Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit

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.

Posted on August 31, 2020


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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410 Comments

  • Anthony says on

    I have been battling quitting as pastor for years now the past 4 now we are getting back to our norm and I’m feeling hurt at the low response back to church
    I am blaming myself I been here at my church 19yrs
    I’m no sure how to quit

  • I’m so sorry Mark. I can totally understand what you describe as what you are going through. I am in a very similar situation- 25 years…..I think God wants us to feel joy, and not that our jobs in ministry are inadequate. Maybe this chapter of our lives is done? I can hardly stand dealing with church people anymore. My colleagues who were older, retired. I am considering this as I write to you. But what if I’m not using my gifts?….the guilt is awful.
    My prayers for strength for you, and to do what I’d truly best for you.

  • Ive been in ministry 30 years. Ive never wanted out more than I do now. I feel like Im out of my depth, depleted and incompetent. I have undergone serious theological crisis and feel like Im hiding my true beliefs. Yet am I allowed to do something else? No…I am a slave to the plow and if I take my hand off everybody is let down and my financial future takes a huge hit because I could never make what I make at my church job. I have no degrees. I started in ministry at age 21 and am 54.
    But emotional and mental health is not something you can just tell to hang in there. Thats like telling a broken leg to get up and walk. I am trying to finish a sermon and I cant even figure out what I just wrote.
    I imagine breaking the news and breaking 150 hearts. But what if my heart is breaking?
    Sometimes I wonder if by forcing myself to keep doing this I am really stating that I don’t trust God to care more about me than what I can do for Him. Maybe at this point in my life it’s quitting that is my step of faith.
    It’s Gods church and He can send someone fr better than me and I would love to let him.

    • I’m so sorry Mark. I can totally understand what you describe as what you are going through. I am in a very similar situation- 25 years…..I think God wants us to feel joy, and not that our jobs in ministry are inadequate. Maybe this chapter of our lives is done? I can hardly stand dealing with church people anymore. My colleagues who were older, retired. I am considering this as I write to you. But what if I’m not using my gifts?….the guilt is awful.
      My prayers for strength for you, and to do what I’d truly best for you.

  • Linda Smith says on

    Our church has experienced a big turnover of pastors for a few years now. The main problem I can see is the members do not express their feelings to the entire church. The little groups get together and if one person is upset over a small problem they get that entire click upset and they begin to poison the barrel of monkeys. If everyone prayed about things that bothered them and listened for answers we would not be always looking for pastors. And we need to spend more time with a pastor serving as an Interim before offering a permanent position. Ministers also should voice their grievances before they become malignant problems. Congregations and Pastors are supposed to be in harmony for the good of the community we serve.

  • Our pastor is leaving our church of the Nazarene for another church. Our 2 services are now one and the amount of people there due to the Covid is half.
    I was told that the district superintendent had received a call for a new minister and he thought of ours.
    And guess what, after the pastor prayed about it they accepted the job and are leaving the end of February.
    The comments from the pastor are that it is hard, they are supported by the congregation we like here but feel God has called us to move.

    Just like that. In a time of need. He and his staff came on board and the services are on line as well as in church. VBS was on line but many programs have been canceled. Sunday school is now meeting plus we have Bible study groups on line.

    The question is why do I feel like he is abandoning us? If there are things that bother him about the church should he not speak of these things so the church works on them as Paul would tell his believers?

    I am on the challenge to read the Bible in 365 days. I have been doing well and enjoy my readings in the early morning hours.

    Perhaps the fault is not with the pastor it is with me not doing enough! I am on the praise team and was in choir and a few years ago used to teach a Sunday school class. I don’t know.

    Do you feel that the pastor should say what troubles him? And if nothing troubled him than why is he leaving????

    Sorry, I am rambling. Today is their farewell dinner. I am hoping we will also have the good fortune of finding someone who will love our church.

    Hopeful,
    Susan

  • I’m sorry Lord but I just don’t want to do this anymore. I can no longer find the energy, inspiration or compassion to keep going. Pastors should be able to retire after 30+ years…they just run empty, it seems too much and I’m tired out from dealing with people, I’ve lost the ability to bounce back each week….”combat exhaustion” I guess. Too little reward, too much taken for granted. But what can I do? I can’t retire yet. I realize covid is part of my weariness. Weary of the restrictions, the divide, the bickering. Sad for the people/families I haven’t seen in almost a year. There was the lady who stopped in the office this morning for a task and told me, “Pastor, we love the livestream, we almost feel a little guilty but its just so easy to sit in the living room all comfy with our coffee and just watch church.” They’ve both had their vaccines. They used to be almost every Sunday worshippers. They have no clue what that does to me. More exhaustion. I know I’m supposed to be preparing for the “new normal” whatever the heck that is. I know I can’t get back the old normal, but that’s where I just spent the last 30 years laboring. I don’t think I have it in me to adjust to yet another change.

    • Linda Smith says on

      I have never seen the word retire in the Bible so I don’t think God ever intends for His called to stop working. one of the problems Pastors have is the church members forget that they are required to work also. God doesn’t just tell the church leaders to teach the Gospel, visit and pray for the sick, feed the hungry, and help the poor. We all have to work together. The pastor leads the congregation and should ask elders and deacons to oversee small groups so that all work together as an army. There is nothing we can’t accomplish with God’s help if we work together. At least you are sending your message out to your congregation and obviously care enough to have your door open for them. Just think how many lost souls may be coming to the Lord that hear what you have to say. God is still using you, Joel. Please don’t think He is finished with you yet!

  • Rick Cofer says on

    Thanks Thom my wife and I are going through a terrible time at our church. We have ministered for almost 25 years. Recently we we attacked by people in our congregation when some got covid And blamed it on us . Please pray we are so hurt and discouraged thank you !

  • Marie I Fountain says on

    I believe that our church has been blessed with a wonderful, God called pastor. His sermons are spot-on and he is not afraid to preach about sensitive issues as many are. Our pastor and administrative teams are very good planners and our church is thriving right now despite the pandemic. God has not given us a spirit of fear and He is still in control. We are truly blessed!

  • Sing a pastor and pastor’s wife is the hardest job. One that brings the most discouragement and the one that brings the most rewards. This is a new rime in ministry. We all must be on our knees for refreshment from God. Otherwise, we will not succeed. God doesn’t want us to quit. He’s prepared us for the journey. If we try to do it within our own power, we will be a failure. God doesn’t cancel our calling. We must not “put our hands to the plow, and look back.” Life is difficult, the journey is difficult, BUT, God is more than able to keep us.

  • Thank you Pastor Rainer for this alert. I will continue to prayer for Pastors everywhere. “Father God, I lift up pastors everywhere. They are given to us from your heart, and help us to receive and support the gift(s) you have given to us. As they bind our broken hearts, set captive free and declare your Word, I pray that you meet every need according to your riches. As we keep our eyes on you, we know you will complete your work in us. Until you return, in Jesus Name. Amen”

  • Dear Mr. Rainer,
    I read your article and felt compelled to address all those ministers who want to quit something my Nana once told me – God does not give you more than you can handle. Know that He loves you. Her faith was unshakeable. She knew God had her back, no matter how bad things were.

    The infighting in churches is nothing new. We are all human and we all have failings. The global pandemic has shown us this in spades. From congregations shunning members (which is abhorrent in this day and age – how is that showing love to thy neighbour?) to bickering about face masks to secretly hosting large dinner parties, our failings show, more than ever, how human we are.

    And how much God is needed in the world, right now.

    So, to all those who ministers who are thinking of quitting? Please, stay. God has a plan. I’m the last person who can tell you what the might be in this year of epic forest fires, war, famine, drought and pandemic.

    But I know if you trust in God and hold out just that little bit longer… a day, a week a month…. He will come and show you the way. You were chosen for a reason. Let that light within you shine even brighter now for those who so desperately need you more than ever. God loves you. Your congregations love you.

    May your path be blessed with heavenly inspiration and infused with His love this holiday season, no matter what path you follow.

    Adrianne

    • Thank you…

      That was much needed.
      Signed: rookie second year pastor who’s almost had enough.

      • Don’t give up! The race is not given to the strong, but to the one that hang in there. Preach in season and out. God is with you, in you and for you. He’s working it out. God loves you so much!

    • Respectfully, nowhere does Scripture say that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It is an especially insidious phantom verse because it sounds true at first blush but leaves the hearer carrying an unbearable load, piling on yet more discouragement and dismissiveness when one is already getting crushed. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, but that is the effect. 1 Corinthians 10 says God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can bear but that’s a far cry from more than you can handle. Jesus had to come precisely BECAUSE of what we can’t handle.

  • This is heartbreaking and similar to the stress and fatigue which teachers feel in this day and current situation due to COVID. It is not an easy time for anyone, and it is not healthy for any of us to sustain this stress and challenge to our normal routine. When you add all the criticism and division they are experiencing it is all the more unmanageable. We need to all join together in prayer. Pray for those who minister to us in our churches and give their lives to the church and for those who dedicate their lives to our schools. Heavenly Father, wrap your loving arms around them and give them strength. Encourage them, and remind them of how important the work that they do is to the community. Serving others is their work. Honoring you is the work of many of them (of course, not all teachers are Christian, but they have servant hearts to go into that profession), and I ask that you strengthen them and empower them with your power to do their work. May they be showered with your blessings and favor. I ask all this in the name of Jesus, Amen.

    • Fred Bloggs. says on

      The difference between teachers and pastors is the additional spiritual dynamics pastors have to face. They have it way more difficult than teachers.

      • Ruth J Pardue says on

        Teacher also face spiritual/interpersonal issues as well. To say pastors have it way more difficult is short sighted. Have you ever dealt with a class of 28 students and their parents?

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