Five Reasons Some Pastors Regret Quitting Their Churches

The Great Resignation, also known as the Great Reshuffling, is well underway in both the secular world and in churches. Pastors and church staff are quitting. The pandemic certainly accelerated the pace of departures.

The pastors who contacted us at Church Answers fall into four categories of quitting. One group simply moved to another church. A second group quit vocational ministry altogether and took a secular job. A third group retired. And the fourth group moved toward bivocational or co-vocational status.

 Now we are beginning to hear from pastors who have “buyer’s remorse.” The Wall Street Journal recently reported that nearly three-quarters of people who left their secular jobs have regrets ( Anecdotally, we do not see buyer’s remorse to be that high in vocational ministry, but we still hear about it regularly.

 What are the main reasons pastors regret quitting their churches? Here are five of the most common responses we’ve received:

1. The green grass was brown. After succumbing to the green grass syndrome, some pastors indicated that the next church did not meet expectations. The common response we’ve heard is that the next church has the same problem people. They just have different names.

2. Some felt like they had abandoned God’s call on their lives. Of course, we heard this response from some of the pastors who left vocational ministry altogether. We should note, however, we’ve actually heard from more pastors in this group who are finding a new kind of calling in marketplace ministry.

3. They recall the joys and blessings of their former church. Having left their church, the pastors have a new perspective. They remember the good times more and the bad times less. A common refrain is, “My church was not nearly as bad as I thought when I was there.”

4. They miss preaching. For those who left vocational ministry completely, they tend to miss the weekly sermon preparation and preaching. In fact, many of them describe their call to ministry as a call to preach. Those who left their churches for retirement, though, generally indicate they have as many preaching opportunities as they want.

5. They feel “lost.” We’ve heard that word quite a bit, though it is rarely defined. Is it a  sense of loss of routine, purpose, identity, or all three?

Next week I will examine some reasons pastors are loving life after serving in a local church. There are indeed two sides to this coin.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Posted on May 9, 2022

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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  • Thom, have been reading your writings a good bit, am very grateful for them. I come to the Lord’s church Him having motivated me to repent of very much, having been born and raised in a profoundly loving Jewish family. The Lord has led my sweet wife Lori and myself through multiple collapsing pastorates and churches. All of them had “well-meaning” pastors by their own definitions; all of the pastors were generally very nice people. But so very often it happened, I had to ask the Lord, “You had me abandon all of that, for this?”

    I understand now that I needed a whole lot of preparation before being very useful at the church in which we now serve. I had to learn value of behaving very differently than the Lord Jesus did. But — trees, and bunnies, and flags, and glorification of all manner of things that are not God, and over and over again, recommendations that all categorically disbelieve many of the things God has said as He quoted Himself, especially Old Testament but often New as well! One pastor friend of mine — friend by the grace of God stilling my tongue, for which I remain grateful — would take Wednesday night and Sunday morning time, weeks and weeks and weeks consecutively, listing opinions and citing famous church-folk who were not God as justification of them.

    I cannot be surprised at pastoral failure, when the very things that God has quoted the Father and the Son as saying within His Holy Scripture, are not delivered by the pastor. I cannot be surprised at pastoral regret either, because the churches are as the human tribe of old, with the honcho, bigshot helpers, lesser helpers, and peons, regardless of wars of many forms claiming things differently.

    I have been told that there are rare seminaries that do not encourage those unhealthy patterns. I pray for them often. I am very grateful for the church in which Sweet Lori and I serve now. The miscellany is not absent, but is never essential, and the things the Lord has said are discussed every Sunday and many other times.

  • Thank you Thom for your thoughts. I have been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and recently resigned from a church that turned a different direction following the Covid situation and my 3 1/2 year point of pastoral service. Strangely, after three years plus of excellent evaluations and even pay raises, the church board wanted to place me on a 3 probation, accused and invented many various issues and demanded change on my part or be terminated. I had to take the 3 month probation or be terminated. . Granted, I was guilty of one accusation of a Facebook post, which I deleted and apologized for. As for the last and previous Pastoral assignments, I have noticed after the honeymoon period, the local church “system“ always seems to discourage, fight, and so often do not want to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, rather they tend to keep things as they were, and not looking forward to casting new vision and editing the mission. So often, even with sensitivity, I have tried to bring about biblical based, Holy Spirit lead change, yet, there was always battles with what I call the “sacred cows” of the local board/council. I am now 61 years old, going on 62, and at this point tired of these local church and denominational “systems”, I look forward to the church plant I just started here in San Felipe, Mexico and potentially, God willing, this will be my last effort serving God in a pastoral role with a local assembly of believers. So often hypocrisy and legalism quenches Spirit led vision and pastoral ministry.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    It is amazing how pastors do not become bi-polar. There are moments when I have wanted to scream, “I quit” and head out the door. Thankfully, I have learned and read from you never to make rash decisions. I recently interviewed with a different congregation and during the interview I felt the Lord telling me to stay put. They had the exact same issues that my current church has and I see that a lot. The grass is not going to be greener somewhere else. It will be the same color and the issues will stay the same. Those you serve will have new names but the concerns will be the same. While I recognize that there comes a time when every pastor must leave a church, make sure that you do not do so prematurely. That is assuming that you are not forced out.

    • Amen hallelujah so true its the enemy’s mission to make that pastor to be discouraged, in anyway possible I’m dealing with some now.

      Some realize they made big mistake leaving but they but I notice hurts or disappointment of pass pride sets in takes over

      And many just yielding to how they feel what they see. Many do need lot of prayer this is a heavy strong hold of the enemy to stop and silence the voice of all Pastor’s and leader’s from trutly preaching thee

      The gospel their taking job’s I see and get so caught up they can’t and don’t want to see how Satan is setting up their assignments to silence the voices of those Pastor’s divide the churches, and scare the sheep.

      Because of hurts etc mean while whos really seeing the assignments from the enemy to cause self to feel I’m tired or hurt I’m leaving grass better over there

      But question I s did God say abandon the mission and leave the flock what about the sheep?the mission etc.

      Let’s keep continual prayers up for all like never before
      And trust God again for his holyspirit to direct our paths
      And listen to brother James, Lol I think and wise Proverb 3:5,6 trust the Lord with all your heart , and lean not to your own understanding with all your heart acknowledge him he will direct your path

      James 4:7- submitt to God resist the devil he will flee from you.

      God bless let’s keep continual prayers alive for all we are better together.

  • Chuck Alt says on

    I appreciate your article, Thom. I have been Bi-vocational for about 20 years now. I struggled with the decision long before I took the step from full-time ministry. I felt guilty that my ordination vows were being violated. But now, I don’t see it that way. I think most of my guilt was self-inflicted. Paul was bi-vocational for a purpose that suited him well. He wanted to establish churches and preach where Christ had never been preached. I think about all the small churches that cannot afford a full-time minister. They are just as valuable to God as the ones I served with in full-time ministry. And my thinking was they need a preacher too. The full -time job I have has given me unique opportunities to minister that I never had in full-time ministry. I understand the struggles others have shared in these comments. I hope they will find joy in a ministry that suits them well in the way God has designed them. Many of the people I went to High School with are retiring. I feel like I have more to offer now than I ever had when I was younger. As long as my health is good, I want to continue doing what I am doing and be wise enough to recognize when God wants me to move on.

  • I served a Church Family for 11 1/2 years, the longest tenure of any pastor for over 175 years of the Church’s existence. God called me to Columbia, notice that I said that GOD CALLED ME. God had really blessed me former Church Family, we had gone from 19 to 175 before Covid… in a town of 500 people, rural ministry. Thankful that God has called me to serve in a different location, in the heart of a big city. We had 35 when I began, first Sunday in December, now running between 60-70. There are some major growing pains and hurdles to jump over when trying to build a Church, but God is blessing!

  • Thom; As I read through your list, a lot of things do come to mind. I never thought of the greener grass but being forced to resign after 11 yrs. and 9 mos. with a congregation, I knew the grass would “green up” on its own with a renewed sense of vision of what Christ would have His church to be. The disruption came in the process of looking ahead with a decline in attendance and offerings. While this was a tremendous blow to our family and me, we continue to survive. I was unemployed for about a month while we found a place to live and move. Then on the road as a salesman for 10 mos., unemployed for the next year following, worked temporarily with the Census Bureau, and then landed this current job with a contractor. During this time, I filled in in a lot of churches then one in particular for two years plus. This current job does allow me to be on the mission field in the work force and that is a joy to share Christ with others who are unchurched. But in it all, #2 has not been a part as this is a reshuffling of call to serve. Yes there are a lot of great memories past, #3, and there are a lot things that are missed, #4, in regards to pastoral ministry. One pastor noted the sabbatical. Yes, that’s what this time period has been and I am now wondering what could be next. While the hair has turned gray, my wife thinks I still have a lot of life left and wants me to pursue God’s calling on my life. The problem, so much decline in churches that full time ministry may be remotely impossible and bi-vocational does create double mindedness – at least for me.
    Thanks for your post and insights. God bless.

  • Bob Myers says on

    Interesting post, Thom. I left local church pastoring in January to become a hospice chaplain – a pastor of a different sort with a different kind of “congregation.” I haven’t regretted though it has been quite an adjustment in my new work “rhythms.” I no longer have evening meetings but my work days are 9-hours long with a 30-minute commute each way for a 10-hour day. Still, I haven’t been this happy for many years.

    I left the local pastorate in order to be closer to my adult children and grandchildren as well as my frustration with church politics bottle-necking spiritual and pastoral objectives. I certainly don’t miss that. But, as you listed in #4, I do miss preaching. My wife and I also realized how good our church actually was in our challenge to find a new church home. I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting on my ministry pivot and I suspect I’ll keep wondering for the next several months. That sort of reflection has always been part of the transitions I’ve made.

    Looking forward to your next contribution.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I’ve seen some of your changes and decisions from a distance, Bob. From my perspective, you’ve sought the will and wisdom of God. I have confidence in the decisions you’ve made, and in the decisions you will make.

  • Thom,

    I left my role as an Executive Pastor to serve in marketplace ministry with an organization called C12. The biggest surprise has been how often I am getting to preach. It makes sense, of course, that I’m preaching more than I used to, given that I worked for a preacher. But the opportunities to preach have been so plentiful that I could easily be booked every Sunday.

    So, former pastors, if you miss preaching, let your network know that you are available to guest preach.

  • I made the decision to leave full time ordained ministry a year ago for a number of reasons, mostly connected to mental health. I have since taken on a role as an Associate for Discipleship and am flourishing in the role that allows me to throw all my energy into the gifts of preaching and teaching that God has given me.

  • Thom – Our reason for regretting leaving a church we served for several years, is quite different. We have seen the next Pastor destroy a good church. He ended all the out reach programs, and changed all the guidelines for leadership, and. Over fourty people have left (a church of 80) in a short time.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Ouch! I do understand your pain.

    • One helpful observation which actually began in my secular career (military) which was reinforced by a mentor and my spiritual director. Once you depart, for whatever reason, the church/ship/position is no longer yours – for good or for ill. It can pain a person to see the work they have done in the past be destroyed, but there’s nothing one can do about that once they leave.

      An image given me years ago was like growing up (in my era). Parents taught their children to make decisions and deal with consequences (not my fault wasn’t an acceptable response). Parents could only help if requested – there was no such thing as a helicopter parent.

      The “trite trope” is – it’s not you, it’s them.

  • Jonathan says on

    I definitely missed the opportunities to preach and definitely felt lost. I truly did feel as though I abandoned God’s call on my life after having a 4 year pity party.

    I’m now feeling the call to come back and am currently enrolling in seminary for an MDiv!

  • As I read through this list, ‘Sabbatical’ came to mind. It would be very healthy if church leaders could be encouraged to give some extended time to Pastors who have been leading their churches through the Pandemic. This time could be reflective moments to get perspective on some of the responses given in the article.