Six Things You Need to Know about Pastors Who Leave Their Ministry

Six Things You Need to Know about Pastors Who Leave Their Ministry


By Thom Rainer

I had no idea he was a former pastor.

He emailed me on a business matter. I noticed his email said nothing about his ministry, so I asked about his ministry in my response.

“I am out of the pastorate,” he responded. “And I have no plans to ever go back.”

From my perspective, this man would have been one of the least likely to leave the pastorate. Not only did he leave, he is adamant he will not return.

LifeWay Research recently released a study about pastors who left the pastorate before they were retirement age. You can read more about the study here, but I want us to look at six key issues from the study that are vitally important.

  1. Nearly half (48%) of those who left the pastorate said the search committee did not accurately represent the church. I have heard this information anecdotally, but I did not expect the response to be this high.
  2. More than half (54%) of the respondents said a church member had attacked them personally. Consequently, one of four said they left the church because of conflict.
  3. Nearly half (48%) of the former pastors said they had not been trained for relational and leadership issues. We hear this from current pastors and staff as well.
  4. Four in ten of those who left the pastorate said they had a change in calling. We hope to delve into this issue later.
  5. One in eight of the former pastors left for financial reasons. Many pastors are underpaid. Many pastors leave the pastorate as a consequence.
  6. One in eight of the respondents left because of family issues. Again, we have covered this issue several times at the blog and on the podcast.

How do we respond to these issues? How can we be greater supporters of our pastors and staff so they don’t feel like they have to leave the church? Let me hear your thoughts.



The online survey of former senior pastors was conducted Aug. 11-Oct. 2, 2015. The sample lists were provided by four Protestant denominations: Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and Southern Baptist Convention. Each survey was completed by an individual who has served as a senior (or sole) pastor but stopped serving as senior pastor prior to age 65. The completed sample is 734 former pastors. The study was sponsored by the North American Mission Board and Richard Dockins, M.D.



This article was originally published at on January 13, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at


  • Pastor James Benware

    If they left it was because they were not called of God, they were just a hireling.God doesn’t let HIS ministers leave, he takes care of them.

    • Barry L. Davis

      If God calls them to it, can’t He also call them to something else? Are all calls permanent?

      • Barry is right. I think James talks out of miscontrued ideas. All of them are not “not called”, but God has his ways. Granted, some are not called and discovered it down the road, but we cannot generalize. Please, James, if you are really called by God, go in a time of retrospection as it is not normal that a called one speak that way.

      • Not trying to stir up anything here, just curious about what to do with Romans 11:29 “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance”. I believe if God calls a man that will not change. What may change is the leading of the Lord in the fulfillment of that call. God CALLS a man into the ministry and may LEAD him to serve in the Pastorate for a time. Then the door may open to be invoked in some kind of educational ministry. He may serve on a foreign mission field for a time. He may conclude his ministry by having a ministry of helps to small and struggling churches. If a man is God-called he won’t quit the ministry. The calling never changed but the leafing of the Lord throughout his life and ministry may have. Just MO.

        • Barry L. Davis

          I addressed this with another poster below.

          “The text I believe you are referring to, Romans 11:29, is about God’s relationship to Israel and has nothing to do with a call to ministry.”

        • John Williams

          Note, the bible says the gifts and callings of God(callings, more than one), I know ministers who when they were young were evangelist and when they were older, they were called to Pastor. Some people have several callings and many gifts. I know Pastors who function as Pastor and evangelist. Some people have gift combos, i.e…Chuck Smith.. I know one young man who had the call to Pastor and his wife would not support him in it, according to him, the Lord kept dealing with her and she would not yield, so he became an evangelist and is doing well. He still believes he is called to Pastor, but he married someone who rejects that call. To be honest, God can call anyone to anything at anytime according to his need.

      • Queen Nesbitt

        It’s a permanent position. God wouldn’t call you to be a pastor and then call you to something that will take you from Him.

    • Pastor. David Dyer

      Let us be not so quick today to why but let us pray first for that person/ Pastor to seek God before he or she leaves. We must be in a personal relationship with God and deep mediation follow by know this is your calling without doubting we’ve been choosing as well. Every Pastor calling is not the same. We must be in Love w Love because God is Love. Just food for thought. Peace &blessing Pastor David Dyer

  • I would think numbers 1 and 2 would be much higher. Most pastors I have known and other studies I have read talk about leaving a particular pastorate due to conflict. Some couch the truth of the conflict by saying they left for a “change in calling”, but most often it seems to be some type of conflict that initiated the change of heart.

  • Pastor Scott Bailey

    I’ve been a pastor for over 18 years. In the 18 years plus, I’ve never ran into a bunch of Godless fakes & phonies. It seems like the people of the world (The lost) are more kind caring & concerned then the church people. So many churches that I’ve pastored in are in love with the building & Jesus is at the door knocking to get in & they just won’t let Him in. The congregations of the churches I’ve pastored & preached in are mean, nasty ugly people & it seems to be getting worse. To some this may sound crazy to hear a pastor talk like this, but being a pastor today isn’t like what it was long ago.


    One big discouraged pastor.

    • Jerry Owens

      After 28 years of being a Pastor I left due to health mainly and other reasons. I look back and see difficulties and accomplishment. God’s call is still on my life. I serve in other capacities. Serving as Pastor is not for the faint of heart and God will provide.

    • Dick Pierson

      It probably isn’t any worse now than in years gone by. We just aren’t afraid to discuss it now. I too have experienced “bait and switch” churches. Often their denomination instructs them not to be completely honest because it will frighten prospects a way. Ours has become a business of telling people what they want to hear instead of Christ’s truth. Retirement was like waking from a bad dream.

  • Bruce Matee

    I am also a minister who left the pastorate. My reason for leaving is not clearly articulated in the response options you have provided

  • Pastor Garry Brooks

    I would have to agree with the discouraged pastor. I too find myself having to apologize more times than not because of a congregation member who for hurt feelings because I didn’t hug or say hi to 3 year old child or their grandparents or the parent. When I attempt to work with the congregation all I hear is “well we’re not young anymore” or I’ve done my time” now all you big rime pastors that have staff can say its my fault or I’m just don’t understand the Ministry. you say that because you either have a church that appreciates you or get a 6 digit income to include insurance and retirement. You figure it out.

  • Loren

    Would like to hear more about this : change of calling, since His calling and gifts are irrevocable. Does God, would God change your calling?

  • Gods child

    If we do not forget that it’s not about us,we can focus on being the vessel he called us to be….we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the Excellency of the power may be of him and not us..deny yourselves take up your cross and follow JESUS!

  • Pastor Femi Olawale

    Unfortunately, we Pastors are just reaping what we are sowing or what we allowed to be sown. As much as we have preached the corrupted gospel for so long, what we have in the Churches is the expected harvest. We now have members that doesn’t fear God and ministers have arose among them after the order of Khora and Abiram!

    Ministry should be the best place to serve, because the reward is eternal, but we are being hunted by the harvest of our sown seed (corrupted gospel). There is a gospel that constitute the power of God unto salvation and until we return to the true gospel men will remain unconverted and remain wild on the pews. May the Lord help us!

  • captain samson G. kanmoe

    Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness and everything other thing will be given to us. My question to us pastors is are we walking in righteousness ? If yes then the God who called us is faithful to take care of us and our ministries

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