We all remember how in 2021 and early 2022 everyone was concerned with the “Great Resignation” because 1 in 3 workers were considering leaving their job for better opportunities in different companies. Surprisingly, one study reported that up to 60% of those in the workforce are considering changing career fields altogether. The work restrictions associated with the ongoing response to the pandemic has given workers time to consider whether they want to return back to the culturally valued work grind of commuting, office life, physical meetings, and corporate pressure only to clock out and go home and have to put in another couple hours in the evening responding to emails and group conversations benefiting the company’s productivity. The exchange for sacrificing evenings with free labor is usually done in the hopes that workers would be noticed for their dedication and hard work so they might be promoted within a company or recruited by another company for higher wages and recognition.
The so-called hustle culture is the belief that you must work all day every day in order to achieve your career goals. The hustle culture, also called the burnout culture and grind culture, was born out of the 2008 great recession where many young adults who were first entering the workforce were making low wages and working long hours or second jobs to keep up with their financial needs. Workers found it difficult to pay for basic needs like groceries and rent, pay off student loans, or save enough money to purchase their first home or travel. This led many Millennials and Gen Z workers to take on side hustles in part-time fields like Uber driving, food service, and hospitality. Others found ways to turn their side hustles into hobby jobs, open small businesses, or entry level part-time jobs fields that brought them joy. When the pandemic began in 2020, many people lost their side hustles and had to focus on their primary jobs. Now as jobs are returning, many workers are choosing to focus on one job, their hobby job, or retool for a new job instead of returning to the hustle culture of multiple jobs.
All of this, and several other complicated economic and social factors I do not fully comprehend, leads us to the latest trend of quiet quitting.
Quiet quitting has become the latest buzzword surrounding the tumultuous job market in the United States. The phrase quiet quitting has gone viral on social media, particularly TikTok, since July when 24-year-old engineer Zaid Khan posted a 17-second video sympathizing with people who desire to remove themselves from the hustle culture, describing quiet quitting as “quitting the idea of going above and beyond at work…Work is NOT your life…Your worth is not defined by your productive output.”
Quiet quitting is not about putting in poor performance or submitting subpar work. It is not even about quitting your job. Quiet quitting is about working your job competently, but not going above expectations and working extra hours. It is a push back against the idea that you are what you do. This current cultural trend releases people to leverage free time into more quality time spent with friends and family and engaging in leisure activities and hobbies—all things we regained an appreciation for during the pandemic.
The reality is that quiet quitting is not new. It is just a new term to describe and old thing. Gallup conducts an annual job engagement survey. Their most recent survey from June 2022 indicates that only roughly 32 percent of employees are engaged in their work. This is certainly a lower percentage of engaged employees than pre-pandemic but is a more consistent reflection to engagement levels before hustle culture began to take hold in 2008. Basically, the work to life ratio pendulum is swinging back to normal. And this is a normal ebb and flow for employee engagement in the US economy.
What does any of this have to do with pastors and local churches?
Well, the first observation of course is that local churches are filled with people participating in
the current workforce. As pastors it means that likely two-thirds of our gainfully employed congregants are disengaged from their places of financial employment, considering new careers, and are actively seeking to avoid burnout. This tells us something about how we can pastor them. We can come alongside our workforce congregants and provide them with the spiritual disciplines necessary to help them consider their vocational callings, time management, and prayerfully help them discern how to best use their time and talents.
This observation creates the opportunity to cultivate new types of ministry to people in the workforce. Perhaps the church should consider different times for worship, different ways of providing discipleship, and fostering new ways and places for them to share their gifts with the church. Because of the economic realities around us, people are available differently than they were in generations past when we set the worship service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and discipleship classes on Wednesday evening. Our churches may need to cut back on certain programming or rely on different generational cohorts to lead such programming. Recognizing the work patterns and habits of our congregation provides insight to how they live their everyday lives away from the Sunday morning worship service and what they need from the local church to help them navigate the world they spend most of their time.
For congregations and church members, it is also important to recognize that your pastors and church staff are also employees in the workforce. They are not immune to the pressures and economic realities that face the rest of the hustle, burnout, and quietly quitting culture that surround them. To be sure, pastors are unique in their callings to serve Jesus and the institutional church. It is a distinctive calling that requires a deep commitment and resolution to remain engaged at a high level requiring constant vigilance to remain well-trained and equipped like doctors, engineers, professors, lawyers, and other technical professions. Pastors and church staff leaders have high expectations placed on them to create new material multiple times a week, manage declining non-profit budgets, recruit and train volunteers, study the news, study theology, create social media content, build a unique personal brand, and lead Bible studies. They operate non-profit charities like food banks, clothing stores, and drug/alcohol rehabilitation groups—all while they give spiritual care and love to people who are sick, bereaved, and dying.
Anecdotally, I would observe that the pastors I know are engaged at a much higher level than the national average per Gallup. I have no bar graph or pie chart to prove this, but I meet with several pastors every week and most of them are deeply committed to their places of mission and ministry.
But you may notice your pastor “quietly quitting.” And that’s okay.
Your pastor may need to step away from the hustle culture and set up some healthy boundaries around their time. They may not answer an email or text immediately and instead wait until the next day. They may choose not to attend every function in your church. They may let a few phone calls go to voicemail. You may see them around town in their street clothes going to concerts, ball games, or in a craft store doing things that bring them joy. Things that are not about meeting new people or improving their professional status. This is okay and normal. They are not quitting; they are simply putting limits on how much they allow the job of pastoring to dictate their life. They are removing themselves from the hustle culture. They are modeling healthy boundaries for their congregations.
Please do not misunderstand me. Pastors are always pastors, even when they are not in a pulpit. They should not be doing things that reflect poorly on Jesus, themselves, their vocation, or their local church. They should not become lazy and stop pastoring their people altogether. They should not stop being creative. They should not surrender practicing spiritual disciplines. They cannot make themselves completely inaccessible. There is a difference between healthy boundaries and shirking responsibilities. But if your pastor determines from time to time, they need to put in just enough work this week to get things done and then put their phone on silent while they binge watch the latest Netflix series, we should not judge them too harshly.
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. It is a time for churches and members to say thank you to our pastors, church staff, region, and national leadership for their service and leadership. There are hundreds of ways to say thank you to a pastor, just Google search it and you will find plenty of ideas. But perhaps the greatest gift you can give your pastor this October is an encouraging word. Let them know how you have grown in your faith because of something they have said or done. Tell them how you appreciate their presence in this community of faith. Thank them for guiding you and your congregation through a pandemic. Thank them for modeling what a healthy life and vocational calling look like because they guard their time well, so they can be better employees and pastors to your church community. Give them the freedom to pull back from time to time when ministry is consuming them. Mostly let them know they are seen and loved.
Also, that gift card to a restaurant, ticket to the sporting event, or weekend pass to the lake house would be graciously received.
Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is associate executive minister, American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He is author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, published by Judson Press. Visit table-life.org to learn more about his ministry and writing projects.