Observers like clergy counselor Rowland Croucher suggest that the numbers of ex-pastors roughly equal that of serving clergy throughout the Western world. This would mean there is a six-figure number of these people. He also suggests that more pastors and priests may be leaving parish ministry than are lost to most other professions. Until the early 1990s there were very few cross-denominational ministries serving this group. In his research, which he started towards a PhD, Croucher collected data-based questionnaires of ministers of Protestant denominations (Croucher 1991a; 1991b; 1994).
For some ex-pastors the transition is a relatively stress-free role exit, but for most the strain on them and their communities is costly. The high attrition rate may indicate a lack of good processes for conflict-resolution, human resource management and professional supervision.
The first writers to explore this research area used questionnaire surveys to look at factors such as age, education and family relationships as contributing factors (Jud, Mills and Burch 1970). Other writers have explored ex-pastors within particular denominations (Parer and Peterson 1971; Rice 1992; Ballis 1999) and/or focused on particular related issues such as burnout (Kaldor and Bullpitt 2001; Evers and Tomic 2003), stress (Pryor 1982; 1986), marital stress (Merrill 1985), sexual abuse (Ormerod 1995), celibacy (Della Cava 1975), loneliness (Whetham 2000), organisational factors (Seidler 1979; Knust 1993) and conflict (Dempsey 1983). One common cause of conflict occurs when differing approaches to ministry compete in the minds of clergy, congregation and community, as Norman Blaikie (1979) found in Australian clergy from six Protestant denominations.
For some of the estimated 10,000 ex-pastors from Australian Protestant churches, their transition was a normal mid-career move, voluntarily entered into like many of the role exits described in the classic study by sociologist (and ex-nun) Helen Ebaugh (1988). Yet for many the transition out of parish ministry was premature. Clergy, churches and training bodies need a solid basis for understanding and action in order to reduce the attrition rate and enhance clergy, congregational and community health. Some denominations experience particularly high rates of attrition (Kaldor and Bullpitt 2001: 13).
One key recommendation to help alleviate clergy-exit may revolve around the development of professional supervision and continuing education. Professional supervision for ministry is a method of reflecting critically on ministry as a way of growing in self-awareness, cultural and social awareness, ministry competence and theological reflection skills (Pohly 2001: 107-108; Paver 2006: 81-100). Supervision that includes an element of peer-group work has the potential to facilitate collaborative learning, enhanced group dynamic skills and ongoing supportive networks (Skaggs 1989). Some denominations are encouraging their clergy to engage in professional supervision, as part of their mandatory requirement of professional standards, but the requirements and standards of clergy supervision are often haphazard or absent.
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