Pastors Leaving Ministry

The number of pastors leaving their churches and leaving ministry altogether is quite alarming. Studies show that about 1,500 pastors exit their churches each month due to conflict, moral failure, burnout, or a forced exit.

My guess is that you are reading this because you are one of many of these pastors leaving their ministries. I'm not going to judge nor will I try to talk you out of it - especially since I did it myself. But I would like to point out a few things.

  • The job you take may be worse than what you have now. Career change for pastors can be a very challenging process. For instance, I have a masters degree. But a degree in theology isn't something that very many companies are looking for. I found that the jobs I qualified for typically were entry level and low paying. Sometimes I look back and wonder why I ever left my church.
  • burned out

  • Pastors leaving their churches tend to be reacting to circumstances rather than acting out of conviction, passion, or divine direction. Do you really want to make such a big decision by reacting instead of being proactive? Sometimes God uses challenging circumstances to force us to move. But He also uses conflict to train us in patience and godliness. Which is God doing in your life?
  • Career change for pastors can be an extremely traumatic move. You are no longer in charge. You no longer have people looking up to you. You are just another employee. Believe me when I tell you, the change can be brutal.
  • Ask yourself what a move tells your kids. Pastor's kids generally just go along for the ride. But I know in my case that the changes can be very hard for your children.

Before You Leave

Once you spot the ministry exit sign, it's very difficult to slow the process down. But before you leave your church, I strongly suggest you consider these thoughts.

  • Make peace with as many people as possible. Pastors leaving their churches often leave amid a lot of conflict, division, and hurt. For your sake, the sake of the congregation, and the sake of the next pastor, try to mend as many relationships as possible. Once these divisions are healed, you might think twice about leaving. But if you still leave your church, you will do so with a clear conscience.
  • Take an extended break. Go away for at least two weeks. Relax. Pray. Meditate. Then see how you feel when you return. I know that your congregation might be reluctant to let you go for two weeks. But try to get away for as long as you can. You will be able to clear your thoughts and get a better perspective on what's happening in your life.
  • Talk to your spouse. I'm sure you are already doing this. But make sure you talk in depth and at length about your feelings, about your desires, about why you want to leave, etc. Pastors leaving their ministries need to remember that the career change affects everyone in the family.
  • Seek unbiased counsel. When you're in the heat of the battle it's sometimes hard to see the big picture. Try to find a godly person who knows you and has a feel for your church. Their input can be invaluable.
  • Stay for six more months. Give yourself that extra time to work through the challenges, to make peace with people, to take an extended break, and to listen to wise counsel.

There is a time for everything under the sun. That includes pastors leaving their churches. I am not trying to talk you out of leaving - I have no way of knowing what God wants for you and your family. But I do want to encourage you to listen to the advice of someone who's been there and done that. And I have... more than once. I don't really have regrets. But once in a while I do wonder, "What if...?"

If you follow the suggestions on this page you won't have any "What ifs." You'll be convinced that in your situation pastors leaving their ministries is appropriate. Pastors leaving their ministries often do so because they are burned out. Read some burn out stories and add yours to encourage others

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Pastor Burnout