5 Reasons Pastors Leave the Ministry
When I was 7 years old, I caught our cat with its arm in my brother’s fishbowl. The cat was poking, prodding, and antagonizing the goldfish. The cat didn’t get the fish, but I know how it felt.
I’m connected to many pastors who live the “fishbowl” life. I’ve heard their “horror” stories of being prodded, poked at, and antagonized. Sometimes, I am in sheer disbelief that anyone would be so heartlessly treated. For the sake of my love for Christ’s church, I won’t share those stories.
What I will do is shed light on the reality of why pastors leave the ministry—here are my top five.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Over 50% of pastors are paid $50,000 or less—many even below the poverty line. As well, those pastors receive no benefits, medical insurance, or retirement options.
When they leave the pulpit, the church casts them aside.
While the pastorate is a calling, the church should have a true love for their pastor—excited to say, “We take great care of our pastor.”
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gushes with love for them—but it’s mutual. The Philippians were passionate about their “partnership in the gospel” and they “well supplied,” Paul (Phil 1:5, 4:18).
I know many pastors barely making the income needed, causing them to become bi-vocational (which has pros and cons). The dilemma is not bi-vocationalism, but that these churches expect “full-time” (and more) work. It seems Jesus was right about the “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). The business world cares more for their peoples than the church.
Perhaps I meant—lack of leadership? While deacons and elders may be in positions, they may also give no support to the pastor.
When leaders have no desire to serve or to cultivate spiritual disciplines, the pastor is the one who suffers. He’s stuck with a rudderless ship. He’s a lone captain at sea, navigating “storms,” with no guides.
Without leadership, the pastor takes the brunt of the finger pointing when things don’t go as planned. Business meetings become gripe sessions—or the contrary, no one cares.
When bad leaders are in positions they are spiritually or experientially unqualified to partake, there’s no vision, mission, and reaching the lost. The pastor becomes a chaplain, overburdened and leaves.
Toxicity can be fatal. I’ve worked with churches that have closed and some existing ones that should!
Wherever there’s gossip, inside concentration, or manipulation—there’s toxicity. I have an ex-pastor friend who was forced out. The church belittled him at corporate meetings, made his life miserable, and asked him to supply his preaching outlines for review. They wanted to rule the pastor.
I know another ex-pastor whose treasurer would withhold his check. He would have to hunt him down to get paid—even though the church had over 1 million in the bank!
I know 4 others with similar situations—never to return.
80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
A pastor’s family will always see, and feel, how he is being treated. Whether lack of compensation, undue stress, or other—unlike any other profession, the family worships where the pastor “works.”
Consequently, the pastor’s home becomes an unstable environment. I know a pastor’s wife that literally cried and begged her husband to leave the church—for the sake of the family.
Unfortunately, wives (and children) of pastors experience emotional, relational, and spiritual stress. They hear all of the gossips. They may question: where is God? Is this what the church is really about?
The family of a pastor sacrifices much.
70% of pastors do not have a close friend and constantly fight depression.
True, and I know why. Many pastors have stated an inability to confide in church members. They feel that whatever they say, or do, will be used against them at some point. This is truth.
Pastoral loneliness is a horrible certainty—going through life with no close friends and feeling depressed. It’s a reality that pastors neglect to share and a major reason they leave.
Thabiti Anyabwile, Don’t Make Your Pastor a Statistic?,9 Marks, https://www.9marks.org/article/dont-make-your-pastor-a-statistic/