, a religion reporter for The Washington Post, wrote in December 2022. “Between fights about masks to how far religious leaders can go in expressing political views, pastoral burnout has been high.”

Clergy were sending the message in 2021. “More Protestant Pastors Consider Leaving Full-time Ministry,” Zach Dawes Jr., managing editor for Good Faith Media, reported.

Whether isolation, conflict, concern about the future of the church or present political divisiveness, they have their reasons. They are rooted in the strong conviction that this is not the church that Jesus intended. “Upon this family’s sizable donation, I will build my church!”

Besides, no one wants to work in a toxic environment. Jesus wouldn’t; instead, he broke a sweat, sending money and animals flying while tearing up the temple.

Clergy are not going to fight for what’s not working and just accept what will never work for them. They want to work to fix it and are choosing to leave rather than believe that this is just the way it is.

This might be their strongest message, and it’s titled “integrity.” These clergy are examples of moral uprightness, choosing not to take it lying down.

In the “Age of Misinformation,” preaching the truth is not easy. The need to belong takes priority over believing what we have always known to be true: love God, your neighbor and yourself.

“Speaking truth to power” includes those who sit in the pews, are responsible for your performance reviews and sign your checks. They could have simply taken the money and taken care of their families. But there was something more important than that: their calling.

“That is our vocation — to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced,” Henri Nouwen, Dutch Catholic priest, and a well-known spiritual writer, determined.

Church business as usual tends to challenge that. It will never ring true for the prophets, priests and teachers called to lead beyond where the empire draws the line.

So, rather than be found guilty of going along to get along and to get ahead in life, they leave. That sounds like a powerful message on faithfulness to Jesus Christ to me.

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