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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  • To all laypeople, I too am a layperson. We need, more than ever, lift up our pastors daily to the Lord. And support him everyway we can.

  • I pondered with whether to respond or not.
    But here goes – I believe that Thom is spot on for the vast majority.
    Though I do know of a church or two where the membership has been wonderfully vocal on social media about how thankful and appreciative they are with the pastor and staff.
    My partner in crime, my spiritual brother a few hours away – his church has been unbelievable – his experience is nothing like this article. They even let him to take a week away with his family so they could “refresh.”
    It is frankly very refreshing and I am so glad for that pastoral staff, that many seem to “get it” with what the staff has had to do/learn/accomplish.

    From my own personal stand point – in the nearly six months of this whole lockdown only twice have I heard encouragement from a member. One a newly baptized member who simply sent a text and asked – “how are you and your wife, are you guys ok?
    The second was from a 16 year who sent my wife and me a text and said – and I quote –
    “Hope you guys had a good day! I was just thinking of you guys and wanted to let you know that even though you get tons of emails and calls of people contacting you about their problems and prayers but I am thinking of you guys everyday and praying for a clear mind and protection! I love you both very much and hope you have an even better tomorrow”

    Out of the mouths of babes

    Both of those really hit home with us because we dont get that much. .
    Both comments were so deeply appreciated.
    The vast majority of communication – if any at all – we get is in line with – “you did _______ wrong.”

    The article says that about 1/3 of the readers here are lay persons, and that the Pastors – “…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.”
    Which is true. Yet, I haven’t read much (up to my writing this) that could be considered real encouragement. (please forgive me if I have missed it)

    SO – I will add this – Pastor / Pastoral Staff
    Thank you for fighting the good fight, much that is unseen and will never be known by your church.
    Thank you for pressing on when in your head you really didnt want to.
    Thank you for being a caring, investing pastor who is trying to keep the church together.
    Thank you for humbly taking the unfair critiques and not firing back.
    Thank you for your family who walks this with you.
    Thank you for trying to learn a whole “new” way of ministry. Thank you for building the plane while it’s in flight.
    Thank you for making hard decisions in such unbeleivable times, and doing so not for your self but for the church and decisions you know will bring about more criticism, but you made a decision anyway.

    My friend – you are doing far, far better than you know. You are far better than you are being led to believe.
    You are appreciated.

    Certainly the Lord sees your work, we know that. Even in our hearts we believe that.

    But know that there are those here who do as well, some at your church may never say it – but they know and yes they are grateful.

    Brothers and sisters – please let’s openly support each other, and encourage each other. Check on your fellow pastors; text, call, email them and simply ask – “How are you, are you ok? What can I do for you?”

    This pandemic lockdown may seem like an eternity (I know it does to me), but it WILL pass – though we walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death…

    Thank you Pastors.

    Humbly in Christ

    • Thom Rainer says on

      JDD –

      I am thankful to God you made the decision to comment. I would not be surprised if your words make all the difference in the world to several pastors.

      • Dr Rainer
        Please forgive me, for I must not be as spiritual or as intelligent as the rest of the commenters.
        I was not aware that this was a call to castigate those who most likely are still in the game, who are still serving but are weary.
        As I have read the many comments, my assumption of what your assumption was is realized. The barrage of comments that were, lets say, less than encouraging and that would be building up one another.

        As I read this post, I took it that – “Hey, maybe the pastor(s) could just use a simple but genuine, heartfelt thank you.” Forgive me for my lack of understanding.

        Some have mentioned Paul so I thought maybe I should invoke his name as well – but only for the times he started a letter with – Thank you, I love you, we pray for you…”
        As an example, 1 Thessalonians 1:2
        “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers…”

        Why would he do that? Why didnt he start with, “I know times are hard, but suck it up buttercup.”

        Why would he tell the Philippians –
        “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the OVERSEERS and DEACONS: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all…” (Philippians 1)

        Why did he open with that? Why not just tell them to get over it?
        Now remember I am not as spiritual nor as righteous as most here… BUT

        Maybe Paul knew what science would figure out thousands of years later. The power of a simple THANK YOU.

        Researchers Adam M. Grant and Francesco Gino studied the impact of a sincere ‘Thank You’ in the workplace. Their findings show a 50 percent increase in the amount of additional help being offered as a result of the appreciation.

        The VAST majority of the pastors / ministers have never asked, and aren’t even looking for accolades or to be lavished with praise and product. They serve for an audience of One. They know that and most strive to please Him first and foremost. That should not negate the kind word of encouragement.
        Is it possible that one of the ways God wants to encourage them is using one of us?
        I know I read in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another…”

        So in my simplicity – again I say – PASTORS / MINISTERS –




        Humbly in Christ

        p.s. – I am sure someone will quickly correct me.

    • Rev. Michael B. Coats says on

      Thank you, JDD. Blessings!

  • ” Make your calling and election sure”! The stressful situation of today may be a time of sifting. One, the place of worship is just a building, not a place to be seen as a visible object of success, not a shrine. People are the priority. In discipleship one of the first listens is to pick up your cross and follow our Lord. A cross is not weightless. We all must spend time and more time on our knees seeking the Lord’s direction for His house! We get caught up by thinking success is measured by quantity but not by quality. Our churches are occupied by two types of people, religious but not saved and those born again, SAVED by the blood of our Lord. So as we separate the sheep we find the true sheep will produce and the other flock will not, (complain, stubborn, etc. criticize ,and only attend maybe once or twice a month.) The true sheep along with the shepherd will be faithful and be honest and willing to evaluate the cost of operating their house of worship .If funds are not there or forthcoming, all must be willing to bear the burden of the continuing monthly cost of the house of worship. Reduction in salaries, “Etc”. some programs reevaluated and or suspended. I have found many are programed to death. Some could be deleted. Pastors and church employee positions must be evaluated. Everyone must be be brought into the equation and be willing to walk by faith and due what is necessary to come through the trying of the times.
    We need to take a good look at the early church. Look at Paul and the other apostles and churches. They all had different challenges but they put their houses and lives in order. Some like Paul, had side jobs to supply their needs. Some had worked to supply the needs of others etc.
    Is this a time of testing our faith? individually, of the congregation to sacrifice? Pastor, elders, etc.
    I have seen in my forty eight years many congregation’s fail and close their doors. Some to consolidate with other congregations. Some to argue, become angry and refuse to do their part, to reevaluate their personal obligations to reduce their salaries, remove those expensive items in that are not absolutely necessary.
    The problem may be real but the Lord has defeated the enemy and will bring us through the fire of these times.
    Remember the formula! all our mountains can be and are removed by FAITH!

  • Indeed, these six reasons offered for burn-out are palpable. Good advice is often timeless. An older blog from Thom on September 28, 2013 titled, “Avoiding Pastoral Burnout” is as relevant as ever

    Two antedotes from this blog are especially worth highlighting — Delegating and Social Support. I would add that the need to be proactive needs to be top of mind not only by the pastor, but by other staff, lay ministry and congregation alike. Mutual support, is more than a cliche, it is the order of the day. I date myself with a quote from John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” We need to adapt this quote and replace “country” with “pastor.” Supporting pastors is in view in 1 Timothy 5:17 -18.

  • I have to admit that, while I know that Dr. Rainer has his hand on the pulse of the local church, I have been blessed in my church. Our giving has stayed strong and our attendance has been cut in half. Yes their are arguments about masks or no masks but many of my lay leaders are addressing those issues so that I do not have to. My main concern is that we need to change course because we are not growing numerically. When my elderly saints are passing away there is no one to replace them as servants of the church and as financial givers. I have been thinking alot about the fact that I might have to become bi-vocational at some point. We need to do a better job of outreach and leading people to the Lord. We are weak in that capacity and that needs to change asap. My work load is about the same. However, I know that is going to change as we begin to implement new ways of reaching out to our community. Pray for us as we have been discussing the Pray and Go program.

  • Jeff Greer says on

    And most church members/attendees could care less.

  • Emmanuel Abiodun says on

    Great piece that do encourage us at this season

  • Hey Pastors. Thom is right in that even without the ‘crisis’ we’d be where we are in 3-5 years anyway. The good thing is you’re not 3-5 years older, fatter, and less adaptable. And be supremely thankful you’re not the treasurer. The church may be lighter and leaner in people and dollars but it’s not too late to make the course change that should have happened 40 years ago. God hasn’t abandoned the church but the church has pretty much abandoned the Great Commission. Return to teaching your congregation for the outwardly focused work of the ministry: making disciples. …And don’t quit!

  • Chuck Powell says on

    I am not surprised that Pastors who already are underappreciated and often burdened by unrealistic expectations are feeling the strain even more now.
    Part of me wonders if this time can be an opportunity to move spiritual leadership into the homes and lives of the body rather than having the body come to the building
    . Maybe a new old fashined movement of living with the flock may acctualy bfing greater tra sformation. Because as we now God has a plan for all things especialy when he brings us to turmoil and unsettles our comfortable faith..

  • I have never commented on your posts before this. I entered ministry part-time in 1994 when I began seminary and full-time in 1997 at age 36. I came from a management/performing arts background. My theology is Reformed yet I am also pre-trib/pre-millennial.

    I say that to grant context to my thoughts. I have seriously considered leaving ministry, but not because of COVID but due to the culmination of the events COVID is certainly a part. I serve a very small and struggling church which was rapidly declining when I came here in 2011. We are seeing positive spiritual and physical blessings, yet an ever=growing weariness is ensuing at this time.

    I worked in the secular world for years. I do not believe the physical workload alone is a reasonable demarcation between church and secular. While there are “seasons” of extreme time commitment in a church, it has never compared to the 110-hour weeks I had to often expend in management prior to church.

    The difference is the interpersonal and increasing spiritual warfare I face. God is sufficient for all tasks, yet at almost 60 years old, I’m wondering if I can continue to remain excited about what I do, the constant battle to cause godly changes to be desired in the church and of course, the ever-present battle against the culture. Right now, I’m still excited to be where I am and I love what I do, yet I’m also wise enough to wonder when that too will end.

    Jesus is coming soon, but we are called to labor until He does. The spirit is willing, but my flesh is getting more tired. God is indeed sovereign. There are times I wish more of His people would live like He is–it would make this easier. Yet there will come a time when I fear my frustrations will cause me to walk away.

  • I think you are in target in identifying these issues. However, what are the solutions? What can that pastor who is six for six do to come out on the other side? What can the pastor do that is one of the six described do to prevent the other areas from happening? Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions! We must strive to know and believe that God is Bigger and His calling is effective and He will help is overcome, right?

  • Our church is the antithesis of this article. And I believe many (most?) are more similar to our church than what is described here. Our staff and congregation have adapted to the changes. Fellowship is different, but still as rich. Giving has held steady. A construction project has been completed. And reserve funds have grown because of austerity measures put into place early in the pandemic. Ministry has transformed, but has not decreased. Salvation, baptisms, families joining the church — all have been strong metrics over the last few months.

    Our pastor is always strong from the pulpit, and has only grown stronger. He is just as great with people as ever. Our staff seems content and fulfilled in their calling and work. The congregation loves all of them.

    Mission all work looks different in some cases, but is still strong.

    Is this article based on research, or only on the churches you hear from?

    • Jim I pastor in Alabama. I’m very involved in our Baptist Association and State Board of Missions. This describes most churches that I have talked with including my own situation.

      I’m glad your church is doing well.

    • Bart Denny says on

      Jim, I suspect that your church is the one that is different, and for that, I rejoice with you. While I, too, have seen churches prospering in many ways, they aren’t the majority. And even the ones where finances are holding out, and other metrics are strong, behind the scenes, that strong pastor who is still good with people is struggling. He’s working harder than he ever has, and so is his staff. He’s sick of people bellyaching when he asks them to wear a mask and adhere to social distancing. Even if the pandemic is the reason people claim to be staying away, he can’t avoid the feeling that some just aren’t coming back. It hurts that people bitterly criticized him for not going on with business as usual. It’s exhausting in ways the pastor (and his staff) will never admit to the congregation at large, and even the ones doing best are questioning themselves and even their calling just a little. Maybe even in your church.

    • Don Jones says on

      @Jim – really love you attitude and response. You must be a great encouragement to the staff and also to the church at large. May your tribe increase. Well done!

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