We often hear of pastors who step away from pastoring to pursue other opportunities, some within vocational ministry and some within the marketplace. At times there are moral failures that disqualify leaders from their roles. At times the pastors develop a passion or sense God calling them to something else. And at times the pastors move away from local church ministry because of conflict or burnout or crushing expectations that steal precious time from their families.
In January of 2016, LifeWay Research released the results of a study on why pastors leave pastoring before retirement. In other words, why is it that some leaders tap out of pastoring, even after years of doing so, and move in a completely different direction? The results of the research, which includes 734 pastors, are published here. Here are five concerns I have after reading through the research:
1. Most pastors who leave the pastorate feel isolated.
Sixty percent of the pastors who left pastoring reported feelings of isolation. I am not surprised that any person would leave isolation; especially if they are convinced the Christian faith is to be interdependent and communal. None of us are beyond the need for community, as God uses community to shepherd and sanctify us. If you are a pastor who preaches on community but lives in isolation, do whatever you can to be in community.
2. Almost half of the pastors who leave the pastorate feel they were misled.
Forty-eight percent of those who left the pastorate feel the team who hired them failed to accurately describe the context they were stepping into. This seems alarmingly high. I am sure that most of those search teams did not realize they were misleading the pastor, but they simply had a limited view or understanding of the context. Regardless, this data point encourages pastors to take more time evaluating the context before they commit, with important questions like: How will the church receive change? What does the church understand the role of the pastor to be? What are the real values beneath the surface?
3. Almost half of the pastors who leave the pastorate do not feel prepared.
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SOURCE: Church Leaders – By Eric Geiger