Why do pastors in the USA/Canada resign 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. Are I free here to pursue the core essentials of ministry? If so, then 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, then maybe I ought to 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 you to love and accept me just the way I am before I will trust you 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."

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?

Day 2

Scripture Reading -- I Thessalonians 2:7-12

"With such yearning love we chose to impart to you not only the gospel of God but our very selves, so dear had you become to us" (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NEB).

An Exemplary Pastor

Years ago a delightful book titled The Peter Principle spoke of the leadership disease of "structurophilia"--an obsessive concern with buildings, their planning, construction, maintenance, and reconstruction, coupled with an increasing unconcern with the work that is going on (or is supposed to be going on) inside them. Buildings have oft been hailed as the savior of a church. "If we can just get more space or a new building, our attendance will jump" comes the persistent cry from pastors and lay leaders afflicted with this disease. In the face of a bit of incompetence in leadership -- whether lay or ministerial -- decisions are made to invest in buildings rather than people and programs.

Ministry to individuals is what the church is all about, however. And the exemplary pastor is the one who gives himself away -- and in so doing finds himself (Matthew 10:39). I discovered quickly in my ministry that I could whip up a lot of statistical success through my own efforts, but that the real purpose of my ministry (Ephesians 4: 11-16) could be fulfilled only as I allowed the living, loving Saviour to think with my mind, walk with my feet, talk with my lips, and work with my hands.

A prayer for your pastor: "Father, may my pastor's ministry focus be centered on improving the quality of human behavior rather than on the building of large edifices."

Discussion questions

  1. Why do some pastors and church leaders focus more on building projects than ministry to individuals?
  2. How does giving oneself away, as described in the essay, benefit both the pastor and the congregation?
  3. In what ways might a church's building projects detract from its mission to spread the gospel?
  4. How can members of a congregation encourage their pastor to prioritize ministry to individuals rather than other "necessary" things?

Day 3

Scripture Reading --1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

"We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God." (1 Thessalonians 2:13, NIV)

A Pastor's Hope and Joy

For some people, their hope is wealth, or security, or personal ambition. Their hopes terminate in this world. With the true pastor's heart, the Apostle Paul unveils for us here a better hope, one that transforms his frequent physical sufferings. That hope centers in his beloved spiritual children and grandchildren, whom he has presented to Christ as trophies of grace. Their spiritual growth and progress rather than statistical charts are what make his heart leap for joy.

Solemn responsibility rests on those who hear the Word of God mediated through Spirit-filled preachers. It is tragically possible for those in the congregation to be so preoccupied with the person of the preacher, or so prejudiced by proud and obstinate thoughts, that the Word becomes only words. To be sure, pastors are only fellow human beings. But they have been divinely chosen by God to proclaim His Word.

The proof of the authenticity of preaching lies in its results. A strong, biblically-based ministry will be received by a growing congregation as the Word of God. To be sure, Satan will feverishly erect barricades. But God has promised that these barricades will not "prevail" against the Church (Matthew 16:18), and that a pastor's true hope and joy will be vindicated.

A prayer for your pastor: "Father, help my pastor to carry out ministry in ways that produce spiritual children and grandchildren. Fill my pastor with hope and joy on this day."

Discussion questions

  1. What are some things implied in the passage from 1 Thessalonians about the role of pastors and their relationship with their congregations?
  2. What might it mean for a pastor to refer to his "spiritual children and grandchildren"? How does this relate to the hope that Paul expresses to thje Thessalonians
  3. How might pastors' attitudes about preaching affect the way in which their congregations receive and respond to their sermons?
  4. On what basis should one judge the authenticity of a person's preaching? How might this be relevant to contemporary discussions about the role and effectiveness of preaching?
  5. Could the prayer given at the end of the devotional thoughts serve as a guide for Christians in their relationship with their pastors?

Day 4

Scripture Reading -- I Thessalonians 3:1-13

"May the Lord make your love increase and overflow . . . May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy" (I Thessalonians 3: 12-13).

A Pastor's Longing

Dallas minister George W. Truett pastored a congregation of 8,000 members which utilized a huge building complex. A staff of paid associates and a host of talented, volunteer lay workers worked under his supervision. But he never stopped carrying a burden for specific individuals. One Sunday evening he preached on prayer. The next day he met a well-known lawyer on the street. The lawyer, who was not a Christian, referred to the sermon, which he had heard. Then he asked if the minister ever prayed for an unbelieving lawyer. Truett reached into his pocket, took out a notebook, and showed the lawyer his own name on a prayer list he had kept for years.

The term "pastor's heart" has come to mean increasingly more to me the longer I serve a local congregation. There is a real yearning and anxiety for every person on the responsibility list of that church, a yearning that every person will come to know all of the abundant life for which they were created. Too often pastors and laypeople content themselves with light, empty banter about the weather when they need to long, as Paul did, for a personal word about spiritual life.

A prayer for your pastor: "Help me, Lord, to understand the deep longing and desire my pastor has for my own spiritual welfare. Prompt me to respond to my pastor with heartfelt love and caring."

Discussion questions

  1. How would you explain the phrase "a pastor's heart"? Why is it important for pastors to have this quality?
  2. What does the story about George W. Truett say about the importance of prayer in a pastor's life and ministry?
  3. What does the passage from I Thessalonians 3:1-13 teach us about the role of love in Christian community and spiritual growth?
  4. What would you say are some common misconceptions that people have about pastors and their responsibilities? What are some ways these misconceptions can be addressed?

Day 5

Scripture Reading -- Ezekiel 34:11-16

"I will search for the lost, recover the straggler, bandage the hurt, strengthen the sick, leave the healthy and strong to play, and give them their proper food " (Ezekiel 34: 16, NEB).

A Pastor's Work

Don had been a Christian only about eight months. I often had morning coffee in the drive-in across the street from where he worked. Although he attended another denomination, we talked of spiritual things many times. One morning he said to me in a low voice of desperation, "I go to services Sunday after Sunday and all my pastor does is preach to sinners that they ought to get converted. I'm dying spiritually."

Unwittingly, Don had stumbled onto the fact that in American churches, the roles of pastor and evangelist became inverted about a century ago. This strange reversal has effectively deprived churches of the biblical ministry of a pastor and has resulted in grossly impoverished and untaught people. Although they may not voice it as clearly as Don, multitudes of believers today feel the same gnawing hunger. If these saints are not led on into a deeper and clearer understanding of the great provisions of life and power available to them through the Spirit, they will grow dull and bored with the gospel which they hear every week, and will fall into apathy, criticism, quarreling, bickering, divisions, and schisms and eventually may collapse into dissolute living and the double standards of hypocrisy.

A prayer for your pastor: "Lord, may my pastor know what it means to be so fully possessed by the Great Shepherd. May my pastor be a truly effective shepherd of our flock."

Discussion questions

  1. What is the difference between the roles of a pastor and an evangelist? In what ways can an inverted role of pastor and evangelist negatively impact the spiritual growth of believers?
  2. Would pastors better serve their congregations by focusing on a deeper understanding of the life and power available through the Spirit? If so, why?
  3. What can believers do to support, encourage, and assist their pastors in their role as shepherds of a flock of Christ-followers?
  4. What are some practical ways that pastors can apply the principles of Ezekiel 34:11-16 in their ministry to their congregations?

Day 6

Scripture Reading -- l Timothy 3:l-7

"... a man of the highest principles" (l Timothy 3:4, NEB).

A Pastor's Qualifications

Your pastor desperately wants to see your church grow numerically, spiritually, and financially. Satan utilizes this natural desire to tempt pastors to take shortcuts so they can give glowing reports at district assemblies.

The use of questionable means to attain honorable goals is amply illustrated in a U.S. political scandal. Years ago, at the Senate Watergate hearings, Jeb Stuart Magruder testified, "When these subjects [burglary, illegal and wiretapping] came up, although I was aware they were illegal, we had become somewhat inured to using some activities that would help us in accomplishing what we thought was a cause, a legitimate cause."

Actually, the qualifications for a pastor are quite similar to those for any important position of leadership. Paul mentions nothing here of persuasive ability, public-speaking talent, or charming personality. Rather, he says God looks for leaders who are sober, temperate, courteous, hospitable, good teachers, and good fathers. It is this kind of person who will be able to live clean and holy in our moral cesspool of a world and who will be able, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to equip others to do the same.

A prayer for your pastor: "May pastors like mine determine what You have called them to do, and, laying aside all excess baggage, do it.

Discussion questions

  1. Why do pastors sometimes feel pressured to take shortcuts to achieve visible growth in their churches? What should they do to resist these temptations?
  2. How are the qualifications for a pastor similar to those for any important position of leadership? Why do you think Paul did not mention persuasive ability or public-speaking talent?
  3. What are some practical ways that pastors can do to equip themselves to live clean and holy in today's morally-challenged world? How can they help others do the same?
  4. What can congregations do to assist and support their pastors in maintaining high principles and in resisting pressures to take shortcuts or compromise their integrity?
  5. How can prayer be a powerful tool for pastors wanting to stay focused on their calling while also resisting the temptations that come with the desire for seeing progress and growth?

Day 7

Scripture Reading -- I Peter 5:l-5

You should aim not at being "little tin gods" but as examples of Christian living in the eyes of the flock committed to your charge (I Peter 5:3, Phillips).

A Pastor's Responsibility

"Little tin gods" is a colorful, contemporary expression for the Greek "exercising lordship over assignments."

This is a radically different Peter from the brash disciple we see in the Gospel accounts. Here, older, wiser and humbled, he seeks to fulfill the commission the Lord Jesus gave him following the Resurrection when He thrice asked Peter, Do you love Me? and thrice gave him the command, Feed My sheep. California pastor Ray Stedman put it this way, "Peter has now learned that the task of the shepherd is to feed the sheep, not to fleece them."

Peter had learned to be a servant to -- and not a lord over -- God's people. Pastors must ever remember that they are not called to be bosses. They are but instruments, servants, examples. Jesus said, "When the good shepherd puts forth his sheep, he goes before them." That is, the shepherd does everything first. No teacher has the right to teach whose life does not exemplify his teaching.

A prayer for your pastor: "May through my pastor's life and example I be led into a deeper and clearer understanding of the great provisions of life and power available to me through the Holy Spirit."

Discussion questions

  1. What is the significance of the phrase "little tin gods" in the context of pastoral ministry?
  2. How does Peter's transformation from a brash disciple to a humbled servant shape his teachings on pastoral responsibilities in I Peter 5:1-5?
  3. What does it mean for pastors to be examples of Christian living for the flock? How does this relate to their role as a servant rather than a lord over God's people?
  4. What does Jesus' command to "Feed My sheep" givens to Peter after the Resurrection mean in regard to the responsibilities of pastors today?
  5. What role does the Holy Spirit play in a pastor's life? How can a pastor's example lead a congregation to a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit's power?

   -- Howard Culbertson,

The Come Ye Apart" is now published quarterly as Reflecting God by the Word Action Publishing Company and available through The Foundry.

Statistical data on Nazarene pastors in the USA and Canada

Kenneth Crow was a church health/growth researcher for the Church of the Nazarene. One of his research projects produced the following:

Circuit rider pastors

Twenty-seven Nazarene pastors in the USA and Canada were pastoring more than one church. That is 0.6% of the pastors. Twenty-six of those pastored two churches. One was the pastor of three congregations.

Bi-Vocational pastors

Thirty-one percent of Nazarene pastors in the USA and Canada said they are bi-vocational. This was very similar to the 30% of Southern Baptist pastors who are bi-vocational.

Women pastors

Recent data showed that in the USA and Canada, there were 160 Nazarene women pastors. This was 3.3% of the pastors.

Age of pastors

In 2019, the median age of Nazarene pastors in the USA and Canada was 54 years. That wasw six years older than the median of 48 years reported in 20000.

The average age of newly-licensed ministers in the USA and Canada remained about the same in a recent five-year period -- with a mean of 37 and a median of 36.

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