Are Pastors Loyal?
What a great book! Really…The theory and concepts in this book are important for churches to understand.
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty by Albert Hirschman required some real focus for me to get through but it was worth it. The basic concepts reflect many of my consumerist habits and got me thinking about their implications in my personal life.
As an example, I am typing this post on my Macbook, I have some notes pulled up on my IPad, a few seconds ago I checked Twitter on my IPhone, and later tonight I’ll watch Netflix on my Apple TV. I’m an all-in Apple hipster (I’ve got a few more steps to be a full blown hipster but my commitment to Apple is a good start). It would take a lot for me to Exit the Apple brand. However, not too long ago after my Iphone started to do some unexplainable things, I used my Voice, reached out to Apple customer service and shared my complaint. I understand that mistakes happen and I don’t expect perfection, so I will be Loyal to Apple until they make a consistent string of mistakes or raise their prices unfairly.
The Exit, Voice, and Loyalty concept is just as important to think through in the church. I’m naturally drawn to use these concepts to think through church members coming and going but I’d like to take a look at it through the eyes of church staff and pastors. Unfortunately, recent research by Lifeway states the average stay for a pastor in their church is 3.6 years.
A Pastor’s Exit from their church happens far too quickly. A Pastor’s exit is sometimes the result of a “better option” and Hirschman might say that’s the result of competition, but my experience shows that a pastor usually Exits because there are unmet expectations, fighting/quarreling in the Church, poor compensation, or burnout. This could compare to the CIO-AFL union merger that Hirschman describes and the “unrest and disunity” that caused many to Exit. This kind of Exit Hirschman states can often be resolved with Voice.
Some Pastors and Staff feel like their Voice is well heard by their Elders/Leadership Team but often that is not the case. Many Pastors walk on eggshells, afraid to share their real thoughts, worried that if they do it might cost them their job or offend a church member. This is particularly the case in regards to compensation, burn out, or some important Vision changes in the church. Too many Pastors Exit their church without ever having an open/honest conversation with their Elder/Leadership. Sometimes the Pastor is to blame and sometimes Leadership doesn’t create the space for these kinds of conversations. Voice is important for church Staff and Pastors because as Hirschman states, “To resort to voice, rather than exit, is for customer or member to make an attempt at changing the practices…”
Loyalty in the church should be a given but unfortunately depends on the specific pastor or church body. Most people are fiercely loyal to their families and we like to say church is “family” but the short tenure of pastors shows us that our loyalty doesn’t run very deep in the church.
Ideally, the church should be a place where Elders/Leadership and Pastors/Staff commit to work things out and see Exit as a last resort. The Church should be an open place for Voice, carefully and prayerfully listening to one another’s concerns. As Hirschman states, “as a rule, then, loyalty holds exit at bay and activates voice.” Our churches would be a better place if our Staff/Pastors/Leadership understood these important concepts.
 Franklin Dumond, “How Long Do Pastors Stay in One Church?,”, accessed September 30, 2015,http://www.gbjournal.org/8-82/.
 Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 29.
 Ibid., 30
 Ibid., 78
10 responses to “Are Pastors Loyal?”
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Nick, don’t you think that for a person to exercise voice instead of exit requires certain sense that the organization’s value and importance supersedes that of self? I mean, if my main goal is to gratify my own needs/desires then I will just go where I am best served, right?
Jon, Very true but you can’t negate the importance of self. I think most church’s try to instill the Church’s greater value but if we do it at the expense of an individual then that person needs to be encouraged to voice their thoughts and if they aren’t heard then it’s a bad system. Too often pastors sacrifice themselves for the sake of the ministry…I don’t think that’s really helpful.
Yes, but from the standpoint of an individual, if I don’t really assign a high value to the organization, if I don’t really think it is a vital entity that has worth, I am much more ready to just exit and not burn the emotional energy necessary to exercise my voice. Kind of gets back to Mary’s post about whether people FEEL like the organization is valuable or whether the organization really IS valuable. (I’m paraphrasing…)
“A Pastor’s Exit from their church happens far too quickly.”
One term that I did not find in Hirschman was expulsion. In a church, we find exit and voice, but when it comes to pastors and leaders, sometimes they are driven out. It would be interesting to see how developing a place for healthy voice could reduce the exit/expulsion of many pastors. Just a thought. 🙂
I guess loyalty works two ways…(-:
“Developing a place for healthy voice” really seems to be the key. Sounds like a dissertation topic.
Wow those statics are pretty sad. I understand though the situations that pastors find themselves in because i have found myself in those. I have had people leave for no reason or they just did not tell me. And then others have left and told me why. But what i thank God for is that i am not the type of pastor to get hurt easy. I understand that i may not be the pastor that can reach you. And i want them to be at a church that they are getting blessed and not just a number for my membership roll.
Nick, That is funny. I never thought of the Pastor as the main actor/actress in the exit, voice, and loyalty scenario. Interesting thoughts and applications there:). I definitely think there was a season (probably still is) of pastoral corporate ladder climbing. That definitely has to call into question … faithfulness, motives, and commitment. Great angle on this one from your perspective!
Reading all of your social media interactions, it made me wonder what Hirschman would have noticed had he researched this paradigm now, 45 years later.
Like Phil, I too appreciate your engagement with the concept as the leader…when does he/she speak up, exit, remain loyal. It seems that are not many examples of leadership sticking around (ie. sports teams, businesses, etc), and the same goes for churches. I know that while I struggle with my pastor for various reasons, the fact that he has stuck around for over 25 years, I do feel like he has earned a voice that I need to listen to, even if I don’t agree. At the same time, I know there are times where the leader definitely needs to exit because his/her voice is no longer heard.
When I asked a wise friend about when is it time to move on from a church, he recommended these words: stay, if you are able to continue in the work God has called you to (even if it needs to happen outside the church); however, if you are not “allowed” to fulfill the vocation that God has initiated in you, then it is time to go. It’s helped give me some perspective whether I simply attend or if I work for the organization.
Love your clear and concise style.
Perceptions and expectations of a pastor can be so unrealistic, on one hand, and church governance may not offer a real way for a pastor to discuss issues like compensation, benefits or burnout. It’s not uncommon for a pastor to find himself or herself in a environment where there is simply is no opportunity for voice regarding his/her own wellbeing. My church in Thailand was somewhat like this and when I tried to create space for such conversation with the leadership I was left with the distinct feeling that I was unsuccessful. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if those I was speaking with felt like I had a self serving agenda. Because, I did. I wanted to a healthier work environment – knowing it would help facilitate healthier church. Anyway, I agree “The Church should be an open place for Voice, carefully and prayerfully listening to one another’s concerns.” I’m saddened that both congregaants don’t feel this from leaders, and leaders don’t practice this with each other!
Great example from Apple. Apple takes customer relationship management seriously. They truly strive to serve their customers. I believe that pastors are exiting and becoming disloyal to the organizations to which they are affiliated. Many denominations simply aren’t listening and are failing to fix their issues. For example, the church district in which my husband pastored for several years has many frustrated pastors. Most of the pastors are paid very low salaries and they must be bi-vocational. Many struggle to pay their bills or to support their families. At a district conference, these pastors were given a leadership book and mounds of information that wasn’t meaningful or relevant. It was an insult to them – many expressed that they need resources, not another book, conference, or discussion committee. Basically, talk is cheap. Many pastors simply aren’t supported. Pastors are speaking, but the church isn’t responding appropriately. The trends of pastors exiting the vocation should be all that is needed to dictate change.