Pulpit Dropouts

James P. Needham
Winter Park, Fl.

THE ORLANDO EVENING STAR of April 18, 1970, carried an article entitled: PASTORAL DROPOUTS SURVEYED. The article was written by Louis Cassels, UPI Religion Writer. He says that "The United Church of Christ commissioned a team of social scientists to make a two-year study of men who have dropped out of the ministry. Depth interviews with 370 ex-pastors revealed that the most common reason for leaving was a strong sense of inadequacy. Seventeen percent of the ex-pastors said they felt they just were not able to measure up, personally or professionally, to the enormous demands of their calling.

"The next most common reason, cited by 15 per cent, was inability to relocate when necessary . . .! Family problems were mentioned by 13 per cent of the ex-pastors as the dominant cause of their departure from the ministry. While family problems may include the domestic tensions generated by a chronic lack of money, it is significant that only a small per cent of the dropouts said financial pressures were the main reason why they felt impelled to seek other careers.

"Another factor, highlighted by all studies of the problem, is the demoralization which has been caused among the clergy by the currently fashionable practice of putting down 'the institutional church.'"

"There are laws against cruelty to animals. Perhaps we need at least a moratorium on cruelty to clergymen."

Obviously, we cannot endorse some of the denominational terminology in this article, but it reveals some things worth thinking about so far as Christians are concerned. We are deeply concerned right now with what is termed "the preacher shortage," and "pulpit dropouts." It is interesting to note that other religious bodies are concerned about the same problem. Quite interesting also is the similarity in the reasons given by those dropping out of denominational pulpits and those dropping out among us. Let us note:


The most common reason for dropping out given by those interviewed was "a strong sense of inadequacy." This has also accounted for many dropouts among us. It is not so much that those giving this as their reason for dropping out of full time preaching were inadequate as preachers, but inadequate to measure up to what the brethren expected of them.

They feel inadequate to play nursemaid to the many spiritual babies who cry for their attention, and who constantly pout if they do not get it. They felt inadequate for the task of preaching in a manner that would satisfy everybody's taste. In every congregation there is just about always somebody who is dissatisfied with the preacher, and who carries on a whispering campaign or a boycott designed to force him to move on. The preacher in turn, is so frustrated by the discontent that his performance as a preacher is constantly below his ability. Or the preacher feels inadequate to do the work of the elders, deacons, and members; and in addition be expected to do a good job in his own work.

Many also feel inadequate to cope with the appalling ignorance that plagues most churches today. It can be pretty frustrating trying to teach people with little or no knowledge of the Bible, and who are passively indifferent about acquiring any. Today, a preacher can spend several years with a congregation and do an outstanding job of teaching and admonishing without seeing an appreciable amount of numerical or spiritual growth. So many people are PLAYING AT RELIGION, and many churches are JUST KEEPING HOUSE. The average church member today is so involved in worldly pursuits that religion has become a sideline; used only as a soothing ointment to salve the conscience, with each being careful not to use more of it than is absolutely necessary to do the job.

"Family Problems"

The writer says, "... family problems may include the domestic tensions generated by a chronic lack of money." Indeed! Strange how many brethren are so scrupulous about "not overpaying the preacher," when not one word of warning about such a possibility is found in the scriptures! With some, the preacher who seeks a better wage has committed the unpardonable sin, but they willingly take all they can get from their employer. I have never heard of such a brother who refused a raise, or failed to do and say what was necessary to obtain one, maybe even go on strike and walk a picket line. But if a preacher as much as hints that he needs a raise, he "has got to go"!

And when a preacher moves, he had better not let the brethren catch him trying to negotiate a better wage than he is presently getting! (And what is even more dangerous is asking the brethren where he is working for an increase!) Yet, if their employer moves them, they nearly always get a raise. Every move is expensive, even if the brethren think they will "pay for the move." There are a dozen hidden expenses that come after one is settled in that nobody ever thought about, and which most brethren would refuse to pay, but which are properly part of the moving expense, and which are also borne by most corporations when they transfer their personnel.

"Putting Down the Institutional Church"

Some "experts" claim that organized religion is fading from the American scene; that today there is more and more emphasis upon religion on an individual basis rather than on a collective basis. Let us face it, there is some of this among churches of Christ also, and it does indeed bother a preacher. Within the past few years, some brethren have developed the idea that there is no such thing as a local church, and hence, no authorization for weekly assemblies with communion and laying by in store. Religion, say these brethren, is having the proper relationship with God, not having membership in a local church and performing given acts within it. This necessarily dispenses with all earthly organization of the church. This means no elders, deacons, etc.

Understand that I am not saying that the New Testament teaches "the institutional church" in the sense that the theologians and denominationalists think of it with its hierarchy and super organization. Such is no more scriptural than those who would go to the other extreme and affirm that the New Testament makes no provision for any kind of organized working arrangement whereby God's people are to be overseen, edified and educated.

Then, there are those in the church who may not openly profess to believe the theories thus described, but who treat the local church program as if they believed them. These are a real headache to a preacher. Regardless of how diligent he may be in preparing and delivering his lessons, these people will not be present to hear them, if there is anything else to do. They refuse to get involved in the work of the local church, and resent efforts to get them involved. They are the Sunday morning church goers, who may give a dollar a week, and sleep through the preacher's sermon.

"Inability to relocate"

To my personal knowledge, this is a frequent complaint of many of the pulpit dropouts. They say they got tired of having to move every two or three years, often on a mere whim of the brethren. Every preacher will admit that such gets a bit discouraging. If one does not move on some whim of the brethren, it is because he is taken for granted and made to feel unappreciated. The brethren are often too independent and proud to try to make the preacher feel appreciated. In many congregations the preacher has little or no contact with the elders. They do not discuss the work with

Because of this unhealthy relationship that many churches have with preachers, the preacher becomes a vagabond, with no place to call home. He is like the evil spirit cast out by Jesus, "He walketh through dry places seeking rest and finding none." He goes from one place to another hoping to find a better situation, only to realize that the place he left was "a better situation." A few years of this makes one a prime candidate for the ranks of the dropouts.

Understand, this is no effort to justify the dropouts on the above basis. It is rather an effort to recognize facts with the hope that all of us, including preachers, will take frequent at ourselves with a view to becoming a more mature and brotherly in our relationships. Too often we think of our own suffering when we have to put up with situations in the preacher-church relationship ~without regard or even recognition of the suffering our childish actions often impose upon the Cause of Christ. The reasons given do not justify the pulpit dropouts, nor does this fact justify the childish antics of some churches. Each needs to recognize his particular short comings and diligently seek to overcome them. Until this is done, a bad reputation will only get worse; there will continue to be pulpit dropouts, pew dropouts, and saddest of all, spiritual dropouts.


July 30, 1970