Pastoral leadership: crisis and opportunity

Leadership – the ability to inspire, motivate, discern and envision a faithful quest to follow God’s will – is the most critical issue facing churches today. Challenges abound in the number, quality, age and diversity of people pursuing – and staying in — pastoral ministry. The effects on communities across America are profound. They include the number of people who are active in churches, the extent of churches’ outreach to the less fortunate, the church’s moral influence in society and more. Hundreds of people and programs – many of which ReligionLink lists here — are offering resources, research and training in an attempt to bolster the amount and quality of leadership. Are they making a difference? It’s clear that the face of American clergy is changing. The question is how, and what impact will that new face have?


Why it matters

From the beginning of Christianity, leadership has been critical to the growth and health of the church and its ability to spread its message and live out its beliefs in the world.

Issues to explore

  • Seminarians: Fewer younger seminarians want to serve churches, and many seminarians begin ministry as a second career, leaving them fewer years to serve. The Fund for Theological Education reports that fewer seminary students today, about 60 percent, intend to be ordained and fewer still, about one-third, plan to serve a local congregation.
  • Churches: Most churches in America have 100 or fewer members, but most Americans who attend church now choose one with more than 350 members. That means most pastoral positions are in churches that pay lower salaries and tend to be geographically isolated, while promising seminary graduates may not be able to find jobs in areas where they want to live.
  • Women’s roles: The number of women seminarians and pastors has risen, but many ordained women say it’s difficult to advance into senior pastor positions and many leave ministry after just a few years.
  • Clergy status: Many pastors face low salaries, high seminary debt, high stress and unending demands from congregants who live in a 24/7 world. Public confidence in clergy has been shaken by sexual and financial crimes and scandals, but USA Today/Gallup Poll’s 2012 annual poll found that Americans rated clergy among the top six most trusted professions.
  • Attitudes about sexuality: Many denominations are embroiled in conflict over the role of gays and lesbians in the church.
  • Denominational differences: Roman Catholics – who do not ordain women and require celibacy of priests — and mainline Protestants have more clergy shortages than conservative and evangelical groups, many of whom do not ordain women.



  • Pulpit & Pew: Research on Pastoral Leadership

    Pulpit & Pew: Research on Pastoral Leadership is a research project at Duke Divinity School between the years of 2001-2005 in the U.S. This study was the largest such survey ever conducted of U.S. pastoral leaders.

International sources

  • International Prison Chaplains Association

    The International Prison Chaplains Association works to support and connect Christian prison chaplains around the world to help each be more effective in their ministry. Contact this organization through its website.

National sources


  • James P. Wind

    The Rev. James P. Wind is president of the Alban Institute, which provides ecumenical resources for congregations, and his expertise includes trends in clergy supply and demand.

  • Patricia M.Y. Chang

    Patricia M.Y. Chang is a lecturer in the sociology department at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. She has studied clergy career characteristics and the supply of ordained leadership in some Protestant denominations, and she co-authored Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Leadership Network

    Leadership Network in Dallas fosters church innovation by working with leaders in a variety of denominations. It  has support groups for pastors in different stages of their careers, and its website includes resources related to burnout.

    Contact: 800-765-5323, 214-969-5950.
  • Adair T. Lummis

    Adair T. Lummis is a religion sociologist and a faculty associate in research at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn. Her research focuses on denominational policies; gender, spirituality and leadership in communities of faith; and clergy concerns. Her books include, as co-author, Clergy Women: An Uphill Calling.

  • Lovett H. Weems Jr.

    Lovett H. Weems Jr. is Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and directs the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Its 2012 report on clergy age trends in the United Methodist Church found that the percentage of middle-age elders continues to shrink, falling from 65 percent of active elders 12 years ago to 41 percent now. A previous report examined a dramatic drop in the number of young United Methodist clergy.

  • Steven D. Smith

    Steven D. Smith serves as co-executive director of the Institute for Law and Religion and the Institute for Law and Philosophy at the University of San Diego, where he also teaches constitutional law.

  • Barbara G. Wheeler

    Barbara G. Wheeler is the former longtime president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, a leading Presbyterian seminary. In November 2003, Wheeler engaged in a widely followed debate on gay ordination with Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., a leading evangelical institution. The exchange, titled “Strangers: A Dialogue About the Church,” took place at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. In her address, Wheeler spoke in favor of ordaining active homosexuals, but also about the dynamics of the debate and its negative impact on the churches.

    Contact: 212-662-4315.
  • Nathan Kirkpatrick

    The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick directs Pulpit & Pew, an interdenominational research project that studies pastoral leadership issues.

  • Barney Self

    Barney Self is a licensed marriage and family therapist . He has counseled ministers and their families for eight years through a program run by the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources. He is now pastoral counseling minister at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Nashville.

  • Jackson Carroll

    Jackson Carroll is author of God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations (Eerdmans, 2006) and professor emeritus at Duke Divinity School.

  • Daniel Aleshire

    Daniel Aleshire directs the Association of Theological Schools, which is based in Pittsburgh, Pa. The association has 251 member schools with 80,140 students total, of whom 64 percent are men and 36 percent are women. The ATS posts a number of tables on seminary enrollment.

  • Moravian Church in America

    The Moravian Church in America is one of the oldest Protestant denominations with strong missionary work and belief in traditions. The website offers resources on faith beliefs, congregations, news and publications.

  • Ann M. Svennungsen

    Ann M. Svennungsen is president of the Fund for Theological Education, an Atlanta-based ecumenical organization that gives fellowships and support to young women and men exploring ministry, and Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. She was elected Bishop by the Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly in 2012.

    Svennungsen, who is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also says she is concerned about chronic underrepresentation of minority faculty at theological schools. She says more than one-third report they do not have even one person of color on the faculty and that two-thirds of the African-American scholars working in theological schools were FTE fellows.


  • Edwin I. Hernández

    Edwin I. Hernández is the director of the Center for Study of Latino Religion at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind. The center conducts social-scientific study of the U.S. Latino church, its leadership and the interaction between religion and community.

  • Christine Schenk

    Christine Schenk is a Catholic nun and the executive director emerita of  FutureChurch, based in Lakewood, Ohio, which advocates ordaining married Roman Catholic men and women as priests to alleviate priest shortages.

  • Resources for American Christianity

    Resources for American Christianity is a website funded by the Lilly Endowment that “seeks to assist leaders and participants in Christian communities, scholars and other interested publics in better understanding the impact, trends and trajectories of Christianity in American society.” Under the “Economics” category, the site has a series of excellent studies, papers and experts. They are under sub-headings that include: Church Finances, Giving, Materialism, Stewardship, Wealth and Work.

  • Louise Haggett

    Louise Haggett, a sales and marketing specialist from Maine, is president and founder of

    She says more than 3,000 Roman Catholic parishes across the country are without a resident priest.

  • Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown

    For statistics, see the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown, the nonprofit research organization that conducts social scientific studies for the Catholic Church.

    This organization reported that in the United States between 1965 and 2006, the number of Roman Catholic diocesan priests declined from 35,925 to 28,299, while the Catholic population increased from 45.6 million to 64 million.

    Contact: 202-687-8080.

Demographics: age

According to research by the Lewis Center:

Demographics: gender

  • Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

    The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is a branch of Wesleyan Methodism. It is composed primarily of African Americans. Paul A.G. Stewart is senior bishop at the church’s headquarters in St. Louis, Mo.

  • Christian Men’s Network

    Christian Men’s Network is a Christian ministry for men, training them toward their goals as religious leaders in their families, churches and cultures. Contact through the website.

    Contact: 817-437-4888.
  • Man in the Mirror

    Man in the Mirror is an organization that helps churches reach and disciple men through leadership strategies and resources. Brett Clemmer is the president.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Donald Paul Sullins

    The Rev. Donald Paul Sullins is a former Episcopal priest who was ordained into the Catholic priesthood in 2002. He is an associate professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and has written about church switching and patterns of Protestant affiliation.

  • Kenneth L. Swetland

    Kenneth L. Swetland is senior professor of ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., where he also leads the Oasis counseling program for seminary alumni facing a crisis or transition. He wrote The Hidden World of the Pastor: Case Studies on Personal Issues of Real Pastors.

  • Nancy Ammerman

    Nancy Ammerman is professor of sociology at Boston University and a leading expert on congregational dynamics, especially in mainline Protestantism. She is the author of Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes: Finding Religion in Everyday Life and Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners. She is also an expert on religious movements and has written about the rise of fundamentalism.

  • Margaret Bendroth

    Margaret Bendroth is executive director of the Congregational Library in Boston and co-editor of Women and Twentieth-Century Protestantism (University of Illinois Press, 2001), a book of essays on the variety of women’s roles and their influence.

  • James E. Dittes

    James E. Dittes is a professor emeritus of pastoral counseling at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and has researched clergy calling. His books include, as author, Re-Calling Ministry (Chalice Press, 1999).

  • Dean R. Hoge

    Dean R. Hoge was a professor of sociology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. His books include, as co-author, Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry (Eerdmans, 2005). Read a 2003 speech he co-authored, posted by Pulpit & Pew.

In the South

  • R. Drew Smith

    R. Drew Smith is a Baptist minister and professor of urban ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He has studied and written about black megachurches and has edited four volumes on American religion and public life, including New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America.

  • Julie Ingersoll

    Julie Ingersoll is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and can discuss religion and popular culture. She has written about faith and values among Jimmy Buffett fans.

  • George Jacobs

    George Jacobs, a Presbyterian minister, and Gordon Jacobs, his wife, are the founders of the Davidson Clergy Center in Davidson, N.C., which provides programs for clergy experiencing burnout.

  • Milagros Peña

    Milagros Peña teaches sociology and directs women’s studies at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Her expertise includes women’s issues, border issues and Hispanic ministry in the United States. Her books include, as co-author, Emerging Voices, Urgent Choices: Essays on Latino/a Religious Leadership (Brill Academic Publishers, 2006).

  • Laura Olson

    Laura Olson is a professor of political science at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., and is also an expert on women and gender in religion. Her books include, as author, Filled With Spirit and Power: Protestant Clergy in Politics and, as co-author, Women With a Mission: Religion, Gender and the Politics of Women Clergy. She is also co-author of a paper on mainline Protestant congregations and homosexuality.

  • James Lewis

    James R. Lewis is a lecturer in religious studies in the philosophy department at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He is the editor of Scientology (March 2009), described as a comprehensive examination of the church’s theology, growth and controversies.

  • Michael Lane Morris

    Michael Lane Morris is associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He has studied the effects of stress on clergy and their families.

  • Reginald A. Bruce

    Reginald A. Bruce is associate professor of management at the University of Louisville’s College of Business. He has done much research on pastoral leadership, including a 2005 paper titled “Leadership in High Performing Congregations: Uncovering the Secrets of Success.”

  • Cynthia Woolever

    Cynthia Woolever is director of U.S. Congregations in Louisville, Ky., a religious research group that is conducting the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

  • Kenneth Carder

    Kenneth Carder is professor of the practice of pastoral formation at Duke University, Durham, N.C., and senior fellow of Pulpit & Pew. He is a United Methodist bishop.

  • Marcia Y. Riggs

    Marcia Y. Riggs is J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. She wrote Plenty Good Room: Women Versus Male Power in the Black Church (Pilgrim Press, 2003).

  • Fellowship of Companies for Christ International

    Fellowship of Companies for Christ International is a membership, marketplace ministry to Christian CEOs by Christian CEOs. The organization publishes resources designed to educate and equip Christian business leaders with the assets they need to promote their business and beliefs.

  • Leon J. Podles

    Leon J. Podles, who lives in Baltimore and in Naples, Fla., wrote The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Spence, 1999).

    He says female clergy have caused a decrease in male participation in mainline Christian congregations.

  • Sally Moran

    Sally Moran of Charleston, S.C., is the author of a 2004 print-on-demand book, Women of the Covenant: The Case for Female Roman Catholic Priests.

    She says important issues include parish closings, the number of foreign priests (some of whom speak English poorly), loss of social services to the needy, the scarcity of Eucharistic Liturgy to the person in the pew, and the isolation of priests who live alone and serve several parishes.

In the Midwest

  • Charles W. Mueller

    Charles W. Mueller is a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He has written about clergy-congregation mismatches and clergy job satisfaction.

  • Donald B. Cozzens

    The Rev. Donald B. Cozzens is writer-in-residence in the religious studies department at John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio. His books include The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A Reflection on the Priest’s Crisis of Soul.

  • Ken Davis

    The Rev. Ken Davis is director of the Program for Formation of Hispanic Ministry at St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana and co-author of Emerging Voices, Urgent Choices: Essays on Latino/a Religious Leadership (Brill Academic Press, 2006).

  • James R. Wood

    James R. Wood is a professor emeritus of sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington, and was part of a team of scholars working on a project called “Organizing Religious Work for the 21st Century.”

  • William C. Placher

    William C. Placher is a professor of philosophy and religion and LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind. His books include, as editor, Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation (Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

  • Frederick W. Schmidt

    The Rev. Frederick W. Schmidt is director of spiritual formation and Anglican studies and an associate professor of Christian spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. He is the author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1996).

    Contact: 214-768-2292.
  • Howard Hendricks

    Howard Hendricks is chairman of the Center for Christian Leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas.

    Contact: 214-824-3094.

In the West

  • G. Lloyd Rediger

    The Rev. G. Lloyd Rediger of Albuquerque, N.M., is an author, speaker and trainer and is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His books include Coping With Clergy Burnout and Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack.

  • Mark A. Chaves

    Mark A. Chaves is professor of sociology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He is an expert on religious organizations in the United States and leads the National Congregations Study.

  • Edmund Gibbs

    Edmund Gibbs is professor emeritus of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. He is an expert on the emerging church and has called for seminaries and theological schools to rethink the way they train pastors for the 21st century. His books include LeadershipNext: Changing Leaders in a Changing Culture.

  • Scott Cormode

    Hugh De Pree Professor of Leadership Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. Ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Formerly served as George Butler Associate Professor of Church Administration and Finance as well as assistant dean for institutional research at Claremont School of Theology. Can discuss church growth.

  • Aglow International

    Aglow International  is a global organization “with a single purpose: to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven through prayer, local groups, events and outreaches.” Contact through the website.

  • Paula Nesbitt

    Paula Nesbitt is a visiting associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Feminization of the Clergy in America: Occupational and Organizational Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 1997).

    She says a good barometer of shortage issues might be how many women who have been ordained later in life still have a hard time finding placements with full-time pay.

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