12 Reasons Pastors Want to Quit

Over the past several years, I’ve kept an anecdotal record of reasons pastors tell me they’re thinking about stepping out of a senior pastor role. Here are the most common reasons I’ve heard, in no order of priority:

  1. “I’m tired of the conflict.” Some churches are tougher than others to lead, and the conflict gets tiresome. 
  2. “I don’t know what else to do.” Sometimes this reason is simply an honest admission: the task feels bigger than the leader feels capable.  
  3. “It’s hurting my family.” It’s difficult to stay focused and energetic when your family is struggling.
  4. “We can’t pay our bills.” Some churches simply don’t pay a livable wage for pastors.
  5.  “I’m not sure I’m called to this role.” I’ve talked with leaders in tough situations and leaders in good situations who feel this way.
  6. “I’m burned out.” It happens to even the best senior pastors. Growing stress creates ongoing weariness.
  7. “I don’t like preaching week-to-week.” Often, these leaders are shepherding churches that require preparing multiple sermons per week.
  8. “I can’t live up to their expectations.” When you know you’ll never meet what the church demands, you’re defeated from the beginning.
  9.  “We’re lonely.” It’s sad, but some congregations don’t love their pastor well.
  10. “I’ve lost my vision for the church.” No vision generally equals no future focus—and little interest in investing in this church.
  11. “I’d rather be an associate pastor.” I hear this reason from young pastors more than older ones. At times, they feel overwhelmed by the work of the senior role.
  12. “I’m tired of bad situations.” Usually, this reason comes from pastors who’ve endured more than one difficult ministry—perhaps, I suspect, of their own making at times.

In many cases, the pastors who express these concerns don't actually quit–but they at least think about it. What reasons would you add to this list? 

11 Comments

  • Shae says:

    # 13: frustration. I suspect most pastors have a high level of commitment to Christ, and your common American church member has a high level of commitment to everything but. When the Bible is not the highest authority in the church (and common sense is non-existent) frustration, conflict, “bad situations”, and everything else is the norm.

    Side thought: you can’t help but wonder what would make the “quit list” for a pastor of an underground church in say, North Korea or Iran…..

  • Mark says:

    Canon Andrew White, who was the vicar of St George’s Baghdad, was finally ordered out of Iraq by the Archbishop of Canterbury due to security risks. The vicar had been firebombed during mass, held at gunpoint, had his lay pastor kidnapped, and conducted mass in a bullet proof vest.

  • Jonathan says:

    Can multiple bad situations happen to one pastor? There truly aren’t many “healthy” situations out there.

    • Shae says:

      Agreed. You don’t see all of this talk about revitalization for no reason. People are planting churches because it’s easier to birth a baby than raise the dead.

  • Pastor says:

    I’ve been a pastor for 6 years now. My first pastorate was difficult. I was there for over 5 years. Considered quitting altogether. Asked God after I resign to put me at a good coach. At another church now. Been there for a short period of time: less than a year. For me, #1 and #12 are true. Yes, it’s a calling, but too, the lack of stability and also lack of security bother me some. I know I’m to trust God to provide and meet my needs as long as I’m in it. But being a pastor, in this day and age, is not easy. There are too many churches out there with unregenerate members and even unregenerate people in leadership positions. When you’re at such a church, that’s hard to pastor. They don’t want leadership. They’re not close to God. They don’t want to hear the Word, but rather “feel good preaching.” I’m amazed at people, who call themselves Christians, who quietly get offended at the preaching because it’s not enough about grace, love, “how good we are,” “how good things are.” The Bible calls us to confront sin. That’s just the way it is. But some don’t want to hear the Bible and they undermine pastors behind their backs and cause needless trouble at meetings. I hope my second pastorate goes well (Time will tell). If it doesn’t, I might get out. I just have no desire to continue to try to lead unregenerate people, who claim to be Christians, but don’t want to reach out, are self-centered, critical of pastors over trivial things (There is no honor from them towards pastors as there should be; it’s a “respect thing.”), don’t live what they say they believe, and want to run pastors off over little to absolutely nothing. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy being a pastor, but I’m a truth teller. And this post is the truth: even if it offends.

  • Pastor says:

    Meant to say: “Asked God to put me at a good church . . . ” (in last post)

  • DG says:

    Many pastors are in unhealthy churches. Yet God designed for us to flourish in healthy relationships and communities. It is very difficult to bring others up rather than be dragged down. After a while, it seems impossible to be a healthy Christian alone in an unhealthy church. It gets to the point of not just asking, “Would I pastor here?” but “Can I even survive as a Christian here? Is it right to have my wife and kids live so long in such a toxic environment?”

  • Jim says:

    Gary Thomas recently wrote an article, “Why are Christians so mean?” referencing the same statement by Dallas Willard. Thomas’ comments were focused on people wanting to “be right” rather than “being like Christ.” His comments were based on Colossians 3 with Christians focused on believing correct doctrine, yet, missing how we behave in relating to others.

    As I agree with your list, however, I would include two additional from my personal experience. Congregants who demand their own way. As pastor of one a church, I did not conduct a bi-weekly meeting with a board member who was referred to by many as “head of the family.” He was the eldest son of one the four founding families of that church, had served as board member for decades, would approve all financial decisions and required bi-weekly meetings with the pastor to instruct him on what his preaching topics should be. So, “the head of the family” made sure I had a brief tenure.

    But also, the pastoral staff, who can either be a blessing or a Judas. Having accepted the pastorate of what I would refer as “my dream of a lifetime” it soon became the “Nightmare on Elm Street.” I agreed to retain my predecessor’s staff. The senior associate who had a long tenure relationship with many people in the church actually wanted to be the senior pastor. He discreetly and maliciously spoke with two board members turning them against me, which they in turn passed it on to the remaining three board members. The result after one year I was forced out and the senior associate tried to take over becoming the senior pastor.

    Shortly after, he and the other four staff members were released and a new pastor came. However, the toxicity was so great and after eighteen months he left. At that time it became a satellite church of a church in the neighboring community. But by then the toxicity had contaminated enough people it had dwindled from 400 to 30 and was closed.

    So after over 30 years of pain in ministry, my wife decided she had enough and left. Now divorced and she has remarried I am no longer associated or attend a church of that faith group. I do attend a church and give, but involvement or friendships – no. I just don’t have anything left as every area of my life has been deeply injured.

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