by Pastor Doug Kings

This past week there has been quite a stir among some of my Facebook clergy friends. They have been discussing—and sometimes arguing about—the recent blog post of a Presbyterian pastor, Alexander Lang. He was the leader of a large congregation in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and his post was titled, “Departure: Why I Left the Church.” Lang’s last Sunday as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights was August 27.

In his essay, Lang clearly includes himself as part of whathas been called “The Great Pastoral Resignation.” This is a subset of “The Great Resignation,” the departure of millions of people from their jobs in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Each occupation has its unique dynamics and Lang spends much his post discussing those specific to clergy. As Lang acknowledges, most of these issues have been around for quite a while. The pandemic, however, pushed many pastors over the edge and they said, “enough is enough.”

A 2022 survey of clergy by the Barna research organization found that over 40% were seriously considering quitting, not just their current position, but pastoral ministry altogether. The top reasons given were:

1. The immense stress of the job: 56%

2. I feel lonely and isolated: 43%

3. Current political divisions: 38%

4. I am unhappy with the effect this role has had on my family: 29%

5. I am not optimistic about the future of my church: 29%

6. My vision for the church conflicts with the church’s direction: 29%

Lang says that while he could relate to all of them, the first two reasons were most significant for him. He then discusses the many roles that pastors try to perform, often with a sense of inadequacy and often resulting in conflict and opposition from congregation members.

Towards the end, however, Lang switches gears and talks about another issue that, I believe, is the key to Lang’s frustrations, as well as that of many other clergy and church members. Here’s what he says:

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy over the years as a way of processing the challenges of the church. My most recent therapist introduced me to the concept of growth mindset vs. fixed mindset. A growth mindset is when a person is willing to take chances, enjoys learning new things and is not afraid to fail. Conversely, people with fixed mindsets don’t like to be challenged. They perceive failure as the limit of their abilities. They tend to be scared of learning new things, particularly if that education disrupts their current worldview.

I am firmly in the camp of growth mindset and I assumed that was the entire purpose of the church. When I became a pastor, I thought that the reason why this group of people gathered every Sunday was to explore deep questions about life and to push ourselves to become better humans. What I have learned over the last 10 years is that my assumption was wrong. Although there are definitely some people who come to church for the reasons I outlined above (these are some of my biggest supporters), the majority of people who attend churches are in the fixed mindset category.

Most Christians don’t want their thinking challenged. They come to church to reinforce what they’ve believed their entire lives. From their perspective, the job of the pastor is not to push them to grow, but to reassure them that they are already on the right track. Any learning should support the party line and comfort them that their investment of resources in the church will result in a payoff somewhere down the line, particularly once they reach the afterlife.

This is the exact opposite of how I function. Although I always try to end my messages with a sense of hope, my goal was to make you think. Nothing was off limits. I have no problem dismantling the traditional Christian belief system in service of logic and reason, particularly if it helps us make sense of the world. Whereas most pastors eschew nuance in favor of black and white thinking, I believe we discover God’s presence by digging into the complexity of those details.


Hence, I eventually came to the conclusion that my particular skillset and perspective is a mismatch for the institutional church. What I offer is not what most Christians are looking for, which is another reason I’ve decided to move on. I realized that if I spend the rest of my life fighting a system that is not designed for someone like me, I’m going to end up an angry, bitter, broken shell of a human being.

Those of you who know me well realize that I could have written much of this myself. At multiple points in my ministry, I’ve had a strong sense that I just didn’t know what I was doing, or what the church was about (and I took a couple career breaks to deal with this). Fortunately, I have been able to find compatible and open congregations, like Gloria Dei. But there have still been compromises and conflicts, which inevitably take a toll over time.

I’ve come to realize that the dilemma Lang identifies here is not new. When the church partnered with the Roman Empire in the 4th century, it understood itself as the repository of unchanging truth. That worked for a thousand years. But with the Renaissance and the Reformation, and then the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution, that identity began to crack and crumble.

What Lang and I and countless other clergy and lay people are now experiencing is that this ancient façade is beyond repair. It can’t be patched and band-aided any longer. Now, the good news is that most people aren’t looking anymore for a repository of eternal truth. But many churches still cling to that notion and the dwindling number of people that image still appeals to make up much of the membership of such churches.

Today, people aren’t looking for TRUTH to cling to like a life raft but truth that will genuinely guide and change their lives. Put “self-help” into Amazon’s search box and stand back for the avalanche of results. And from all that I can tell, this is exactly what Jesus was trying to do.

He shows no interest in rules, commandments, doctrines, rituals, institutions, or hierarchical leadership. Rather, Jesus’ ministry was focused on changing lives by giving people genuine love, freedom, and joy. Or as he says in my oft-quoted verse in John, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

But that life isn’t about just showing up, in church or anywhere else. As Lang’s therapist says, it’s about having the courage to take the risk of growth, learning, change, and transformation. Today the church itself needs to take that risk of life and growth. Many members may not like it. But transformation is what more and more people realize they need personally, and what our world needs to survive the many crises looming before us.

Blessings in your life and ministry.