At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw the “great resignation”—people quitting their jobs in droves, for a host of reasons. The pandemic touched each of us, directly or indirectly, in incomprehensible ways. Now its impact is reverberating in our religious communities, which are experiencing an alarming number of pastor resignations at a time when the need for spiritual guidance and counseling is ever important.
Polling data collected by Barna Group, a California research firm that studies faith and culture, show that 38% of Protestant senior pastors have considered leaving the ministry in the past year. According to the same study, among pastors under age 45 an even higher percentage considered leaving—46 percent, which is unprecedented.
As more pastors and rabbis step down, it could create a void that encourages many young Americans to look to social media personalities, celebrities, entertainers and others for guidance. When young people fall to the cults of personality, can we wonder why we see a resulting increase in violence, bullying and other bad behavior, disrespect for others, out of wedlock births, single motherhood and men incapable of making commitment? Much of our music, movies, and television reality shows promote a culture without a moral compass that is influencing youths.
What does it say when many Americans, especially young people, do not pray often? We need our clergy to guide and counsel families who are seeking the best way to raise children in a society that doesn’t promote morality or ethical behavior. To some extent, American society seems to be okay with just “making it up”—rules don’t exist, and social norms change often. Since the late 1960s, when many Americans were very religious, Gallup has found major social changes.
Now our pastors are considering retirement for a number of reasons, not limited to “exhaustion, low pay, and lack of appreciation,” the survey found. Evidently, our society is impacting preachers because what happens in the world affects the church, when it should be the other way around. The way that we conduct ourselves in church—with warmth, kindness, humility and love for one another—should be the way we act out in the world, but this seems to have diminished in recent times, especially with our polarized politics. No wonder some pastors feel demoralized.
When I was growing up, the church drew mothers, fathers, children and other relatives; our day of worship was an extended family affair. There’s an old saying that “a family that prays together stays together.” That proved to be true, I think, and our church leaders were some of the most respected members of the community. I have witnessed changes over the years as generations began to step away from church and respect for family and old values waned. There is some cause for hope, however: APew Research Center report found many teens attend church with their parents or other family members, though they are less likely to consider religion to be “very important.”
We should not forget that God is a guiding force in our lives. The clergy to whom we look for guidance aren’t perfect; they’re human, too. Yet they still dedicate themselves to our spiritual growth and maturity, and we should value that.
If people don’t appreciate today’s pastors and the stress of their positions, how can we solve this? I personally don’t have the answer. I was taught that people who turn away from God must face a reckoning. Perhaps in our society we need to face reckoning before people return to church and respect preachers.
With so much anger and hostility, our nation is in trouble—and with falling membership, so is the church. When the pulpits are empty and the church doors close, what will we do when the children of America’s future don’t know where to turn?
Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.” Follow on Twitter: @arightside