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10 Reasons Why Pastors Leave the Ministry
By Jim Fuller (Printable Version link at the bottom of this article)
10. LACK OF VISION
Most pastors start out in the ministry with the energy and vision necessary to be able to conqueror most everything. While their vision may change from time to time, depending on the direction from God, their energy is often tied to a number of different factors that are influenced by either positive or negative variables.
These variables, as well as ministers learning how to deal with them, can determine whether or not a pastor continues in the ministry. Positive attributes are usually marked by high levels of energy, determination and confidence. If not preserved or safeguarded, they can lead to negative attributes of feelings of insecurity, isolation and often times needing the validation from others to confirm their vision and calling.
Some times, these physical and emotional factors seem overwhelming and larger than life itself. While these are only a few factors , they can still influence one's calling and vision. People so often use these two terms interchangeably. But there is a vast difference in “being called” into the ministry and “vision” or direction where you feel God is leading.
Many pastors become disillusioned, tired and seemingly unable to “hear” from God when these negative variables are present. If not recognized and dealt with, they will definitely interfere with the ability to “seek” God's direction.
Many pastors in this “Lack of Vision” state, have not surrounded themselves with
people with whom they trust or confide, such as an accountability partner, one who could help them through difficult times. One survey states that 70% of the ministers report not having a close friend to whom they can confide! Even Jesus surrounded himself with others for support as well as to train them for the future.
“Pastors are people too” and are made up of “flesh and blood” just like everyone else. So many ministers report thinking they have to “ live on an island” and thus be isolated from anyone else. God never intended for us to be alone.
The demands of the ministry can be overwhelming at times but “We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” , Philippians 4:13. Pastors cannot afford to allow isolation, invalidation, health and financial pressures and any other discouragement to prevent them from seeking God's direction.
All ministers must protect and renew their vision regularly. One can only do this by scheduling quality time alone with God, seeking his presence and direction.Get alone with God! Please, don't allow these negative influences to rob your vision and career!
9. LOW INCOME/LOW SELF-ESTEEM
It is estimated that about 75% of all ministers live close to the poverty level. A number of factors contribute to this increasing problem:
These factors cause additional pressures for a minister to support his family as well as perform the duties of a pastor. All ministers desire to encourage others to live by faith and believe God for provision. When a pastor's provisions are not being met, is there something wrong with the pastor or is it the fault of the laity? Do they lack faith? Is there added pressures from the laity to not seek outside employment to supplement their income? Is there a narrow mind set from the laity of how to treat and provide for their pastor? Has there been adequate teaching and training on this subject?
These feelings often lead to thoughts of failure, causing stress and anxiety in wondering how to pay their bills and having to feel they have to carry on with a smile for others to see. Ministers start out in the ministry with high expectations and often leave because of a lack of self-esteem. 90% of the ministers report they feel inadequately trained to meet the demands of the ministry, 70% report having a lower self-image now than when they first started and 50% of the ministers will not even last 5 years! These are horrible statistics!
According to one survey, the occupation of pastor ranks near the bottom of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”. Feeling good about themselves and meeting the needs of their family is very important to everyone. Many expect the pastor and his/her family to have a higher set of standards than they do and unfortunately, having to “live by faith” more in providing for their provision.
Some pastors are unable to obtain other employment because: the duties of the ministry is demanding, they lack the necessary skills for other employment and they may have health problems that prevent them from performing duties required for employment. These pressures, along with low self-esteem, cause pastors to leave the ministry in hopes of seeking employment that will not have as many demands and have extra benefits, such as retirement, health insurance, vacation and appreciation of a job well done!
So many pastors are afraid of being honest with their church in addressing their needs. That does not show a lack of faith! God still answers prayer and he usually does it through people ! This may allow others to be involved in blessing God's messenger or it may be instructing the church of the need for the pastor to seek outside employment to meet his/her needs because the church is unable to presently do so. In any way, God's will can be provided. Don't be alone and don't be afraid to teach and share your needs!
8. LACK OF MOTIVATION
The lack of motivation is different from lack of vision. A pastor who lacks vision may still have some motivation to continue. Usually the lack of vision, lack of self-esteem and financial pressures are contributors in leading pastors to the point where they face a lack of motivation. A lack of motivation takes away all desire, will and drive to perform any operations associated with the ministry. In other words, the ministry demands have taken their toll on the “person” , the minister, to the point of not caring whether he/she ever preaches again.
Many times depression is a prelude to a lack of motivation. Major depression has characteristics of lacking drive and energy to perform duties; being withdrawn and not wanting to be around others; and often having long periods of time preferring to sleep. Traumatic events, such as fighting or confrontations with church members over insignificant issues, over time may also cause ministers to give up.
People who experience a lack of motivation have often ignored the “warning signs”. Too many times a pastor has not taken a vacation or sought help that will bring about healing and restoration. A pastor is not a machine, nor a God! Even Jesus needed a rest from time to time. He had to leave the crowds, the people who demanded too much and even from those who tried to deceive or hurt him. How much more do we as humans need to get away for a much needed rest! When we take care of ourselves, we can then take care of others!
Exercise, such as walking or playing sports can be helpful in dealing with stressors associated with a lack of motivation. Being able to share personal problems with a close friend will allow a person to “vent” his/her frustrations and hopefully receive good counsel from a person who really cares about the ministry and the pastor as a person.
Motivation is the “ gasoline” that drives the car. One never gives up on the car but rather seeks to provide the fuel necessary to continue down the road. Ministers often leave the car (calling) prematurely without seeking ways to be “refueled”. It takes courage to endure without motivation, but in time God will either redirect one's path or change the people “in the way”. One may have to re-examine his/her calling and purpose where they are today, and seek ways to be refueled! Surround yourself with others who can add “fuel” to your life because they care. There is definitely strength in numbers.
7. STRESS & BURNOUT
Stress and burnout is one of the leading causes for ministers to leave the ministry. When people think about stress, there are usually negative connotations associated with it, but there is also a good stress, which is associated with feelings of joy, fulfillment and achievement, such as the birth of a baby, the long hours for a degree or anything that causes one to maybe push limits.
Negative stress usually involves prolonged and frequent transactions that take place between a person and his/her environment. There are many reasons for stress:
CONTRIBUTORS TO STRESS:
Burnout is emotional exhaustion. It is similar to lack of motivation because it causes one to give up on something to which he/she was once passionately committed. Burnout is not usually found in “lazy” people. One of the characteristics of burnout is “burning a candle at both ends”. 90% of ministers report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and most ministers do not exercise nor take regularly scheduled vacations.
CAUSES OF BURNOUT:
If you have stress and burnout, please get the help you need! Life is too short . Satan is working overtime to discourage and to keep ministers so busy and occupied that they are of no earthly good.
6. NOT APPRECIATED
Many pastors go through their ministry dealing with all sorts of difficulty. Some seem to go from one church to another, often labeling those who were troublemakers; while others deal with continual issues of people unwilling for change, lack of vision and purpose, lack of dedicated workers, argumentative or controlling spirits, unreasonable demands and financial and spiritual struggles.
Many pastors may also contribute to their own demise by being too rigid, unwilling to negotiate, distancing themselves from others, personality conflicts, lifestyle differences and an unyielding way of working with people.
Most pastors will face some or all of these difficulties sometime in their ministry. While these may seem overwhelming at times, most are manageable and at the very worst, one may come to the conclusion that they are not a good match for that church. Most pastors are willing to “roll up their sleeves” to work on issues, one at a time, hoping for change. Others may “jump ship” or be voted out. Either way, a pastor may or may not have control over his/her circumstances.
When pastors go through these difficult times, they often find excuses or reasons why people may or may not accept them. The real problem occurs when a pastor perceives these as personal attacks. There is a difference between people rejecting the message and those who reject the messenger. Often times, ministers get confused between these two.
There is nothing wrong in reflecting back on experiences and learning from our mistakes. Overwhelming failures, insecurities and a lack of validation or appreciation of all the hard work a minister goes through, often brings thoughts of pulling out of the ministry altogether.
Appreciation is a normal course that usually follows a job well done. Everyone likes to feel appreciated but in reality, no one has control over whether or not he/she receives any appreciation at all. The fact is, some people do not show appreciation very well and our expectations may be higher than those around us. Some ministers have stated they work in a “thankless occupation” often perceiving their laity as having an attitude of “what have you done for me lately, pastor”? This sliding escalation of negative thought often leads to a ministers contemplating about leaving.
In order to remain focused on one's calling, a pastor has to guard against such negative thoughts. A better use of time may be spent seeking wise counsel and asking how they may deal with these problems. Most problems are not unique, but rather “universal”. Those who may offer suggestions have already come to that “crossroad” in their ministry and can encourage you in your hour of need. Another way to keep focused is to seek God's approval and explore other possibilities to help educate others to show appreciation. Physical and mental demands can perhaps be manageable but when coupled with low self-esteem, lack of appreciation and a lack of measurable progress, ministers often feel they are a failure and question why they should stay in a place/occupation where they are not wanted?
To prevent this from spiraling out of control, one should consider the following interventions:
While this is not an extensive list of interventions, these are merely intended for a pastor to think about his/her ministry. It is not about appreciation, its about following God's call. Too many pastors leave the ministry for the wrong reason, sometimes feeling unappreciated rather than examining why they are there.
Jesus was hated and rejected. He warned us that others will do the same to us. Personal feelings, while very important, are not the determining factor of whether a minister stays in the ministry. Leaving may even constitute disobedience to God! Please refocus on your calling. Make sure you hear from the Lord. Seek help and look for the “good” in all things.
5. CAN'T BE REAL—HAVE TO BE THE MOST SPIRITUAL!
Many pastors struggle with the idea that they cannot be truly themselves. Pastors are perceived, too often, as the most spiritual, the most moral and cannot have any type of problem. Their families must be the most well mannered and active in every program within the church.
While ministers should set standards high enough for others to follow and want to achieve, the very nature of double standards propel ministers to further distant themselves from others within the church. According to statistics, 66% of church members expect a minister and his/her family to live by a higher moral standard than they do. This pervasive thought lends itself unrealistic, and when accompanied by the demands of the ministry, ministers and their families feel the pressures and desire to further distance themselves even more! 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families and 94% report feeling pressures of being in the pastor's family.
These unrealistic demands and pressures cause struggles for many ministers. Most feel they “cannot afford” to be real, for the fear of others being disappointed. Some state they go through life wearing a mask, “acting” one way, “hoping” and “fearing” no one finds out who they really are. When these pressures are a prevalent way of thought or living, ministers are not allowed to use their talents and abilities that God has blessed them with. Many go through feelings of guilt and fear of trying to be “someone else” rather than just being “themselves”. There is such a tremendous waste of unused talent and ability, no wonder America is questioning the effectiveness of the church today.
Whether these written or unwritten demands originate from the laity or the ministry, one has to only wonder - Can a minister actually have their own identify or do they walk in someone else's identity? Is there a time in their ministry where they are able to relax and be “just themselves” ? And how can a minister find ways to alleviate their frustrations?
Most successful pastors have outlined boundaries around their ministry. These boundaries may include desires from the laity, such as leading by example to encouraging others to strive toward spiritual growth. Paul sets the same example in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when he says to follow him as he follows Christ. Other parts of the boundary must also include some of their own personal wishes, such as their personality, talents, abilities, family times and all the time, not forgetting God's purpose and direction for their lives and the church.
“Being Real” is important for everyone. There is nothing wrong in “being yourself” around your family and close friends while maintaining a professional less-than open posture when you are around others who really do not know you yet. Too many times pastors and their families don't have anyone close enough around them to relax and just be themselves. 70% report not having a close friend.
The very nature of your occupation lends itself to being looked upon as the most spiritual, even though at times you don't feel like it. There are ways to safeguard yourself from these feelings of guilt, pressure and thoughts and feelings of quitting or running away.
4. STRESS ON THE FAMILY AND HEALTH
Most people never think about how the ministry demands affect the pastor and his/her family, especially long term. As mentioned before, 94% of the minister's families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry. 80% report that it has negatively affected them. Children of pastors often report having negative experiences and many do not attend church anywhere today because of those negative experiences!
The minister's spouse is often neglected for the sake of the ministry. A common statement made by the spouse is “My spouse loves the church more than he/she loves me!” An unexpected visit to the pastor's home by a church member, the endless hospital visits, the phone calls, complaints made by laity and vacation times cut short because of someone being in the hospital or passing away are only a few of the stressors a pastor's family face. If these escalate or continue for a long period of time, further problems within the family may develop, which leads to another stressor - the pastor's family is not suppose to have any marital or family problems.
Please don't misunderstand; the pastor's family loves the church but resents it when it “steals from their family time”. A pastor deals with so many people, problems and issues. While most church members are considerate, many others are not, never thinking about intruding on the pastor's personal time or the number of calls they receive everyday. The pastor and his family are truly on call 24/7.
The demands of the ministry often take its toll mentally, spiritually and physically. Worry, stress, and neglect of one's health can lead to stress and burnout as well as other more serious heath problems, such as stroke, heart attack and cancer. Often times, people will allow a minister to work as much as he/she can, without limits. Usually there is no one there to regulate, protect and keep track of a pastor from reaching danger limits, except his family. But too often, pastors will ignore the advice of their family for the sake of doing “God's work”. God never intended to work us 24/7. Jesus even needed rest!
SAFEGUEARDS OF PROTECTING THE FAMILY & HEALTH:
3. FEELING ALL ALONE
How could this be a reason for a minister leaving the ministry? After all, ministers seem to have plenty of people surrounding them on a week-to-week basis. Ministers often report feeling isolated, not having the close fellowship they see laity have or perhaps they once had before they entering into the ministry.
Pastors only get close to their parishioners on a professional basis, working with them daily or weekly, often counseling them on a number of different issues, trying to mend or encourage others on their marriage, career, finances, health and spiritual walk. A pastor's work is never done. They report working between 55 to 75 hours a week, often burning a candle at both ends. Most of the calls a minister receives is not to check on how their pastor is doing but because of problems either in the church or in their lives. Complaints seem to come in on a daily basis. 40% of the ministers report having serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month! Over time, pastors report feeling that others are only caring about themselves, complaining about most everything, and have attitudes of “what have you done for me lately”. Most pastors feel unappreciated. They give so much time to others but who is there for the pastor ?
Pastors report not having the freedom to share their problems/concerns with anyone. Ministers
cannot tell their congregation that they feel their jobs are overwhelming at times or they have had thoughts about leaving the
ministry. "After all I am their spiritual leader, how can a minister be discouraged?"
Most ministers feel they cannot share their feelings with other ministers - too many churches are in competition with one another, this may be the ammunition they need! And when ministers attend denominational meetings, so often others around them only give “praise reports” that lend themselves believing something is wrong with a minister who has problems.
Where can a minister go for help and encouragement? Most ministers try to cope with it only to burnout, loosing all motivation and having thoughts that nobody cares!
With all the mounting pressures and conflicts, long hours, thankless efforts, stressors affecting their families and lack of support, many pastors feel they are definitely alone and have no place to turn. Many seek support in other ways, often inappropriate, which cause them to leave the ministry and destroy their lives. Others will seek employment elsewhere. Even the business world seems more supportive than the ministry.
“Feeling alone” is the number 3 reason why pastors report leaving the ministry but it is the #1 TO OVERCOME!
People may ask why is this #3 when it is the easiest to overcome? The reason is very simple - ministers do not have a friend or mentor whom they can trust! Too often ministers keep feelings, thoughts, concerns, problems, sin, discouragement, depression and loneliness all inside. Sometimes pastors feel they can talk to their spouses, while others are afraid to share because they fear their spouses may hold negative thoughts about the laity and therefore causing more marital problems. A pastor needs a friend!!! One that will be able to support and encourage them in all things throughout their life!
2. LACK OF DENOMINATIONAL SUPPORT
Pastors that are going through difficulties should have a safe place to turn for help. One of the logical places is with their denomination. Denominational leaders are quick to state they are there for the pastors. After all, they are the ones who may have encouraged them to be in the ministry and are the very ones who credentials the minister. So why aren't ministers calling for help?
Denominations actually have a dual relationship with their ministers. On one hand, they are the good guys - the ones for credentialing and cheering pastors up when they are together. On the other hand, they are a disciplinary group, the ones who terminate or places ministers on probation or suspension. Most pastors report never hearing from their denomination unless it is due to a problem with the pastor.
Denominations are also concerned for the church. Because of this, many pastors often feel their denomination treat the laity more fairly, especially during church problems. Pastors report that denominations seem to ”go overboard” with the laity in making “peace”, but has less-leniency toward the pastor, even with problems created by the laity. In denominational meetings, pastors hear that their denomination is there for them but when faced with a real problem, often feel otherwise.
Pastors also report being unable to talk freely to their denominational officials for the fear of them “keeping track” of their activities. Ministers do not want their “bosses” to feel they are doing a poor job or are discouraged. When they meet again, they do not want to wonder if their denominational leader is thinking about past problems. When ministers have feelings and thoughts about leaving the ministry, can they honestly tell their boss? And what if there is a sin issue, can they freely talk to their denominational leaders without fear of being terminated? And if terminated, how will they be able to pay their bills? What about their reputation? Because of these fears, most ministers prefer to keep their problems/feelings to themselves.
Denominational meetings are usually designed to encourage and support ministers but often ministers find themselves surrounded with others, either in denial or portraying everything is totally perfect in their lives. Everyone seems to be “on top of the world”, smiling, laughing and sometimes boasting of how well their church is doing. There may be a pastor in the same room, who is afraid of sharing, feeling unsuccessful, insecure, guilty for having feelings of wanting to leave the ministry and needs spiritual renewal. When, in fact, others are just like them but are afraid to ask for help! Even the most boastful minister, when alone, will admit they would like to know they are supported more.
Denominations can provide support that is vitally needed but it has to be limited from discipline or protected until trust is rebuilt. If the dual relationship exists, there are limited options that can be implemented.
Denominations can be a solid force to the ministers but needs improvement. Too many pastors are leaving the ministry. Last year, America had over 1,700 ministers leave the ministry each month! There were over 1,300 who were terminated each month by their local church, many without cause - they wanted someone younger, older, did not like the music, etc. And many denominations are reporting an "empty pulpit crisis". Support is needed from various places but the one that makes most sense is denominational support.
Ministers who feel they have no place to turn for help, need to find a friend or call a safe and confidential organization like PASTORAL CARE INC.
1. MINISTERS HAVE A VISION, THE CHURCH DOESN'T
Ministers believe they are called of God, to preach and carry a message to the people. Even during tough times, a minister can still love his flock and have compassion to them if some type of progress is being made. Ministers are often led to go into difficult places, such as, going to a church with a history of “getting rid” of a pastor every 3-4 years or going into a city where there is “spiritual disagreement” in the community. There may be churches on every corner, none of which gets along with each other and were started because of church splits or disagreements.
Ministers and their family “give all their energy and time” for the sake of the ministry. They work long hours, sacrificing to build the church, visit the sick, neglect family and personal time and sometimes suffers financially. Most pastors are willing to go beyond what most laity would ever consider to do. But all pastors desire the church to respond to God's purpose or direction for their church.
The most disheartening thing ministers go through is to feel they have a message and direction from God for their church but the people are not willing to listen or respond. In one survey, ministers and laity were asked the purpose of the church. 90% of the pastors state the purpose of the church was to reach the lost but when asking the laity, 90% report the purpose is to meet their own needs! Only 10% of the laity stated the purpose was to reach the lost.
No wonder why churches are not making any difference in their communities - they are not interested in reaching the lost but rather are only interested in themselves! There is no unity in the things of God nor is there any vision. Is the church saying “NO” to God? Why is the minister unable to effectively convince people to change their vision? The Bible refers to the “last days” as being like the days of Noah. People are so busy with themselves that they overlook the principle goal of reaching the lost!
Ministers are people too! They can become discouraged and feel that they are living in a land like Noah. America had 4,000 churches close last year and had over 3,500 people leave the church every year - people who were once in church but were hurt and discouraged. So many ministers are worn out mentally, physically, financially and spiritually. When their time and efforts seem useless or without meaning, ministers often say, “what's the use!”
SAFEGUARDS TO PREVENT LEAVING:
Paul often refers to our walk/ministry as to running a race. Philippians 3:13 & 14 says, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. The enemy often uses people, events and situations to prevent us from reaching that mark. We can become too busy, unorganized, tired, suffer physical and financial strain, be unappreciated, seeing no results and many, many more. These still do not eliminate the overwhelming question, “WHO ARE WE DOING THIS FOR?” .
If you are a pastor, let me encourage you to stay “true” to your calling. Our bodies are limited and we can be tired in well doing. The real fact is that you may need a friend or someone to talk to whenever you have feelings of leaving the ministry. If you do not have a friend or have a safe place to turn for help, please turn to PASTORAL CARE INC.. We care about you and so does God! Call us if we can help.
May God bless your ministry!
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