Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Why Do Pastors Leave the Ministry?
Scott Williams is a pastor who is no longer pastoring. Recently on his blog, he wrote an essay on leaving the ministry… below is a sampling of what he wrote…
“many people have asked me why i am stepping out of pastoring, at least for a while. there has been a great deal of conjecture on my behalf. some think it has a subversive twist to it. others imagine that i am absolutely distraught with life and cannot cope anymore. neither extreme really addresses the central issues i have faced. here are a few of the reasons why some of us tend to fade away:
we are tired of pretending that we cannot be hurt. people assume ministers are available for their criticism 24/7. people say things to clergy they would not say to their worst enemies. for some reason they feel at liberty to delve into every aspect of clergy life. they have an opinion about everything we do. they believe it is their god-given right to critique your personal life, your professional life, your emotional state, the way you dress, your use of colloquialisms, your kids, your personality, how much you spend on a car, your friendships, how you drive, how much you fart, the list goes on and on. pastors live their life in the limelight. they, therefore, constantly disappoint people. it is hard to disappoint people all the time. as a pastor, and maybe it is just me, i seem to let people down all the time. recently i was at a small group where several complained that i was not their close friend. besides the obvious fact that i do not have enough hours in the day nor the emotional energy to be friends with everyone, let alone friendly, how can you assume i would would want to be your close friend? ministers spend their entire life pretending to like a portion of the population that they really cannot stand…
pastors tend to build up that insecurity the longer they work. they feel the pressure to put numbers on the role, they also realize that people leave the church because of them. that is a heady responsibility to bear. they understand that people don't like them but it still hurts when they have people they have invested in leave the church because of them. this life can be an exercise in guilty and humility. everything that happens which is good is "to god be the glory" ...they know who is to blame if things go bad. add to this that for some reason many churches rise and fall on the health and exuberance of their pastor. after a while pastors tend to jump from one quick fix solution to another in a desperate bid to patch holes that are systemic and often metaphysical. they attend conferences and clinics designed to point out their flaws and obvious solutions. they quickly conclude that they are the problem, the issue, and the solution. they develop a messiah complex. they develop an insecurity complex…
ministers are normal people who struggle with laziness and workaholism at the same time. no one knows what they do during the week so they tend to strive too hard to be noticed or duck out when they can get away with it. they realize that some volunteers do more than they do and it drives them crazy. they vassalate between the drive to do everything and the need to let others do the work of the church. they are control freaks, often out of necessity. sometimes out of ego need.
oh ya, and we love to be compared. compared to huge churches with massive budgets and incredible bands. compared to tv evangelists who spend more on dog food than we will see in a year. compared to amazing speakers, incredible entrepeneurs, and holy monkish nerds who can pray more than we can. that kind of stuff makes us very content.
ya this is a whine but it's my blog and you don't have to read it. perhaps, though, there may be a grain of truth in what you have read. take a look at your pastor if you have one. listen to his or her brokenness strewn in amongst the exterior confidence. let them know you don't need anything from them. shut up about them when others encourage you to spill. tell someone else to shut up occasionally. don't phone them on mondays. don't critique the way they dress when they go to the bank on their day off. don't act amazed when they stumble. we all stumble.
but for God's sake, don't feel sorry for them. they chose this life and it has incredible rewards. just pay them more.
and oh ya, they won't believe you when you praise them but they will obsess when you criticize them. sounds like quite a great life huh? makes you want to join right up i bet...
as for me, i'm just taking a break to get out of the fishbowl for a while. it's a calling - a blessing and a curse. of course now i have to get a real job where people have to get up every morning and put in 8 hours and pretend to care about stuff i never imagined caring about before.”
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Wow, has he been reading my diary?
Posted by: Pastor Al | Apr 19, 2005 9:53:20 AM
Is his blog down or is there an error in the link to his blog? When I click the link in the post, there is no site there. I loved the excerpt and would love to read more from him first hand.
Posted by: Jim Walton | Apr 19, 2005 10:51:24 AM
I wish more people would have access to the book, "Shoulder to Shoulder , Strengthening Your Church by Supporting Your Pastor",by Dan Reiland. I know some churches have classes for people before they join the church in order for them to understand the basic tenets of faith. Perhaps they could add this to their list of recommended reading so people would understand and be able to be supportive of their pastors. So many people love their pastors and appreciate what they have done and are doing, don't let a few misguided souls keep you from helping those who really need you.You are the Lord's beloved and He will take care of and reward those who are faithful.God bless you!
Posted by: LD | Apr 19, 2005 11:25:03 AM
I checked the URL... it is correct... his website must be down temporarily.
Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Apr 19, 2005 11:37:24 AM
"For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fool for Christ,..." 1 Cor. 4:9-10
I feel like this sometimes as well, but what an honor to serve the Lord and His people. I would have it no other way, so I suppose I will remain a fool.
Posted by: Jade | Apr 19, 2005 11:39:58 AM
I have thought of leaving, but not for the reasons stated by Scott. Every pastor is tempted by greener pastures. Criticism comes with the territory. Any time you stick your head above the crowd you are an easy target. You will find the politicking in the secular office more irritating because it is not defined by any principles. Learn to deal with it and love your people and they cannot help but reciprocate.
I have pastored the same church for 23 years and our people love me and do many things to show their appreciation. I have it too good to leave...but think they might benefit from new blood...
Posted by: Steve M | Apr 19, 2005 2:18:20 PM
Much of what Scott says is realistic. I've been in the ministry for almost 37 years. There are days when I walk to my car, and I say, "It doesn't get any better than this." Then there are days I am counting toward my retirement. My guess is that people in just about every profession have their good days and their bad days. Over all, I can't believe that God would choose me (out of the billions of people on the earth) to lead people to love and serve Him.
Posted by: Dave | Apr 19, 2005 2:18:24 PM
I don't even know where to begin. I hear the pain, and understand it personally. I left because I couldn't please anyone anymore without dealing with the pain of my past. I am taking time away to heal. No where is it more true than in the church that we shoot our wounded. It is ok to put on the face and be brave and strong, to not have family difficulties, and to look like there is nothing going on in life that would be considered to be sin. A church member falls, we as pastors do everything we can tohelp that person. We search for jobs, take meals, find money, pray and counsel. But, let a pastor fall, and it turns into a feeding frenzy, the pastor being the bait for the congregation.
It is time for the church to wake up, and to get honest.
Posted by: Dusty | Apr 19, 2005 2:19:12 PM
Thanks for the honesty and for sharing your heart in a personal, thoughtful way. I retired from ministry at age 37 after planting a church, watching it grow to 2,000+ adults in four years, and then blowing out my life due to a moral failure.
And then God did the unthinkable. He restored my wife and family, gave me the stength to walk through a two year restoration process that ended in a new 'fit for ministry' declaration, and yet didn't put me back into a role at a church.
He did put into a my life a number of men that are daring to the impossible. These are men who are leaving (or being fired from) ministry roles at churches and are having to find creative ways to financially provide for their families.
We are beginning to really walk together around the Person of Jesus and simply love one another. We are also beginning to invest our lives into a few men that Jesus has brought into our lives and doing the same thing with them. We call it an Acts 29 experience - watching Jesus at work in the lives of His people.
And the best part - we're not down on the church. We love the church - she's the bride. We love her people. We feel called to bless and strengthen her people. Problem is, there are many of her people that often don't go to 'church' on the weekend anymore because they're hungry for something real, vulnerable, and transforming. And that doesn't happen for the most part at 'church'. It happens as Jesus gets hold of our lives and teaches us to really love Him and love one another.
So we all still go to 'church' on Sundays, but we use it as a time to orbit and pray that God will bring us to others who are hungry to be agents of change in our world. And we begin to teach and equip people to really walk with Jesus daily, walk with a few others in their life, and then to trust and wait on Jesus for direction and instructions on how to minister in His Name each day.
I'm having more fun than I've had in a long time. I'm not called pastor anymore, but I minister more effectively than maybe ever before.
God's not done with you as you move from being a pastor, maybe He's apprehending you in a fresh new way. Enjoy the ride....
Posted by: Keith Page | Apr 19, 2005 2:21:07 PM
Thanks for being real...after being in and out of fulltime church ministry over the last 20+ years...the words you use to describe the tension is so true.
From experience, one really never looses one's calling or passion...they may just find another forum to express it (it is amazing how God encourages the gifts HE gives us...no matter where you land or choose to land)
Keep the fire for God burning
Posted by: Dave | Apr 19, 2005 2:24:50 PM
Thank you for posting the blogger from Scott Williams. That is pretty much how I feel.
After 30 years of pastoring mainline churches I gave it up last July. I have served non-evangelical churches and was just tired of the continous progressive theology of the superiors and the institution of religion.
I love the Lord and am willing to come back serving a more traditional evangelical church. I am a good pastor and a good preacher. The last congregation where I served grew almost 200 in 6 years during my time there, but then I left and a more liberal pastor came and the spiritual growth that developed during those six years seemingly went down the drain.
God bless you for you service!
Bo L. Lange
Posted by: Bo Lange | Apr 19, 2005 2:25:15 PM
I left the ministry a couple of years ago because of a moral failure. I never really understood the stress that I was under until I left. It was amazing. I love the church and miss the full time ministry. I just wish people were a little kinder and a little more supportive. I have often thought about the book "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. He says that we speak and receive love in 5 ways - 1. Words of affirmation; quality time; acts of service; physical touch; and giving gifts. I think is true of the church with theri preacher. However, to often the church never proclaims love for the preacher...
Posted by: ken | Apr 19, 2005 2:33:09 PM
Man, this is what the church needs. . . transparency and authenticity. Thanks for both because they are refreshing to me. I haven't decided if it's a good idea or not for my church to see and deal with my brokenness--but I make sure they understand that it's there. It's the only way I know how to be. The duality of the fishbowl is too hard for me to live with otherwise.
Posted by: Matt | Apr 19, 2005 2:59:48 PM
yes, Scott's musings are all too real. Not close to home, but home. I struggle with the churches I serve not putting their faith in Jesus, and instead in Jerry. So much of my 20 years of ministry seems to have been for naught, even though showered with platitudes. Out? You bet, God just give me a way to care for my family. Making the invisible mystery's of God real for the flock on a continual basis is my challenge.
Posted by: Jerry | Apr 19, 2005 3:07:56 PM
When I left full-time ministry and took full-time secular employment, my interviewer was a fine Christian man who asked me why I had left the church to get an MBA. I told him, "I guess I expected people to act their best at church, when in fact most of them acted their worst."
They said things there they dared not say to their boss, spouse, parents, or children, and acted too often like immature children. I felt like a paid punching bag. I realized I could probably be more effective and happier as an involved layman than I could be as a minister. And it certianly did away with my stomach problems. In the end, I was right. I have been a happy and active churchman on the other side of the pulpit. Only in the last few years have I gone back to part-time ministry and I'm enjoying it completely. But I can walk away at any moment -- it's not my livelihood. It gives me a freedom to do and say exactly what I think is right and if any one individual doesn't like it...too bad. Maybe that's the whole problem in a nutshell. Too many pastors feel tongue-tied by the fear of losing their job, so they can't bring themselves to call people on the carpet for how they speak and act.
Posted by: Larry | Apr 19, 2005 3:10:23 PM
Yes, people can be mean, and downright ugly, but understand that this is spiritual warfare man! If the religious people persecuted Jesus, do you expect any less? I believe pastors could benefit much by spending MUCH time in the word and prayer, that's what we're called to,and paid for, to have the TIME to effectively hear His voice and be His man to HIS people. I've had plenty of opportunity for hurt in the pastorate, but would not trade this job for anything!
Posted by: glenn gingrich | Apr 19, 2005 3:13:05 PM
Bless the man for his willingness to reveal truth. I recall a Saturday broadcast from a Jewish radio show in NYC, where someone talked about writers. Paraphrasing an old memory: "The only things that merit being written down are the things that nobody can afford to talk about."
I'm just a church music director, but am capable of understanding many of the expressed emotions. An old friend I used to work with used to say this (regarding criticism from a boss): "You don't hesitate to me me when I'm wrong. Why don't you tell me when I'm right?" I think church members would be well-advised to express encouragement to their leaders more intentionally.
Last, consider Robert Frost: "... So when at times the mob is swayed to carry praise or blame too far, we may choose something like a star ... to stay our minds on, and be staid."
Posted by: Thomas LeFevre | Apr 19, 2005 3:13:27 PM
I am so sorry that there are so many unhappy overworked underapperciated pastors out there! I love my pastors (and their wives!)... and my church! I think they are the greatest! And, I have loved every church I have been a member of! And I have loved the pastors of those churches (and their wives, don't forget their wives, they are so taken for granted! Talk about underapperciated! The wives saccrifice so much, and have to put up with so much!! And they Give so much with so little acknowledgement..)! I have wanted to be involved in some kind of ministry ever since I was a kid... and I grew up Jewish!! The ladies of the synogogue I belonged to were active participants in the workings of the synogogue, and I got to help out a lot growing up!! I am So blessed to have recently married a man that also wants to be involved in ministry. The biggest turn off is when you join a new church, and they automatically want to get you to work in the nursery, as though being a woman automatically means you are going to be gifted with children, rather than making an effort to get to know you and where you are gifted, so you can use those gifts. But, that is so common a misconception in our culture, that it is accepted as a truth even in the church...Oy! LOL. Honestly, I do like kids, but that is not my calling, at least not for now... : ) But, as for burnt out pastors, I can see why they need a break, a chance to do something different, whether it is a sabatical or a career change. : )
Posted by: Felice Burns | Apr 19, 2005 3:15:04 PM
Thank you for being vocal about how many pastors feel inside. My wife and I have been in youth ministry for 7 years and we quit completely in Sept. 2003 because of the frustrations that you described. We had to deal with a lot of anger issues and a lack of desire to even go back to church. Thankfully God is not done with us. He has restore our minds and has called us to minister to those who some how have been wounded by the church. It is remarkable how many people we run into every day. We still love the church and believe that one day we will be as one. It is our goal to help bring restoration and healing to those who are struggling outside of the church body. I am in a Senior management position with a Global IT company and understand how business operates and communication. It just amazes me how all of the professionals that get together for church and forget everything they know about resolving conflict, taking care of employees, and compensating staff for a job well done. My prayer is that the church will open their eyes and see that the Pastor and his family are just like the rest. It hurts me to see Pastor's wives and children suffering because the church demands so much from one man. May the Lord open our eyes to see.
Posted by: Travis | Apr 19, 2005 3:26:37 PM
I just want to say that that is awesome how open and honest Scott was. I am new in the office of pastor, but much of what you said, I've felt myself. It is great to know that I'm not the only one who has similar feelings. My prayer is to focus on God's expectations for my life. I pray that God will continue to give you direction.
Posted by: dorion | Apr 19, 2005 3:26:45 PM
I too have left pastoral vocational ministry a few years ago, and share some similarities. Would be so good if we could just get more honesty, transparency, and vulnerability, as you greatly exemplified, among pastors and their humanity.
Posted by: djchuang | Apr 19, 2005 3:43:58 PM
"ministers spend their entire life pretending to like a portion of the population that they really cannot stand…"
Sounds like a heart problem; no wonder the Pastorial job is grating...
Pastor's have a hard row to hoe. But they aren't the only ones. Regular workers have their own problems. He sees it coming in his last paragraph:
"of course now i have to get a real job where people have to get up every morning and put in 8 hours and pretend to care about stuff i never imagined caring about before.”
Welcome to the real world...
PS: It's great to read some of the comments from Pastor's who are lovin it...
Posted by: bernie dehler | Apr 19, 2005 3:44:58 PM
Having had a brief experience in professional ministry soon after college, I sympathize with the stress created by the double standard in our congregations.
Yes, the people in the church need to learn to encourage and thank as much as they offer their criticism. That would help, but it will not happen over night.
I found that I am just not cut out for pastoring. It is not in my heart. A pastor is someone who loves his church to the level that he acts as Christ's hands for his people. Jesus took a lot of abuse and was betrayed even by his own people. He forgave them. In some cases, he just ignored the criticism. Pastors have to have thick skin toward the silly criticisms otherwise those comments will be used by the enemy to discourage and tear a Pastor down. The best pastors I know are people who are energized by serving their congregation. They aren't superhumans. They do need their rest, but they can't wait to get back with their people after they have had a break.
You also choose who to loose. Stay on course with doing the right thing as well as you can within the strength of God's spirit and if someone else isn't satisfied - so what! They are either with you or against you. They either support you in your struggles or they are against you. Jesus didn't hesitate to make the distinction clear and at the same time showed them bottomless love.
If God has not put it in our hearts to love in that way, then it is not our time to be in pastoral ministry - find something else productive to do for the kingdom while he gets you ready. I don't beleive that people should jump into pastoring just because they have the degree or its the right time in their career track. If you don't have the heart, it will betray you burn you out. Jesus didn't conduct any ministry until he was well into adult hood. Knowing what I know now at 30 years of age, I wouldn't have touched pastoral ministry when I did until I had matured and really had the heart for it.
In a quick conclusion, perhaps the blogger really needs to search his heart and either ignore the sheeps' complaining or tell them what they are doing wrong. Setting the flock straight will quickly tell you who is loyal to you and who is there to just pass their personal guilt on to you.
Posted by: John Loufik | Apr 19, 2005 4:02:57 PM
I hear and understand the pain that you are talking about. As a preacher's kid I have dealt with the kind of criticism and medling first hand most of my life. It ultimately brought my father to the point of moral failure and ultimately divorce from my mother. Now as a full time associate pastor I am beginning to understand what my dad was going through. Unfortunately the stresses of ministry have had a very negative impact on my children. Both are no longer in church.
It leaves me with a lot of questions about my personal calling, my personal effectiveness. I often feel I was a more effective minister before I went into the ministry. My family was definitely more spiritually healthy than now. Ironic isn't it. We pour out to people daily, take daily abuse, struggle with the poilitics of the ministry, cry when we're alone and put on our Sunday smiles, so we can do it all over again. But somehow in the midst of it all God still uses broken vessles like us. You are in my prayers. All of you. I trust you will pray for me and the salvation of my boys as well.
Posted by: Mike | Apr 19, 2005 4:03:04 PM
It pains me to over and over witness the pain of persons trying to serve Christ's church. Anyone who has tried it has had his/her share of the same sort of feelings that Scott expresses.
We all know that there is a calling to rise above the human frailties that are a part of the church and to walk in the heavenly instead. Unfortunately, that, too, sometimes proves a vicious circle for me. I am hurt by what something says or does toward me and my ministry. Then I remind myself of the need to rise above it all and to hear the voice of God. If that, however, is not immediately reassuring or reaffirming, then I start the blame game of "what's wrong with me that I can't rise about this?"
In the end, however, that is my salvation. God calls me to listen to him, to serve as he calls me to the best of my ability, and then to turn the critism, the hatred, or whatever the negative over to him.
Posted by: Shirley | Apr 19, 2005 4:05:17 PM
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