Although many people my age are retired, I’m looking at a couple more decades of work at least. A large part of this is because I specialized in a field I didn’t realize was dying. I suspect clergy in the eighties, when I had to decide on majors and education choices, thought the declines in church attendance were a blip—a statistical anomaly until things went back to the way they “usually were.” I majored in religion as an undergrad and then went on to seminary and finally to a doctoral program, all along that trajectory. At every step of the way I was assured there would be jobs. I’m seeing now that religionists don’t always look ahead. It’s important to look back, but society begs to differ.
The reason this comes to mind, apart from being part of my daily reality, is an article a minister sent me. The piece by Melissa Florer-Bixler in Sojourners is titled “Why Pastors Are Joining the Great Resignation.” It explores a number of reasons around pay and working conditions that ministers are quitting. My thought, unscientific but logical, is that many of them are realizing society has moved away from the standard church model. They recognize that the insistent biblicism that led to a past of Americans being in church under threat of Hell has diminished. “Worship,” as it is generally done, no longer speaks to people. I’ve experienced a great many worship styles and venues. (I still attend them, but I’m a creature of habit as well as obligated by profession.) When the realities of the world sink in you start to see the old model of praising an angry God because he demands it just doesn’t make sense. People like Trump get elected anyway, so what’s the point?
Many pastors are underpaid. Unless you run a mega-church budgets are tight and the need of people is great. Much of the effort of the congregation I attend is directed to social justice causes. There are so many. So very many. People are in need and the pat answers of call to worship, opening hymn, and sermon just aren’t doing it for them. Congregants need pastoral care, as do people unchurched. I’ve been through seminary and a professor in one long enough to know that few really get the idea of how to inspire by their words. These are folks looking for a living who don’t fit into the capitalist model. So there’s a decline. As I read the piece I wondered what jobs they were switching to. If my experience is anything to go by, the options are limited.