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5 reasons why pastors leave the ministry

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article was previously published on www.biblicalleadership.com.

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. It 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’m 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.
1. Financial. Seventy percent of pastors feel grossly underpaid. More than 50 percent 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 a pastor being bi-vocational, but that many churches expect “full-time” (and more) work with part-time pay. It seems Jesus was right about the “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). The business world cares more for its people than the church does.
2. Leadership. What I mean is lack of leadership. While deacons and elders may be in positions of authority, 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.
When bad leaders are in positions for which they are spiritually or experientially unqualified, there’s no vision, mission or reaching the lost. The pastor becomes an overburdened chaplain and then leaves.
3. Toxicity. 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 more than $1 million in the bank. I know four others in similar situations, never to return.
4. Family. Eighty percent of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
A pastor’s family will always see and feel how he is treated. Whether a lack of compensation, undue stress or other reasons—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 gossip. They may question God and wonder if this is what the church is about.
The family of a pastor sacrifices much.
5. Loneliness. Seventy percent of pastors don’t have a close friend and constantly fight depression.
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.
Pastoral loneliness is a horrible certainty, going through life without close friendships and feeling depressed. It’s a reality that pastors neglect to share and a major reason they leave.

Matthew Fretwell

Author: Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, and revitalization pastor. He's served as Executive Director of New Breed Network and has taught leadership, church planting, and revitalization within several denominations. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies.

View more articles by Matthew Fretwell.

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