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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  • Pastor Jeremy C. Kerstetter says on

    Great article. I just wanted to affirm it and encourage pastors/lay members that this is very true. I’ve been a pastor for almost 12 years, in ministry about 25. A couple weeks ago after listening to one person tell me what our mask policy should be only to turn around and have someone else tell me it should be the opposite end of the spectrum, I decided to send a church wide email on how I was doing. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t pretty, but I was honest with my church. I shared how I was becoming worn down and facing a weariness I had never known in the ministry that I loved. My church stepped up like a champ and someone organized a card drive, I received some gifts to my favorite coffee shop, commitment to pray, “thank you” notes, and offers to help me with different projects. Part of our success and health requires our humility and honesty as well. I want to minister to the person that wants to wear a mask to everything just as much as I want to minister to the person that refuses to wear a mask for anything. I love these people, they are my flock, I sacrifice my own opinions and desires to keep them unified. If you’re a pastor, I encourage you to be honest with where you are. If you’re a lay member, I encourage you to reach out to your pastor and find a way to minister to them. I personally could never quit because I know that this is where God has called me and I am faithful to that calling. I still consider it an amazing privilege to walk beside these brothers and sisters in Christ, but I do admit, I get tired as well.

    • I am a pastor. This made me smile. “I was honest about how I felt” “they gave me some gift cards”. I’m laughing writing this. Maybe I’ll try it! We all have our favorite coffee shop…

  • Paul Garverick says on

    This article is gripping. I believe my pastor feel the challenge with the COVID crisis and identity politics issues. Some pastors are caught in the identity politics and it is central to their drum beats rather the slain Lamb in the midst of the throne. I would like to see the research data behind this article including how many pastors were surveyed, what regions of the country, what sizes of churches, church locations (rural, small town, suburb, urban, etc.). What percentages of pastors are reporting this information…

  • Henry Porter says on

    Perhaps they should quit and get a real job. They’ve spent their years telling people to just believe stuff, and are now frustrated when their flock does not think critically in a pandemic. The chickens are coming home to roost, and to be honest it’s funny to watch.

    • That’s really helpful – NOT! and very presumptious. The role of a pastor is not to be telling people what to believe but to encourage people in their faith and support them through the challenges of trying to be a disciple. We are still humans who are bruised by comments like yours. If that makes you happy then I’m sorry for whatever has made you that way.

  • R.W. Lehman, Jr. says on

    I’m a Christian since I walked to respnd to analtar call in church when I was 6 (I’m 64). I’ve met (& cherished relations with) a number of pastors. They are indeed leaving churches: it’s a tragedy largely ignroed in the Christina press,

  • Quit? I can’t quit! God is working all around me! I couldn’t quit if I wanted to! He has called me and I must do that which He called me to do! May God help me to keep my hands to the plow and be faithful to His calling to preach the Word…”in season and out of season…for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
    I am 63 years old and have been pastoring for 35 years. Do I ever get discouraged? Sure! I get discouraged with myself and with people sometimes. But I never have to be discouraged with God! He is faithful…faithful to me…faithful to His church! Call upon Him! Trust Him, preacher! It is His church anyway, and you are His man! Grab hold of Hebrews 13:5 and rest for a bit. Let the Master encourage you with His presence. Pray! Let Him renew your strength and your resolve! Dear brother, “don’t grow weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not!” Preach the Word – faithfully!

    • Amen, brother!

    • Linda Morris says on

      YOU are truly a Pastor serving God…. not people. Serve God and HE will take care of the people. God bless you and your family. ❤️

    • Diana Abbott says on

      Amen! Press on! God is your strength when you are weak. You have members who pray for you continually. Run the race. Finish the course. Too many quit just before they see God’s blessing for their faithfulness.

  • Bob Braddock says on

    From a lay person
    I know that I am a little outspoken but my background consists of work and more work often by myself. I have noticed that some pastors expect others to do their work when they need to roll up their sleeves and get in the mix. I want a pastor to preach and teach from the Bible and forget about stepping on someones toes. I am a senior and set in my ways I feel that getting away from tradition is a huge mistake I love the old time religion, choirs (praise bands on special ocassions) and songs sung from hymnals.
    It’s been said that if we don’t change the way we hold church services we are going to lose our youth. Look around where are the youth . We have let our youth have their own department, leaders and a place to hold their on services with almost no adult leadership (youth pastors in their twenties and still wet behind the ears) we pat ourselves on the back and say great work. Our churches need strong leadership willing to go the extra mile.

    • Linda Morris says on

      Amen. You are so right. If our Youth don’t have strong leaders that are grounded in the word and willing to tell/show Gods word to them without all the added ‘smoke and effects’ ….. what good are so called Youth programs. They can get all the other stuff anywhere else.

  • I wish more pastors would work to fulfill Jesus’s mission to aid the poor by working to get legislation passed. Thousands die here in North Carolina because we don’t have Medicaid Expansion. Not ONE word from pulpit. “Political Ideology” – all the time.

    • Linda morris says on

      The Pulpit is to be used to tell the gospel. Any if the other stuff is to be done outside the church building. Too many pulpits have become too political. There is a season for everything. Right now we need Christ preached.

  • Don Hammond says on

    In my early 70s, I was an interim pastor on the opposite side of the country while my wife, because of a critical family matter, was at home alone on the other side of the country. In May I resolved it was necessary to go home because she needed me. For three months prior to leaving, there was no in-person worship, no office time with face-to-face interaction, no hospital, nursing home or home visits. It was only what I could do on the telephone or with virtual worship, and being a non techy, became a huge source of internal tension for me. I found the new standard of pastoring completely unfulfilling. A parishioner was about to die and I spoke to her, via phone, with the telephone held next to her ear for she could not speak but only listen. She died that evening and I felt horrible for not being there for her and with her family. I decided to return home and it pained me to leave the congregation in their time of crisis. It felt as though I was running away. Even acknowledging my first priority is to my wife, I have felt guilty about leaving and not seeing the congregation through during a difficult and freighting time. For those who left or are about to leave, prepare yourself for the possibility of a similar response.

  • Layne Wallace says on

    In reading the comments, some people can not be made to understand the situation. The reason pastors are consider quitting is not they are failing to walk closely with Jesus. They have not failed to understand the difficulty of the task. They are simply beat down. This year has been demoralizing for clergy. It is very unfortunate that we measure pastor’s success and ability by the size and growth of their congregation. It, however, is true. As long as we do this, pastors who lead congregations who get smaller–even if this is because of a pandemic, will feel like they are failing God. Most clergy have unrealistic expectations of themselves and low self-esteem to start with. When the pressure of the pandemic is added to their situation, then it is very, very difficult for them to believe they are doing their job well. In all honesty, if you felt like you were a failure at your work would you want to stay? If you felt like you were failing God, would you not consider letting someone else give it a try? For all of you who give simple solutions to the pastor who is considering quitting–consider you may be doing more harm than good.

  • A couple observations from a pastor. Many Pastors are servants by nature and temperament. Because they are called to serve (in a mythical church being compared to Paul and others from 2 millennia ago) they feel they must serve – even when their minds say they need rest. Couple that with the constant accessibility for most pastors and their desire to fulfill their call and be the shepherd of their flock and many pastors are their own worst enemy.

    While I understand comments of encouragement like “pastors need to remember they serve an audience of One” and “you need to focus and pray about your dissatisfaction” the reality is they are not encouragement. Yes, I have an audience of One but what about the other side – as many have pointed out, “the pastor doesn’t call me when…” – which means the majority of congregants don’t believe the pastor is serving God.

    One harsh reality – while a Pastor’s paycheck is paid by their congregation, they aren’t supposed to be employed by their congregation. Pastors are called to serve with a congregation (at least in my denomination that’s the vow I took when I was ordained) – but the success of the congregation is not judged by the work accomplished by the congregation and the members – but by the success of the Pastor. How many congregations do hear “they don’t do outreach well…” or “they don’t have a <>…” – if a congregation struggles it’s always the Pastor’s fault. Even if the Pastor preaches the gospel and teaches the bible.

    Much of the dissatisfaction and stress laid on the Pastor can be traced in part to improper expectations and a lack of checks and balances. How many times does someone really ask a Pastor how they are doing and what can be done to lighten the burden of a Pastor? Quite often, the individuals in a congregation think that “someone is checking up on the Pastor’s health”. The problem is nearly everyone thinks that someone else is being attentive to the Pastor’s health – and thus, no one is being attentive. Most Pastor’s don’t want to appear needy so they won’t say anything – because they are called to be servants.

    In parting, while I am called to be a Pastor and have some special skills of ministry I am, and always will be, a fragile human being with mental health difficulties, insecurities, and flaws – just like everyone else. Thanks be to God for people whom I am called to serve with who have come to realize these facts.

  • I think the article is very sad. Also sad is how the churches in the US (I can’t speak to what happened in other countries) just bowed immediately to corrupt government officials and saw themselves as “unessential”. Churches and some Pastors supported and some even used the shelter in place orders to try and move to online services. I saw numerous statements that online church was exactly the same as meeting in person, statements to “make the best of” the shutdown, had pastors tell me they were enjoying the ‘vacation’. Now that their members have adjusted to not going to church and thinking the church is nonessential AKA irrelevant the pastors are stressed and dealing with the fall out. If online virtual church is the same as going to church then the members will look for the best service… the TV churches, a better sermon, better music, whatever ministers to them. There is no fellowship to keep them watching and engaged. My heart is broken at the way the church has made itself so irrelevant that it seems to have no impact on society any longer. And, instead of being concerned about sharing the Gospel that would bring about eternal good for people we are focused on ONLY meeting physical/temporal needs.

    • Dr. Mark McKim says on

      First, I think you are missing the MAJOR point of the article. Pastors are being told both to reopen and not to reopen, and folk in BOTH groups are telling their pastor, “if you don’t do what I want, I will leave the church.” It’s a no win situation for the pastor. Whichever way s/he decides, s/he will lose members – and, undoubtedly some of the remaining members will then blame the pastor for reduced attendance! It seems YOU are one of the folk insisting that your view on reopening or not, prevail. I beg you to reflect, carefully, about how YOUR demands are potentially causing enormous discouragement and stress for your Pastor. He or she is being torn in two. Second, as for “corrupt officials” ordering the stoppage of large indoor gatherings…get real! The United States is fast approaching 200,000 Covid-19 deaths – this virus is VERY real, highly contagious, and, especially for those over age 50, often fatal. Just check with pastors who have buried multiple members of their flocks who have died from the virus. The best current medical knowledge and advice should, logically, be followed. (By which I mean the advice of those with accredited medical training in areas like virology, NOT the “advice” of those who have no expertise in the field.) It is no more corrupt” temporarily to forbid public gatherings now than it was during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1917-1919. In both cases the intention was to save lives. Surely the church should favour, and strive to protect, defend and preserve human life. We do, after all, affirm that life is sacred, don’t we?

  • Brian still says on

    Yes I believe everything you are saying.

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