I’ve worked with churches in North America for almost twenty years, and I’ve seen many pastors leave a church. These results are only anecdotal, but here are the primary reasons pastors have given me for leaving (in no order of significance):
- New calling. This reason, of course, can be a positive one. When a pastor simply senses God’s call to a new place of service or a new ministry, we should want that leader to follow God’s direction. Ideally, anyone who leaves a church does so for this reason . . . but honesty sometimes points to these other realities.
- Financial strain. Ministry is hard enough without having to worry about paying bills. When another opportunity seemingly offers relief from financial worries, it must be attractive.
- Congregational conflict. Church folks can be some of the sweetest people in the world . . . or, at times, some of the meanest. Even the strongest leader can be worn down by continual conflict, especially if he’s the target. Departure removes the immediate bull’s-eye from the pastor’s back.
- Family loneliness. I’ve written previously about the strain ministry can put on a marriage. Families who feel isolated and unappreciated seldom experience the joy that ministry can offer – and a new venue can look quite appealing.
- Personal sin. Nobody wants this problem to develop, yet it does more often than we care to admit. Even when the reasons given for departure are vague, the real problem is not. It’s sin that costs the pastor his position.
- Outside eyes. Sometimes when we do a consultation, a church doesn’t call us until they’re deep in trouble – and occasionally, the pastor decides to leave. The work needed to turn the ship around would require more energy than that pastor has to give. Starting over elsewhere seems easier.
- Physical fatigue. Ministers who do their work get tired. The hours can be long. The emotional strain of dealing with life issues can be heavy. Pastors often don’t take care of themselves physically, thus only compounding the problem. Leaving becomes a perceived rest.
- Family responsibilities. As believers, we’re expected to care for our parents. They age, and they can become like children in need of their own parents. Our adult children also need our help at times. Caring for family sometimes means a pastor must leave one location to be closer to others.
- Honest evaluation. I will make this statement as lovingly as I can: some pastors do not belong in the pastorate. Neither their giftedness nor their passion suggests otherwise, and folks in the pew recognize it. When misplaced pastors recognize this reality, leaving a ministry position can be a big relief.
- Church planting. I’m hearing this reason more often these days. The pastor of an established church leaves to start a new congregation, even if doing so requires him to be bi-vocational. This reason can be a cop-out to avoid the stresses of an established church, but it can also reflect a genuine calling (see #1 above).
What other reasons would you add to this list?