First- and Second-Career Clergy: Some Comparisons and Questions | Pulpit and Pew
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Using data from the Pulpit & Pew national survey of clergy, we have
compared those pastoral leaders who came into ministry as a first career
and those who had another occupation prior to entering ordained ministry.
As is often noted and as we will show, second-career clergy have been
on the increase in the last 25 or so years. Our survey shows that 56 percent
of current senior or sole pastors of congregations are in their second
career. In defining second-career clergy, we include all clergy who reported
working in another occupation for more than five years before deciding
to become a pastor.

Why the trend towards ministry as a second career? Is this a positive
trend? Is it a trend about which the church should be worried? Why are
fewer younger women and men not pursuing ordained ministry upon graduation
from college as was the case in the past? Do second career clergy bring
greater maturity and experience to pastoral leadership than those who
did not work for any significant length of time in another career? These
are important questions. We can’t answer them from our data, but we are
able to consider some characteristics of the two groups of pastors.

Jackson W. Carroll

Project Director

1. Second-Career Clergy Significant in All Denominations

This first graph shows the percentage of first- and second-career
pastors by denominational families: Catholic, Mainline Protestant,
Conservative Protestant, and Historic Black denominations. We see
that second-career pastors constitute a sizeable majority in Conservative
Protestant and Historic Black denominations. First-career clergy
are still a majority for Catholics and Mainline Protestants; however,
each has sizeable proportions of second-career pastors.


2. Average Age at Ordination is Increasing

The table above tells an important story. For all denominational
types, the number of older, second-career clergy is increasing.
As the table shows, in each denominational type there is a growing
number of older clergy. The fewer years clergy have served in ministry,
the older they were when they were ordained. The trend towards older,
second-career clergy is true for all denominational families.


3. Older at Ordination = Fewer Years to Serve

These trends are shown slightly differently when we compared first-
and second-career clergy on several age characteristics. First-career
clergy felt called to ministry at an earlier age and were ordained
on average nine years earlier than second career. Both groups are
similar in current age and both intend to retire, on average, at
age 65. First-career clergy have served as pastors an average of
five years longer than second-career clergy.


4. As Teens, First-Career Clergy Attended Church More Often

Both first- and second-career clergy were active church attendees
at age 16; however, First-career clergy were more than 20 percent
more likely to be weekly attendees than second-career pastors. Second-career
clergy more likely became active in church involvement at a later


5. As Teens, First-Career Clergy More Involved in Youth Ministry

First-career clergy not only attended church more often than second
career, but they were also somewhat more likely to have been involved
in a congregation’s youth ministry. Given the recent decline in
the number of first-career clergy, could it be that youth ministries
are no longer as significant a channel of recruitment to ordained
ministry as they once were?


6. First-Career Clergy More Likely to Have an M.Div.

The graph above shows the highest level of theological training
for both first- and second-career clergy. First-career clergy are
significantly more likely to have earned a Master of Divinity Degree
or higher than is true for second career. This in large part is
explained by the earlier figure that compared denominational families.
Both Catholics and most Mainline Protestant denominations require
a Master of Divinity degree for ordination. Some Mainline denominations
have other forms of certification, but most of their clergy receive
the M.Div.
This requirement is not a widespread among Conservative Protestant
and Historic Black denominations, where various other forms of training
and certification are permitted. Fifteen percent of Second career
clergy report no formal theological training.


7. Second-Career Clergy Less Likely to Doubt Call

This final graph is one of several measures of commitment to ordained
ministry. We asked clergy how often, if ever, they had doubted their
call to ministry during the past five years. As can be seen, second-career
clergy are significantly less likely to report having doubted their
call. Almost sixty percent of first-career pastors say they have
done so "once in awhile." Neither group has many pastors
who "fairly" or "very often" doubt their call.
Although we have not shown the figures, first-career clergy are
also significantly more likely to report having considered leaving
pastoral ministry for another ministry position than second- career
pastors, and they are slightly more likely to have sometimes considered
leaving ordained ministry altogether. Do these findings suggest
that second-career clergy, having made a major career change to
become a pastor, are more certain of their call and more committed
to pastoral ministry than is true for first-career clergy?

Pastor Speaking to Ladies
African - American Male Speaker