The majority of pastors move from one church to another as a sense of call. In some denominational bodies, pastors are appointed to move from church to church. Those departures are normative and, for the most part, healthy.
Unfortunately there are unhealthy reasons that cause a pastor to leave a church. The sad reality is that most of these reasons are preventable. In most cases something could be done to stop these presumably premature departures. I have taken the liberty to name the top eight negative reasons pastors leave a church. The research is more anecdotal, but the frequency with which I hear and deal with these issues makes me confident that this listing is mostly accurate. The reasons are obviously not mutually exclusive.
- Discouragement and frustration over critics in the church. Over thirty times this year pastors have contacted me to let me know they resigned from their church due to weariness over critics.
- Discouragement and frustration over the direction of the church. Most pastors come to a church with an eager vision and great hope. Many pastors leave a church when it becomes obvious to them that the hope will not be realized.
- Moral failure. The two most common moral failures are sexual and financial. In either case safeguards were typically not in place.
- Burnout. The flexibility of a pastor’s job can lead to one of two extremes: poor work ethic or workaholism. The latter inevitably leads to burnout.
- Forced termination other than moral failure. Just last night I heard about a pastor who was fired because the church members determined they needed better leadership. That reason is one among many I hear more and more often.
- Financial struggles. A number of churches do not take care of their pastors financially. Most are able to do so. A pastor who has to worry about paying his bills will not be an effective pastor.
- Family issues. Obviously the family issues could be related to any of the reasons noted here. But a number of pastors tell me they resigned simply because the entire church experience and atmosphere were unhealthy for their family.
- Departure of joy. Typically a pastor has great joy when he is called to ministry. That joy often continues during the time of training for ministry and entry into the first church. But a number of pastors for various reasons lose their joy in the real world of local church ministry.
I was tempted to list depression as a top reason a pastor leaves a church. But the often debilitating condition of depression is intertwined with any of the reasons noted above. Indeed it could be argued that many of the reasons above are interrelated.
What can we learn from these examples? First, we should pray for our pastors regularly. Second, we should seek ways to help prevent the reasons noted above. Third, we should be a friend and encourager to our pastors. They already have plenty of critics.
What would you add to my list?
Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at Steve.Drake@LifeWay.com. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.