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

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80 Comments

  • One of the reasons I left one particular church is not necessarily directly related to the negative things done or said by various people in the church…………it is quite often because those you might think you could count on to stand up against the onslaught………just stood there and watched without a word of support. In that sense, week after week, and month after month of enduring various negatives things are basically tolerated by those who appear to be your support. In reality, there are some really fine people out there……..and yet those same people are unwilling to stand up and be counted. The advocacy group was there in some sense and yet not there. After 3 years I had been beaten up emotionally to the point I was really no longer effective. I resigned without a place to go. Thankfully, I found a place of ministry within weeks of departing and have been there now for over 10 years. In my current ministry I have people who simply do not allow others to tear apart their staff. I’m so thankful for these dear people. Folks……..if you are a lay leader……….stand up for your staff and refuse to let the “cold water club” pour out their bitterness and hate on everything that takes place. What a blessing it is when good men and woman stand up for what is right.

    • That is selling themselves out. Some are fearful that they will be ostracized for taking a stand. Some are looking to their own “handlers” to see if they will be supported. In this case, one or two people can control everyone. Some people are spineless. Others are just fearful. Those who can’t stand up for something may have been shut down a few times or overridden and “taught a lesson.”

      When does a majority vote in favor of something or someone not win? In a church, where one person can override the rest of the congregation. This is why there sometimes needs to be a secret ballot and a policy on who can vote. Is it one per family, one per member (including/excluding children), or some other method?

    • Amen, Ken… so true! I am the wife of a pastor, and can attest… so many folks are unwilling to stand up for what is right. They know it, but won’t stand up for it, or for the pastor when he, in love, teaches or obeys it. And that is so very, very hard…

  • Reading all of these comments–too many of which we have personally experienced–makes the thought of going back to church utterly depressing…..

  • I am the pastor of a church plant my wife and I started 14 years ago. We did not have deacons for the first six years and then implement them. I do not know when I would have done without them for some circumstances that have happened since that time they have been faithful group of men who have provided a great deal of help to me. However, we have been in a state of decline for several years and of course it is my desire to turn this around begin moving again in a positive direction. Our deacons are very supportive of me for which I am grateful but they do not really provide an accountability group for me. How can I change this ?

  • Jaime Vega says on

    Please keep me in prayer i am about to become the lead pastor at the church my father in law just retired from. Many of these issues resonated with me and i really need prayer in not allowing my heart to become bitter or resentful as i feel like i walked into so many issues that were kept hidden or not disclosed.

  • I left a church for a couple reasons.

    1. My package had changed from the time I accepted the position to a month after I started. Without telling me.

    2. When the Sr. pastor quoted Pilate I knew I had to leave. haha- He said, “Do you see the difference in power between the two of us?” ok- so it wasn’t exactly a perfect quote- but I knew he was coo coo.

    3. When from day one the associate pastor didn’t speak to me more than five sentences my first month there- I knew there were problems.

    4. The sr. pastor got angry with his wife at the dinner table at his house because she put something on his plate he didnt like. I pretended not to see.

    5. When the sr. pastor was sweating a ton from us moving stuff around in the youth room and I offered to get him papertowels – he declined and wiped his sweaty face on a pillow he picked up off the couch. that was so disrespectful.this was in muggy Florida – lots of sweating.

    6. I submitted a six page review of my first three months. I shared my experiences and what I was excited about and what I noticed with the youth and what some future ideas were. No staff member read it. Six weeks later it was time to leave after only five months of soul bleeding for the youth and families. I was there from Jan- mid May or end of May.

    At my departure meeting I asked a different associate pastor who was actually my direct go to guy why he didn’t read my report. He told me it was just too long. I told him it wasn’t long enough and that the kids were worth six pages of insights. I told him he was being used as a tool of the sr. pastor and he disagreed. Sure enough I heard about four years later he fled that church and the sr. pastor was pushed out for indiscretions.

    Lastly, I just remembered that I asked the sr. pastor about being able to spend time with him since I was the new staff dude and he was about 13 years older than me. I thought he would jump at the chance to sort of mentor me a little bit but he declined. — it’s been since 2002 and I have not been a full time youth pastor since. I miss it but it stings still a little. I did become a hospice pastor for a couple years recently and felt very used my God to help families in that way. Now I own a business and work with teens and share Jesus with them all I can. thanks for listening. I am giving a different email so I don’t get contacted. I appreciate that. my best to you all, Chris

  • This is great, Thom. I am exited to help our district work on resources for churches to help with pastoral transitions, accountability, etc. this is my first pastorate, and I came out of the business world, and quickly realized many assessments of the church’s health given me during the interview process were seen through rose-colored glasses. I am certain now I would know some questions to probe a little deeper. For instance, the last 2 pastors stayed 4-6 years, but in the entire history of the church the average stay is about 2 years! When my family started developing respiratory illnesses frequently, that’s when people mentioned “yes, that happened to the last pastor as well.” Turns out the basement of the parsonage is riddled with mold! Also, Nobody mentioned any of the, let’s call them “lively,” congregational meetings I’d found records of, nor the pastor who had an affair with a church member in the middle of a capital campaign for building! While I am certain I’ve grown as a leader (and have great material for a book) I think it is certainly the responsiblity of the church to paint a fair picture and not let optimism get in the way of reality, but I definitely will now be able to coach people entering ministry into how to probe a little bit into getting a better understanding of reality.

  • I would like to hear you address this from the position of being a part-time Pastor. I have run into all of these situations except #3. My small rural church (25 wkly avg) keeps me accountable (whether positively or otherwise). I am constantly being expected to go above and beyond the initial expectations. One of my biggest problems is that there is no one to hold my congregation accountable. I can relate to most of what Michael posted.

  • Hello Thom and My Fellow Pastors,

    I would seriously add one other factor in a pastor’s demise. Try following a pastor who was considered a legend and was pastor at the same church for over 48 years. Then you come along and are constantly compared to this pastor – if you don’t measure up to his shoes then the gossip starts of why you aren’t doing the things the previous pastor did because you are breaking the mold of what the stereo type of what you should be like. It really saddens you because you try to love these people but they already have preconceived notions that you simply cannot fulfill.

  • What do you think of a church who has no finances to do anything and are in debt,the people are tithing but there is still no finances,and the pastor has no one to be accountable to just his immediate family are the only ones on the team and the church people are leaving all the time but the pastors don’t seem to care,it’s kinda like they won’t listen to anyone in the congregation,what do you do then ?? Should the pastor offer to resign and this is a church that is going for thirty yrs.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Helen:

      I can’t provide an adequate response without a lot more information.

      • Ok thank you far too much to go into but the situation is tearing families apart,I feel torn and really don’t know what’s gonna happen.

  • Great article on negative reasons pastors leave the church.

    This is exactly why the prospective pastor should ask many questions and interview the church as much…if not more than the church interviews him. I was a member of a pastor search committee whose leaders attempted to purposely hide issues that the church had at the time for fear it might drive the prospective candidate away. Not being up-front and totally honest with the pastor candidate during the interview process, in my opinion, is probably one of the primary reasons a pastor will leave a church having bad feelings.

    The candidate pastor needs to present the hard questions to the leadership on the difficult issues of doctrine and where they stand on the social issues that conflict with Scripture so that there are no surprises later on. There are many congregations out there that claim to be rock solid Biblically that are in reality only country clubs masquerading as a church. If this is the case, then it won’t be long when the club is un-masked when a genuine Bible preaching pastor comes along and is soon accused of throwing a wet blanket on their party and a lot of swollen toes begin to appear.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Hal.

    • I absolutely agree with you about asking hard questions during the interview process. It’s best to know as much as you can on the front end. I’ve often joked that I decided not to pursue one particular church because they didn’t pay enough. Their salary package was actually about $10,000 more a year than I’m getting now, but for what I’ve had to deal with, it wasn’t nearly enough!

    • Also, who is on the search committee? That often makes a big difference. Some people on a search committee often make things seem better than the really are.

  • My departure came for any of the above listed reasons including some self-inflicted wounds from a lack of wisdom and an inflated ego. However, one reason not listed was a lack of equity in expectations. Meaning the pastor should not be expected to be more than human, especially when it comes to marital problems, administrative decisions and interpersonal issues. There was a stark double standard in my last church that put me on a pedestal of holiness because of my position that I couldn’t live up to no matter how hard I tried. Discouraged and beat down I quit.