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Why Should a Pastor Leave a Church

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Why Should a Pastor Leave a Church

A Pastor should leave a church when either directed by the Holy Spirit, or after a prolonged period of being abused by membership. As Jesus told His first Disciples, and later Apostles: “If you go to a city, and they will not receive you, kick the dust off of your sandals as a witness against them. It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in that day than for that city.”

The decision to leave can be difficult. Understanding reasons is crucial for the entire body because ultimately the Lord must be worshipped. Here are reasons a Pastor may leave a church:

1. Abusive Conflict with Church Leadership: One of the most common reasons for a church leader to “exit stage left” is due to ongoing abusive conflict with the congregation. This conflict can be about church direction, finances, or issues related to overall governance. In some cases, these can be resolved through loving one (1) another, repentance, and reconciliation. However, sometimes the conflict may be so deep-seated that the Pastor feels the need to step down.

2. Burnout: As a Pastor, this one (1) is personal to me. Not because I am, or expect to be burned out, but because we do this to ourselves and then blame others! I have no pity for church leaders who become burned out, none. They know what the Word teaches and willingly ignore it. The Bible says: “to He who will not put more on you than you can handle.” In effect, burned out Pastors are saying “this is God’s (or His sheep’s) fault because He (they) put more on me than I can handle”. Wait, what?

3. Health Concerns: Health concerns can also play a role in such decisions. For example, a leader may be dealing with a serious illness which prevents performance of duties. In other cases, the stress of ministry takes a toll on mental/physical health. This is very real and more common than any can imagine. As discussed in the previous reason (#2), this can come from taking on too much responsibility and above that which the Lord commanded.

4. New Ministry Opportunities: In some cases, church leaders feel “called” to other places. “Who” and “what” is calling is another conversation. Most often, the “who” and “what” is a bigger church with more money. I mean, really, how many times have you seen a Pastor leave a larger church, for a smaller one (1) for less money? Church Pastors, and I know hundreds, are “vicious careerists” in many ways, just like people in the world. Don’t be fooled by polite smiles and false humility!

5. Family Considerations and Issues: This is one (1) which may be real, and I withhold any critical commentary. Our families, according to 1st Timothy 3, is a measuring stick for ministry readiness and performance. We cannot function properly when our home is not “in order”.

6. It’s time: The days of a Pastor sitting in one (1) church for multiple decades are fading fast! Ministries oftentimes need fresh voices to grow and there is nothing wrong with this. While I would hesitate to give a length of service number (in years), we should always be thinking about succession and preparing the next generation.

In summary, there are numerous reasons Pastors may leave. The Lord has a way of speaking which is often painful to hear. For the real Pastors (not the self-called) who just love serving the Lord, leaving a church can be a devastating development regardless of reason. For the vicious careerists who are always looking for the bigger, better deal, it is a chance to move on to greener pastures. Remember “green” (money) being relative. Praise God for the former, and the Lord will aggressively deal with the latter.

Why Do People Abuse Pastors

People abuse Pastors because too often, we allow this to continue. Let me be clear: God’s people, like children, are testing boundaries with authority. As I have said previously, “members” (who are not Saints), are probably the most vicious people one (1) will ever meet. This is so because the standard is higher for us, so the abuse hurts that much more. Nevertheless, church members will poke and prod to see what they can get away with. Once the line is crossed, church leaders must confront the conduct immediately.

I love my REAL Pastoral brethren, but they have a totally twisted and unbiblical definition of “grace”. In their world, showing grace is being unresponsive and “allowing the Lord work it out”. This fails to see that if God has given us the “staff of the shepherd”, this grants authority to better align sheep with God’s Will. Further, we must understand that there is grace in confrontation, rebuke, and instructions in righteousness as well. Although, in context, that refers to “confronting the man of God“, it is also the basis for sermonic presentations to God’s people!

Here are other reasons people abuse church leaders:

1. Church members are lost: In an academy award winning movie from the mid-1990s, a disabled man’s mother said: “stupid is as stupid does”. I refer to these people as church members because they have yet to have a salvation experience or have long ago backslid. They are not the same as “Saints” of the Most-High God. The Bible says: “people of the world do what is natural to them because they comprehend not the things of the spirit”.

2. They have been abused: When we become born again Believers, we begin the process of leaving everything behind. There is irrefutable research data which says those who have been abused, and yet are, tend to do so to others. In a certain way, they do this to try and take back what was taken from them. Whether that be power, respect, or even peace of mind, this is the absolute wrong way to recapture our humanity! Further, it is well-known that Pastors are rarely confrontational with abusers, so why wouldn’t an unregenerate abuser victimize and bully someone who won’t fight back?

3. Most Pastors are weak: there is a difference between “meekness” and “weakness”. Essentially, meekness is having the power to respond but not doing so for Holy Ghost reasons. Weakness is not having the ability respond, so refusing to do so. When either of these are coupled with the misunderstanding of “grace”, Pastors become unnecessary whipping posts. This must be balanced, however, with understanding saying the wrong thing to God’s people, at the wrong time, can cost us everything.

In summary, there are many reasons, even beyond those listed, that abused Shepherds suffer at the hands of church demons. Most of all, it is a failure to set ongoing, consistent, and appropriate boundaries. I called a leadership meeting at our church a few months back. A Deacon was out of control, sounded somewhat threatening towards me, and would not accept the first step of Matthew 18:15-17. At this gathering, I reminded our leadership team, that it was their choice or not on whether I remain Pastor. However, for as long as I do, I will not accept abuse.

What Churches Should Do When a Pastor Leaves

When a leader departs, congregations should immediately go into a time of prayer, fasting, and reflecting. As was posited before, there are reasons why a congregational leader will “justly” depart. However, there are also times when, because of “internal injustice”, his (or “hers” if that is your thing) departure is hastened.

Here are things a church must do when a pulpit becomes vacant:

1. Reflect on the reason: having pastored for some years now, there is one (1) thing I find almost universally true: people who do the most damage to leadership never admit it. Further, they always feel justified in upending the entire church’s direction. There is a time and season for everything as King Solomon said. There is also a time to be confrontational with Pastoral abusers, and a time for them to be the same with theirs. Instead of immediately seeking a new Pastor, and forming some ineffective and blind search committee, repent and pray. Abuse takes time for either party to get past so slow down and heal.

2. Confront the church “in crowd”: If discovered that the reason for a Pastor leaving is a certain group of members abusing him, the entire body should confront these evil doers! Someone once said: “all evil needs to do to prosper is the righteous do nothing”. I am a witness to this reality! The “in crowd” is typically smaller than the entire church body. The entire body, or at least a larger number, needs to righteously confront these people and discipline them (Matthew 18:15-17). If not, the same thing will happen with the next church leader.

3. Examine Pastoral misconduct and rejoice: if you’re church dismissed a Pastor for impeachable misconduct, rejoice and praise God! You are one (1) of the few congregations with the biblical acumen, Holy Ghost boldness, and faith enough to stand against wickedness. However, too often real Preachers are thrown out for nonsense such as personality conflicts, a leader’s refusal to compromise on righteousness, or other trivial foolishness. Of course, I am not telling you to take pleasure in the death of a Pastorate. What I am saying, however, is any time God frees people from being abused by leaders, and it was done according to His Word, great is thy faithfulness!

In summary, there are things people should do when a Pastor leaves. Most of all, pray, fast, and take the next step in your church’s journey with the Most-High God. If the reasons lie with the Pastor, and their conduct, move on and rejoice that you been freed from religious tyranny. If because of the church’s abuse of the leader, repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Header Image Courtesy of Joe @ Pixabay

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