Religious and Civic Leader Gathering with Todd Ferguson

Rachel Schneider and Todd Ferguson
RPLP Director Rachel Schneider and guest Todd Ferguson
RPLP Director Rachel Schneider and guest Todd Ferguson

On February 7, the Boniuk Institute’s Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP) hosted a Religious and Civic Leaders Gathering featuring Dr. Todd Ferguson, a sociologist and co-author of Stuck: Why Clergy are Alienated from Their Calling, Congregation, and Career…and What to Do about It in dialogue with RPLP Director Rachel Schneider.

Faith and community leaders gathered for an intimate, thought-provoking discussion on the contemporary challenges facing clergy, including issues of mental health and burnout. In Dr. Ferguson's own research with clergy, he noticed a growing phenomenon of pastors who felt “stuck” in their congregations; they still felt a calling to serve Jesus and to be a leader, yet they felt alienated from their congregational work so they didn’t know what to do. Eventually, Ferguson discovered that their sense of being trapped was not due primarily to psychological or theological barriers, but rather to societal and institutional factors that were beyond their control. The pastors' lament was described in business vernacular, as they likened their roles to managing franchises. “Why did I go get a Master of Divinity? I should’ve gotten an MBA,” Ferguson recounted from one of his interviews. It was clear that the pastors felt disillusioned. They were ordained to lead congregations and be spiritual leaders, but instead found themselves reading budgets and mired in administrative tasks.

Amidst these challenges, Ferguson was able to offer pathways to help pastors reclaim authenticity and purpose within their roles: finding places of peer support that allow them to be authentic and spiritually replenish, and reconnecting with and telling the story of their “calling” and the larger purpose of their work. Ferguson also emphasized the urgency of change, highlighting the need for seminaries to adapt their curriculum to equip future pastors with the practical skills demanded by contemporary ministry, echoing an attendee who said, “There are things that pastors need today that we don’t ever teach them!”

As the gathering concluded, the consensus in the room was clear: for pastors to thrive in the modern landscape, a paradigm shift in church organization and seminary instruction is essential, one that honors tradition while embracing innovation and relevance.