Why do pastors in the USA/Canada resign from their churches?

Clergy attrition

Like most college professors, I've seen many hilarious errors in student-written papers. Here is a recent one: "The church I attend is just great. I love the pasture."

Church health analysts say sustained church health and growth is more likely when a pastor stays long-term. So, why is the average tenure for a Nazarene pastor just over 3 years? Why such short stays even when there had been a certain sense at the beginning this was where God had called them? Why does the pastoral attrition rate seem so high? Why are the dropout numbers so high?

At a conference on the campus of Southern Nazarene University, H.B. London said the top five reasons pastors give for resigning their churches and moving to a new place or even dropping out of the ministry altogether are:

  1. "I can't see any progress being made."
  2. "I'm not able to use my gifts."
        "I can't do what I do best very often."
  3. "I'm facing some difficult members."
  4. "I need affirmation that I'm not getting."
  5. "I need rest and refreshment."

When should a pastor resign?

London said pastors should resist resigning unless there is clear and unequivocal divine direction.

When a pastor is tempted to resign, he or she should ask these questions:

  1. Am I free here to pursue the core essentials of ministry? If so, it may be worth staying.
  2. Have I already internally left this place?
  3. Has a desire to leave been building in me for a long time?
  4. Do my gifts and philosophy of ministry match this congregation's needs? If so, maybe I should stay and work through the problems.
  5. How do I normally react to tough situations? Do I normally shy away? If so, is this the time to break that pattern?
  6. With God's grace and help, can I summon the emotional and physical strength to stay?
  7. How much can my family endure?
"Love us and accept us"
"A few years ago we had someone come and interview at our church for the position of pastor. My husband was the board secretary at the time. So we took this man and his wife out to dinner before taking them to see our congregation's facilities. Once the man walked into the church building, his mind seemed to go into a fast-forward mode. He tuned out everything we were saying and just started looking underneath and behind things. His reaction to the sanctuary was to start talking about how it could be remodeled to make it better. I remember his actions made us feel like our church building was not good enough.

"I have thought of that episode several times recently and reflected on how the man's actions paralleled someone going to a new culture and trying to change everything right away. This is very uncomfortable for people who have worked to make things the way they are. I understand we need to be open to change, but I want pastors to love and accept me just the way I am before I will trust them to suggest changes."
  — Linda J.

Calling a new pastor: Interviewing someone?

Questions you might consider asking a pastoral candidate

Are the days of the small church numbered?

Recently, someone wrote on an Internet community forum: "There must ultimately be enough people to support the programs of the church. The days of the small church are numbered because of this. Church budgets are stretched too thin when there aren't enough giving members."

In response, Nazarene pastor Ray Mann wrote:

"I would never start any ministry or program until I see that we had (a) a perceived need and(b) burdened leadership for meeting that need.

"In other words, just because we may have 10 children, I would not start a children's "scouting"- type program until someone saw the need, was burdened by it, and was willing and able to lead it. In that context, God will provide the resources for the program.

"I think a mistake some small churches make is trying to cover all the bases with a large variety of programs to reach every group. Sometimes you have to intentionally limit yourself until you grow to the point that you can support the extra programs with the needed time, money, space, and people.

"One of the most difficult decisions that a small church and its pastor can make is to prayerfully and explicitly define their philosophy of ministry and target population group and then stick with it.

"I may have now dug myself a hole, so let me explain: If the population group being served by your church is group X, and your philosophy of ministry is shaped by that and everything you have done is structured to minister to group X, then when two or three people from group Y walk in the door, you don't change things around just to accommodate those two or three. If you do, you can become, in the picture painted by James 1:6, a pastor (or church) driven by every wave and tossed by the wind. This is a much bigger temptation in a small church than in even a medium-sized church. And it can lead to frustration and burnout."

Another List of Why Pastors Resign

Pastors resign from their churches for various reasons, ranging from personal to professional. Some common reasons include:

A week of reflecting on what the Bible has to say about pastors

Day 1

Scripture Reading -- 1 Thessalonians 2:1-6

"We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts." (1 Thessalonians 2:4, NIV).

A Faithful Pastor

Having the "mind of Christ" (Philippians 2:5) is the only adequate antidote to the ego-building poison of people-pleasing. But the unhurried solitude necessary for spiritual growth and heart testing is too often squeezed out of the pastor's schedule. Thus robbed of his spiritual refueling, the pastor easily succumbs to the flattery of his own parishioners . . . and in the process is unfaithful to his divine calling.

My favorite pastors are those who I knew had spent hours on the mountaintop alone with God before they ever stepped into the pulpit. What flowed out was not a few things scraped together on Saturday evening, but the overflow of a rich devotional life.

A study by sociologist Samuel Blizzard showed that the typical American minister devotes 50 percent of his time and energy to his work as an "executive." The temptation for every pastor is to use this time-gobbler to excuse inadequate Bible study and intercessory prayer.

David Livingstone wrote in his journal at the age of 39 that he had long made it a habit to "approach God in secret with as much reverence as in public." That's the key to being a faithful pastor. Lay leaders must insist on it.

A prayer for your pastor: "Lord, help my pastor this week to enter an even richer relationship with You in unhurried meditation, Bible study, and prayer. Help my pastor to concentrate on pleasing You instead of me."

Discussion questions

  1. Why might it be important for pastors to have unhurried time alone for spiritual growth and heart testing? What might be some negative consequences of pastors not having this time in their schedules?
  2. How can pastors balance the desire to serve their congregation while staying true to their divine calling?
  3. What might lay leaders do to make sure pastors have adequate time for Bible study, meditation, and prayer?
  4. How can pastors ensure that their sermons are not just a few things scraped together on Saturday evening but rather the overflow of a rich devotional life?
  5. What are some practical steps pastors can take to deepen their relationship with God and enrich their devotional life?

Takeaways from 1 Thessalonians 2:4