Five Conditions That Lead to Negative Departures of Pastors


I have written rather extensively on this blog regarding the short tenure of pastors in churches. Of course, many pastors leave churches for very positive reasons. They sense a call to another ministry opportunity. Or they retire from a church with a new phase of ministry in mind.

But too many departures of pastors are negative. Sometimes the pastor is fired. On other occasions, the pastor leaves under adverse conditions.

Oftentimes, we look at the immediate precipitating factor of the departure and conclude that to be the reason for the exit. But, in reality, there are certain conditions in the church that increase the likelihood of a departure well before it takes place. Here are five of those conditions:

  1. False promises made prior to the pastor’s arrival. Depending on the polity of a church, those promises are made by an individual or a group. Some pastors, for example, are selected by a pastor search committee. Members of that committee may make comments like, “We are ready to change to reach people for Christ.” Then the pastor finds out the church is really not ready for change.
  2. Lack of clear expectations established. It is astounding to speak with a pastor and leaders of the church and to hear the perceived expectations of the pastor. Those perceptions are often miles apart! I recommend that every prospective pastor ask this question before accepting a call to a church: “What frustrated you the most about your previous pastor?” This one simple question will provide a lot of insights regarding expectations.
  3. Lack of accountability of the pastor. Every person in an organization needs some level of real accountability. Sometimes churches have accountability on paper for pastors, but it does not result in real accountability. No leader in any organization should be left alone. It is a formula for failure, if not disaster.
  4. No advocacy group for a pastor. Too many churches have no group that is specifically supportive and prayerful for the pastor. In fact, a deacon or elder body often can be an adversarial group rather than an advocacy group. By the way, the best advocacy groups can also be an accountability group. They support and love the pastor, but they are willing to push back if necessary.
  5. Lack of full disclosure by the church. I recently spoke with members of a pastor search committee. They shared with me that a power group existed in the church that made life miserable for the previous two pastors. Should they disclose that issue, they asked, to prospective pastors? Absolutely! It is deceptive not to disclose major issues in the church, whether they are positive or negative.

When a pastor leaves a church, whether through firing or voluntary departure for negative reasons, it is rarely a single immediate factor that led to the exit. There are typically negative conditions that created the environment for the departure.

What has been your experience regarding negative pastoral departures? What do you think of these five conditions?

Posted on December 3, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Richard Rizzi says on

    Wow. I experienced all of the above in the church I presently serve in.
    I am currently in my 11th year but only by the power and grace of God.

  • We are in our 30th year of ministry and we have been serving for almost 3 years in the same church we started our ministry in 30 years ago as youth pastors.

    Without going into detail, things are bad. Honeymoon is over and the same attack this church has done to former pastors has started with us, only this time, when they couldn’t get to my husband, they started with me, who just happens to be the financial secretary and office administrator. I have resigned my position to try and calm the storm, but emotionally and spiritually I’m hurting. Do you know of a resource or a place to go for pastor’s wives who just need a break and a spiritual renewing? Obviously since I have resigned (by “suggestion” of the board) money is an issue, but the need is great.

    I just need a repreive, a place to find solice and be able to restore my physical and spiritual health. As I’m sure you understand, there are few people that we can trust. We thought we could trust our Elders, but in the past few weeks, that has proven to be false. Things shared in confidence in elder meetings have now become public. We live in a small town of less than 3,500 people, so the entire city knows. Truth is one thing, perception is another.

    Any help or advice you may have to offer I am open to. I am a dedicated reader of your blog and feel like every time I read each post it’s as if you have been living our lives.



    • Thom Rainer says on

      Dene’- You are in my prayers. Please see my two older posts on pastors’ wives. In the comments, there are a lot of like-minded people with similar hurts. They also suggest many great resources.

    • Dene – My heart breaks for you. I am also a pastor’s wife, and my heart hearts over the hurts done to my husband… the people who have turned out to be anything but what they seemed to be, and caused so much hurt. I pray for you, as you go through this very difficult time.

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