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Why Pastors Leave The Ministry?


Click to read in Japanese (日本語で読むHERE.

Why do pastors leave the ministry?  Of the most common issues are “preference for another form of ministry, the need to care for children or family, conflict in the congregation, conflict with denominational leaders, burnout or discouragement, sexual misconduct, and divorce or marital problems.”  Before we point the finger or throw stones at them, let’s consider a few things.  The apostle wrote: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching…” (1 Timothy 5: 17).   We are admonished to “not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (I Timothy 5: 19).  Pastors are, like everyone else, ordinary human beings; fallen people who struggle with the flesh, the devil and the world.   Like everyone else, they need Grace-giving & Gospel-centered leaders around them for support, growth and encouragement.  There are fellowships where pastors get these kinds of accountability.  But not all pastors, especially in unreached places like Japan, have these privileges easily available to them.

I have been appreciative of all the pastors that God has brought into my life since my conversion.  I cannot help but admire their joyful endurance and labor in the Lord, for the sake of the Gospel.  If you’ve been my pastor in the past 10 years, and you’re reading this, please know that I love & respect you for your labor in the lord.  “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do” (Hebrews 6: 10).  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for imparting in me the force of truth and instilling in me the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Whether you’re in the pastorate or not, here are a few concrete examples of why pastors leave the ministry  (taken from 9 Marks blog) which I hope is helpful to you.  Firstly, we’ll take a look at the U.S, and secondly a sneak-peek on Japan.

1. Hours and Pay

  • 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
  • 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job. 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.

2. Training and Preparedness

  • 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
  • 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they entered the ministry.

3. Health and Well-Being

  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

4. Marriage and Family

  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
  • 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked.
  • 80% spouses feel left out and under-appreciated by church members.

5. Church Relationships

  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

#1 reason pastors leave the ministry — Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastors believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.

6. Longevity

  • 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
  • 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
  • 4,000 new churches begin each year and 7,000 churches close.
  • Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
  • Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month, many without cause.
  • Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
  • According to one survey, only 23% of pastors report being happy and content in their identity in Christ, in their church, and in their home.

What about Japan?

A year before I came to Japan in 2004, I stumbled upon this article from the International Bulletin of Missionary Research titled “Crisis Facing The Japanese Congregation.”  I hope this has drastically changed in recent years.  Here is an excerpt:

“Traditional Protestant concern for a well-educated clergy, combined with hierarchical Confucian leadership model that emphasized the positional authority of the pastor/teacher has not encouraged an active role for the laity… As far as [these Churches]… are concerned, ministry is generally understood to be what “pastors” or “priests” are engaged in, for which the laity bear no responsibility. The boundary between clergy and laity is clearly demarcated, and the membership tend toward passivity. Without a significant transformation of Japanese Christian attitudes and a mobilization of the laity for greater participation in congregational leadership, the future of these Protestant denominations seems very much in question.”

Here’s another one; the aging population in the church is astounding and scary:

“Conservatively, we could say that [many] pastors and congregations are aging at about twice the speed of Japanese society in general. With the aging of [these] congregations, the number of young people has declined sharply.  In 1996, 1998, and 2000, the percentage of [many Church] communicant members under thirty years of age dropped progressively from 10 to 9 to 8 percent.  This trend represents a loss of 2185 communicants in the age bracket from which potential ministerial candidates have traditionally been drawn.”

I’m not certain as to what the statistics are today (2011).  But just a year before I enrolled in Tokyo Christian University (2004), the article revealed that hundreds of “ordained clergy” were not to be found anywhere in a Christian church!  We have no concrete reasons as to why these theologically-educated ordained pastors vanished into thin air.  It goes on to say that:

“The year 2003 saw 228 churches – 13 percent of all [anonymous] churches and evangelistic stations – without a pastor… Astoundingly, 542 [anonymous] ordained clergy are not assigned to any church or Christian institution. This figure represents 25 percent of all [anonymous] clergy.”

If you’re reading this and you’re a member of a church or institution or an organization where there are pastors, I’d encourage you to go the extra-mile and appreciate your Pastors today.  Pastors go through a lot of suffering that escapes the eye of the congregation.  This is partly because people depend on Pastors for spiritual nourishment and encouragement, while pastors themselves have no one to turn to.  They are held to a higher biblical standard (1 Tim. 3:1-13 and Tit. 1:5-9).  They come willing to embrace hardships.  But the truth is they are not robots.  They are, like many of us, frail human beings, who can handle only so much.  Let’s face it: It’s easier to criticize a pastor than to be a pastor.   We have little or no idea what it means to be a pastor.  Here are a few examples of what most pastors suffer from, before they literally burn-out (from Disciple Makers).  See how you can pray and serve them & their families:

  • chronic fatigue  (exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down)
  • difficulty sleeping (waking in the middle of the night and finding yourself unable to return to sleep)
  • decreased concentration (can’t finish things)
  • anger at those making demands
  • self-criticism for putting up with the demands
  • cynicism, negativity, and irritability
  • a sense of being besieged
  • exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  • frequent headaches and stomach aches
  • changes in appetite resulting in weight loss or gain
  • shortness of breath
  • increased irritability (men tend to get angry more; women tend to cry more)
  • social withdrawal
  • depression
  • feelings of helplessness

Administration Burnout Causes:

  • Pastors generally spend too much time on low-reward activities.
  • Pastors have to do to much administration – correspondence, bulletins, newsletters, web site, organizing activities, attending unnecessary meetings, ensuring that things get done, buying graduation and baptism gifts, purchasing janitorial supplies, making sure rooms are set up for meetings, etc.
  • Pastors often have to deal with many distractions such as, mail, email, sales people, phone calls, text messages, etc.
  • In many churches, pastors are given a lot of responsibilities, but very little authority.
  • Because churches are organizations, pastors sometimes feel like they are constantly attending endless – and often meaningless – meetings.

Family Burnout Cause:

  • Marital strife is common with pastors and their spouses. The constant stress caused by unrealistic expectations, inadequate finances, little time spent alone together all wear on a marriage.

Brothers & sisters, love, care & appreciate your pastors today.  My prayer is that as you reflect on these things, you would see how your churches treat pastors; and that you would lead a group to make sure that faithful pastors receive the “double honor.”  Let your church as a whole decide on the practical outcome or application of what that “double honor” means.  Here are a few practical tips as to how you can appreciate your pastor; feel free to add your own.

  • Collect a special offering for them and their families for any need they might have.
  • Ask your pastor how you can help/assist him with administration (they always appreciate this).
  • Buy plane tickets and send the family off on an all-expenses paid vacation.
  • Advocate for your pastor that he takes one day Sabbath (rest) once a week (note: pastors are busy not only throughout the week, but especially on weekends).
  • Buy your pastor & his wife a dinner at a nice restaurant; let them go on a date.
  • If you’re single or married lady, or have no kids, you (or you and your spouse) could offer to baby-sit for them if they have kids. (Note: My wife & I baby-sit sometimes and they love it.  It gives them opportunity to be alone and talk freely in a stress free environment)

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13– “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.  Be at peace among yourselves.”

1 Timothy 5: 17, 18- “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says,”You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

1 Corinthians 9:14- “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

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3 comments on “Why Pastors Leave The Ministry?

  1. I am nobody here in the realm of ministry, yet I would say this is worth reading owing to the fact it has something to say about the ignorant Church goer. What I feel now is that, besides understanding their personal challenges, I should put in some effort to at least help him/her out with the tasks that any normal person is capable of doing, for example helping out with write ups/ articles, publishing articles, or assisting with material requirement, besides preaching or counselling other people. If you are a pastor reading my reply, then I also want you to know that there is always a few people from “your Church” whom you might never notice but prays for you daily. You are much counted by those faithful few. I believe we are all equal human beings with obstacles in different forms because I don’t think there is a single person in the entire world without personal problems, struggles, loneliness, pains, but including pastors there are people wanting help from different walks such as poverty, VIPs with life-threats by the barrel of the gun, Christians from any denomination or society having fear and doubts about salvation, an alcoholic /drug addict who wants or “needs” even just a single person to listen to his or her immediate spiritual or medical attention, etc., but without access and hopes going in vain. Yet, even as an imperfect person, I do believe every struggle or agony you are enduring is only the next step up towards the gates of Heaven. May God bless the reader and God forgive if I have in any way hurt or offended your position as an evangelist or a Pastor.

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