Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit

August 31, 2020

About one-third of you readers are laypersons. This article is for you. Of course, I know pastors and other vocational ministry leaders will be reading as well. Perhaps, more than my article, they will be reading your comments. They will be searching eagerly to see if anyone has a word of encouragement. They may be anticipating the responses will be a barrage of negativity they have become accustomed to receiving.

Please hear me clearly. The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime. Some are just weeks away from making an announcement. They are looking for work in the secular world. Some will move to bivocational ministry. Some will move to marketplace ministry.

But many will move. 

Why has this period of great discouragement ensued? Of course, it is connected to COVID-19, but the pandemic really just exacerbated trends already in place. We would have likely gotten to this point in the next three to five years regardless. 

I also want you to know that these pastors do not think they will be leaving ministry. They just believe the current state of negativity and apathy in many local churches is not the most effective way they can be doing ministry. 

So, they are leaving or getting ready to leave. There are many reasons why, but allow me to share the top six reasons, understanding that they are not mutually exclusive. 

  1. Pastors are weary from the pandemic, just like everyone else. Pastors are not super humans. They miss their routines. They miss seeing people as they used to do so. They would like the world to return to normal, but they realize the old normal will not return.
  1. Pastors are greatly discouraged about the fighting taking place among church members about the post-quarantine church. Gather in person or wait? Masks or no masks? Social distancing or not? Too many church members have adopted the mindset of culture and made these issues political fights. Pastors deal daily with complaints about the decisions the church makes. 
  1. Pastors are discouraged about losing members and attendance. For sure, it’s not all about the numbers. But imagine your own mindset if one-half or more of your friends stopped engaging with you. And pastors have already heard directly or indirectly from around one-fourth of the members that they do not plan to return at all. 
  1. Pastors don’t know if their churches will be able to support ministries financially in the future. In the early stages of the pandemic, giving was largely healthy. Church members stepped up. Government infusion of funds for businesses and consumers helped as well. Now, the financial future is cloudy. Can the church continue to support the ministries they need to do? Will the church need to eliminate positions? These issues weigh heavily on pastors. 
  1. Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly. One pastor recently shared with me the number of criticisms he receives are five times greater than the pre-pandemic era. Church members are worried. Church members are weary. And the most convenient target for their angst is their pastor.
  1. The workload for pastors has increased greatly. Almost every pastor with whom we communicate expresses surprise at their level of work since the pandemic began. It really makes sense. They are trying to serve the congregation the way they have in the past, but now they have the added responsibilities that have come with the digital world. And as expected, pastoral care needs among members have increased during the pandemic as well.

Pastors are burned out, beaten up, and downtrodden. 

Many are about to quit. 

You may be surprised to discover your pastor is among them.

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363 Comments

  • I’m a layperson & what’s struck me is the refusal of some members to attend if they have to wear a mask. It’s almost like God using them to expose peoples’ hearts & attitudes towards corporate worship. I do realize some people with underlying health issues aren’t attending, but I’ve also talked to people who know people who won’t attend if they have to wear a mask. God uses strange things to expose our hearts.

  • You write, “The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime.” Can you back that up with any concrete statistics? I’m a pastor, and a don’t disagree with the premise of your message. The pandemic and the pressures of ministry are taking their toll. However, your message would be much more credible to the lay people I associate with more statistical evidence than speculation.
    Thanks for the post.
    I look forward to your response.

  • We need you pastors very much. I pray that you all receive extra strength from God in these trying times.

  • What is your opinion on the verses in scripture mentioning “a falling away”? 2 Thes 2:3
    It is my opinion that the current crisis with Covid19 is setting the stage that will support this falling away. This would corroborate the concern mentioned in your 3rd bullet.

    • The great falling away started way before pandemic. Churches quit having Sunday night services, going to hell is hardly ever preached, revivals have basicly stopped. People think they can live anyway they want to and still be a christian. The old saints are dying and the young people’s parents now do not recognise the importance of having tthe true spirit of God in their lives. It has been replaced with sports, movies, internet, drugs, and more wineries. Yes the great falling away started before now. We are entering the end times. We may have to go through a lot of chaos and hard times before the return of Jesus so get prepared spiritually with the word of God and prayed and not participating in the pleasures of the world. Do not take the mark of the beast which is 666 or you will be committing your soul to the devil which will be disguised as theantichrist. Be very aware and warn your children and families. He will first come as a man of peace but into 3 and 1/2 years you will see the true evil that he is. I don’t think he is on the scene now but I believe he is alive on earth waiting for his time to step into the arena. When this happens look up for Jesus will be coming for the true believers that are living for Him!!!

  • Thanks, Thom. I’m a pastor and I serve a healthy church in the Southeast. They were very understanding at the onset of the pandemic and many adapted to new ways of doing traditional church. It was inspiring and invigorating!

    After 6 months of living in a “new normal”, I would say the staff feel suffocated by constant adjustments, adaptations, and unending problems. I know MANY professions and individuals feel this way. This is coupled with reactions of frustration and disgust by a growing number of parishioners when any event / program / service uses safe public health measures because people want this to be over and want the church, and everything in their life, to “go back to normal.”

    People, and churches, rely on routine methods to maintain fundamental aspects of their mission (ie. Sunday AM Church, Sunday School, etc.). The routine regularity of these items create stability and capacity for new ideas and creativity in new areas.

    But in our current situation, we weekly revisit virtual v. in-person, masks v. no masks, distancing v. no distancing, weddings, funerals, Boy Scouts, AA, hospice care, mission work-days, children church, youth camp, and the list goes on. Even when we set a policy / procedure people (and staff) want special treatment based on their personal beliefs regarding COVID risks. This creates constant tension, contention, and leaves no spiritual/mental/physical capacity for figuring out new expressions of Christian community in our new normal.

    And to top it off, it’s an election year when it feels like most everything is politicized, including whether churches are “open” (we never closed, even when the building did!) or masking or distancing, not to mention social justice issues.

    The staff are not special or different from the laity. We are all feeling it. I think the staff feels the local church pinch the most because they (we) are tasked with everyday oversight, organization, and communication, and now enforcement of public health rules. And lay involvement went to near zero at the onset of the pandemic and staff have reverted back to Superman / Superwoman status of trying to provide church for our stressed-out, overworked, and overwhelmed laity.

    I am encouraging our laity and staff to lean into a real Sabbath. Fifty-two days alone this next year with God as an individual, a family, and Church will hopefully center us and unite us. Lord, in your mercy…

    • Nellie Cloninger says on

      Thank you Stephen, you have summed up many of my thoughts. I am starting my second year in this parish and realize this church reaches out to one another and supports one another rather than reaching out to our staff. This has long been the way they care for each other, but there are also those who “fall through the cracks” – I try to be intentional in reaching out to them. I so appreciated your word that “Church is open even when the building is closed” as this is what we have concentrated helping the church family know. I wondered as I read Thom’s blog if we are unique believing we remain the church throughout. Yes, we have learned that some people have said, “I have been in church all my life, but now I have learned I can live without church so I don’t think I will be back.” Yet, we have had others who were inactive who have told us, “Thank you for posting the service on the internet. We feel reconnected to our church family and don’t miss a week seeing the services.” For us offerings have continued on the same trend as before the pandemic but did not increase with the first “challenging increase” in budget that the church has made in several years. Sabbath is truly a blessing that the entire church benefits from when we model it and encourage it for the Church family. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mike Sutherland says on

    Thank you for speaking up for pastors. I am very blessed to have a congregation that continues to care for my as their pastor and sends beautiful cards, calls, and emails along the way. But number 6 definitely hit home. I come from a software background but livestreaming, presentation software merges, and television style worship all at once has been like being on a learning treadmill; with the entire world watching.

    But God is good and the audience has been kind. Without Covid-19 we would never be where we are in the online world. Choosing to see a blessing.

  • Jesus was in active (recorded) ministry for 3 years… Then the religious people killed Him.

    …just sayin

  • joni loring says on

    As a layperson, I’d like to say I left the church over #6, I guess. I wanted a church I could be involved with. I never successfully found one. In one church, I was told I couldn’t go on weekly visitation because I missed Sundays. (had to work one weekend month). At another, I planted a tree with some bulbs around it, and they dug up as not being approved by the deacons. The list goes on.

    Id like to suggest telling your secretaries to stop screening volunteers, and find something they can do. Or, if you need something done, ask for volunteers, before you pass the collection plate for the building fund to hire someone.

    • Mike Sutherland says on

      Joni

      It is one of the hardest balancing acts in church work; matching the volunteer to the task and doing so in a timely manner. It is best done when we realize that God sees the effort and the willingness and does not judge the timeliness or the quality of the work. I would love you to come and plant some bulbs in our inner garden any time.

      May you find a church to call your home.

  • Keith Bowers says on

    I find what you say is true for most. The problem is that most of those pastors are not teaching the true word of God. If they were God would open the windows of heaven and pour out His blessings on them. The problems of this world will not get any better. We are living in the final generation. The generation of the fig tree. The bible tells us the famine of the end time is not one of food but of the hearing of the true word of God. For whatever reason they turn a blind eye to God’s word and teach church doctrine, traditions of men, out and out fair tails, rather than the true word of God. My advice to them is put aside everything else and open God’s word and start teaching it chapter by chapter verse by verse use that knowledge of the Hebrew, Chaldean, and Greek to teach people the meat of God’s word. If people are getting any truth in 90% of churches it is milk at best. I bet 95+% of church do not get into the real meat of God word.
    Just my thought and what I have seen where I live

    • Hi Keith, I’m convicted by what you wrote. I was just wondering if you could recommend some good resources on boning up my Chaldean. What books have been most helpful to you? What sort of things do you do regularly to keep your Chaldean fresh? And also wondering what is your favorite Chaldean verse in the Bible? Thanks so much.

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