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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  • Sing hymns to the Lord,( especially) if you don’t feel like it…He will meet you, please don’t give up….
    on the promises in the Bible
    …..this world has NOTHING for us…Keep your eyes on Jesus, not man…Pray like your life depended on …because it does….

  • Pastor Joe says on

    To the critical commenters who lack any empathy: Of course Christ is our source of life and sufficiency, but I guess you never have earthly challenges. Being part of a tradition that glorifies personalities and success prior to Covid, I’m sure criticism will be stronger than ever during and immediately after. I’m sure we will continue to celebrate the personalities that attract larger followings in pastors meetings. How is the local church and its structure different than the world in these? I think it was unconditional love, care, and openness of unbelievers that drew me to Christ. May we all do to others as we would have them do to us.

    • Pastor Joe, many pastors allowed their local churches to be decimated during this “crisis”. Christ knew about this “so called crisis” when He created the world and He could have addressed it if it was something He wanted us to entertain. Fear (of sickness and pleasing people) and loss of passion for the gospel have been addressed in scripture and it is one thing we as a church body in general have ignored. Jesus called the Pharisees white washed sepulchers. Jesus did love people but sometimes love is telling them the truth. If you want people to love like Jesus you have to know how Jesus loved. It wasn’t open acceptance of them. It was love with the admonishment to “go and sin no more”.

  • Remember, you serve an audience of One. Seek to please Him, stay faithful. You have faithful people in your congregations that are praying for you. We are so thankful for our pastors. We are given godly men, faithful to the Word of God. I imagine you each have people in your midst who say the same.

  • Kimberly Austin says on

    As an active member of my church, I am saddened to hear this….
    Yes, this world wide Pandemic has certainly impacted my church….and each of us are affected in some way…

    Pastors are human too and each of us need to do our part to support them in any way we can…. God gave each of us a gift… We need to use that gift to continue connection in our ‘virtual’ ministry until it is safe enough to meet in groups together again.

    Our new normal will not be like what we were used to. If we can accept that change is inevitable, and embrace one another in God’s love; we can get through this… hopefully stronger…

    I pray each day for our world to heal and all God’s children to heal and find peace and compassion for each other…

    I am so very grateful and blessed by my church and our devoted and compassionate pastors.

  • If I could encourage pastors to not worry about the sermon. But instead return to teaching the Bible one book at a time one chapter at a time. Not on weds night but on Sunday morning. If you want to build on that chapter go for it! But now it rests in God’s hands. The last books of the Bible all talk about the apostasy or falling away as it builds toward the book of revelation. I believe we are in that time. Pastors, you don’t want to be the next televangelist! I don’t know of one televangelist that was used in the Bible. Normally it was just simple folks. Lowest in the eye of humans but allowed God to shine. Keep teaching the Bible, just the Bible, and nothing but the Bible. You are going to be beat up these days for it. Expect it Rejoice in it. And know it comes from the enemy. But you will be rewarded for it. Far greater then any man could do on earth. May the Lord bless you as I pray for all pastors around our state, country, and world. The race is almost done. So stay true as a good and faithful servant unto our Lord.

  • I am far away in a different universe in a big city of Tampa living as a widow in a small house with fenced backyard in a racially mixed neighborhood. I have some 200-300 Florida friends at least from all sorts of spiritual paths and stay in touch with countless other friends from the stages of my life. I am happy and socially useful at 79 years of age. I miss the mountains and my sweet Lutheran church friends and your gentle ministry, Jonathan. You are a fine minister.

    Most of us are a long way from loving our enemies in this day of QAnon. But, whatever you do, you will be a blessing to humanity because you, Liz and Joe and so many other rural ministers have love in your hearts The church was never meant to be about paved parking lots and elevators, not even about who has the loudest voice at church councils. I pray for our even having a sustainable country after the next few months have passed. But we can each listen to the still small voice inside.

  • Roger Loomis says on

    Not 2 good reason among all 4 excuses.when pastors don’t walk with The LORD daily, they will get discouraged as any other Christian would. But they are undershepards given by God as gifts to His church. They are not to look at the circumstances around them. But to the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.
    We are at the end, Christ could come tonight for his church, but I believe certainly by 2025.
    KEEP LOOKING UP, FOR YOUR REDEMPTION DRAWETH NIGH. My expectations are very high to soon meet the one who gave himself for me. Oh what a savior we serve from the heart.

    • Roger, allow me the “play-acting” example of saying to you the equivalent of what you just said to pastors. Then, do me the courtesy, and the rest of the readers the profound service of aiding our growth, by interacting back and forth with me a little. Now, here’s the play-acting part, put in quotes so you distinguish MY words from the play…

      “Have you ever walked with the Lord closely and then been discouraged by the treatment you received from others? Why? By your reasoning above, it shouldn’t have happened. And you’ve missed how Paul, and Peter and John all wrote of their obvious discouragement, no less real than their obvious encouragement in the Lord despite those realities. You shouldn’t NEED an undershepherd if you’re being a faithful sheep, since Jesus says He knows His sheep, and His sheep know His voice and follow Him. So tell me, Roger, how could you “prognosticate” (that’s a slam at false prophecy, which applies to your comment) a return of the Lord when Christ Himself said not even HE knows the day – YOU know more than Jesus?! Apparently not because you’re looking at circumstances instead of to the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ. You ALSO don’t see the seriousness of a Church being unfaithful to Christ’s admonition to love one another. It applies to your pastors as well. Maybe your pastors should also forsake this biblical admonition to care for others like you have; you know, because the sheep should be walking with the Lord daily anyway. What a friend we have in Jesus!”

      Now, I assume that you are likely offended by what I wrote. If not, wow. If so, now you know how your callousness comes across to a pastor. I followed your general “form” but flipped the rebuke toward you. See, that’s when we are better tuned to “see” these types of “criticisms” – when they’re aimed at us. The criticisms toward pastors are myriad, rarely said with love and aimed at helping them, and are very coated in the personal pride of the speaker. Pastors more often internalize them when they should point out the problem, converse with the offender, point to scriptural behavior, and even boldly admonish if they are unrulely. But most pastors are attempting to be Christlike without actually being Christ, and often feel like the “moment” has passed them by when they’ve finally processed their treatment and are ready to handle the individual as Christ would.

      I say all this because many in our churches are quick to speak, slow to listen, and masters at growing anger (a bit of an inversion of James 1:19-20, wouldn’t you say?). I have had church members at other churches say to me, “We love our pastor, but don’t tell him we said that.” I’ve been told, “I don’t know what it is, but you have an agenda” and “you’re not even a pastor, you’re just playing up there” and the like. If you know your Bible, the problems with those statements should immediately be evident to you. After facing this and much more, I’m the type of pastor who is unashamed at saying pastors in general should be quicker to call out foolish and hurtful people like Paul did, BY NAME, because they split churches, hurt people, and are quite possibly bullies that nurse their opinions but harbor unteachable spirits.

      Our churches are FILLED with baby Christians of all ages, some of which have grown up without growing up, and are now close to death in their hardened, prideful state. YES, Roger, it is your biblical responsibility under Christ to “appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (Paul, 1 Thess 5:12-14). And the author of Hebrews says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb 13:17). This growth in pastors and church members alike – the first to speak boldly and immediately against vitriolic people, and the latter to learn the need of their leaders and the consequences of their words – cannot come to either without preaching through the full council of God’s Word.

      Pastors must do better. Congregations must do better. We are all weak. May the joy of the Lord be our strength, and may the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, prepare us for the battle that is ahead.

  • Larry Martin says on

    The same goes for organists in churches where the pastor and staff only think an organ is an instrument for funeral music.

    • Prue Goldsmith says on

      Larry Martin. Agree about organists. I’m in Norwich UK. Most of my organ playing friends unless they have a Hauptwerk havent touch a keyboard since March. My major church is closing down as cannot afford to repair the roof. I think in future if anyone wants to learn to organ they will have to have a home organ and what is the future as numbers returning to church will drop dramatically leaving only cathedrals and large wealthy parishes

  • Jeff Faull says on

    Some of the harsh judgmental replies Toward pastors here are an expression of colossal ignorance and are exactly the reason your preacher feels like giving up. Some are clueless as to the pressures of ministry and your responses are void of empathy and grace.

  • Eileen Gilliland says on

    My husband and I have been members of the same church for the past 10 years. The thing that bothers me the most is no congregational singing and no choirs. Some scientist has determined that singing spreads droplets….horse hockey!! I’ve been singing in choruses and choirs since I was 10 years old. My mother was an opera singer, and she sang with me on her lap when I was very small on many occasions. It’s the elimination of congregational singing that bothers me the most. My husband and I now attend a church that has a lot of singing. The bible says, “Serve the Lord with gladness, come before His presence with singing.” That says it all.

    • Pastor Frank says on

      So your church stopped singing for the time because of covid concerns and you left? If your Pastor is preaching the full Biblical Gospel and you left purely over the singing issue, you and your husband are in sin and need to repent and apologize to that pastor and church.

    • Ugh. You can always tell a baby Christian by their use of a verse of scripture to support their view like it was doctrine. Maybe you shared this comment in hopes your sinful reaction would be praised by other singers. But here, you’re using the Word to support your opinion, to justify leaving a church you were at for 10 years, and leaving the rest of us with the conclusion that should be obvious to you (as it is to me and perhaps others): You should be on solid foods, but you are still on milk. That’s not the church’s fault; that’s yours.

  • I received this from my spouse, who is also clergy, both of us in a mainline tradition. From where I stand, as a clergy person of nearly 14 years, I can say that your observations are 100% accurate. They are so accurate as to apathy, lack of wider church support, etc. that I am going back to school to re-train in the medical field (which will take several years). I firmly believe that especially for a 2-clergy household with young children, the church as a vocational ministry is not sustainable long-term, hence, my re-training. Churches are drying up left and right in our tradition, and I refuse to be held hostage in a financial/vocational sense, wondering when my church will finally say, “we can’t pay you anymore”. Hope is absolutely found in Christ, but hope these days is absolutely not found in full-time, paid, vocational ministry, in my tradition. I will still serve on Sundays and with the occasional pastoral visit, but I refuse to depend on a dying vine to feed my family.

  • I cannot express the level of accuracy of this article. If you add the impact of social, political, and racial unrest; we’d see the stress of trying to create some form of racial reconciliation to heal a 400 year old American wound.

    • Roger Loomis says on

      A wound exacerbated by the Devil himself as men tried in vain to do only what God can do in the hearts of men.

    • Not sure where you are from, but it sounds like you have bought into the lies. America’s involvement in slavery (if that is the 400 year old wound you’re speaking of) only lasted about 89 years. Prior to 1776, America was part of the British empire. So between 1776 and 1865 was the actual period of time of American slavery. And let’s not forget that 3,000 blacks owned approximately 20,000 of their own people. To this day, the United States remains the only nation on earth to have fought a war and sacrificed her own citizens to END human slavery. Human slavery continues to this day, yet the world focuses on 89 years of one nation’s SHORT history.

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