Why Young Pastors Leave the Ministry

There is an epidemic occurring right under the nose of church middle judicatories and no one seems to notice. Young pastors (less than five years in the ministry) are leaving in droves. The Lilly Foundation has poured millions of dollars into “Sustaining Pastoral Ministry” initiatives and it’s too soon to tell whether or not their approach is working. Aside from the obvious reasons pastors leave the ministry (sexual impropriety, financial mismanagement, and marital dissolution) here are the top ten reasons why young pastors call it quits:

1. The discontinuity between what they imagined ministry to be and what it actually is is too great.

2. A life without weekends sucks.

3. The pay is too low (most pastors in my denomination make less money than a school teacher with five years experience).

4. They are tired of driving ten year old cars while their congregations trade in their cars every two years.

5. Many young pastors are called into difficult congregations that chew pastors up and spit them out because experienced pastors know better.

6. Even though the search committee told them they wanted to reach young people, they didn’t really mean it.

7. When the pastor asked the search committee if they were an “emergent church”, the members of the search committee thought he said “divergent church” and agreed.

8. Nobody told the young pastor that cleaning the toilets was part of the job description.

9. The young pastor’s student loans came due and the amount of money he/she owes on a monthly basis exceeds his/her income.

10. Working at McDonalds has alot less stress.

Why do you think young pastors are leaving in the ministry in droves?

This post comes from the NakedReligion blog… I find the ten reasons that he came up with to be quite intriguing.  See what you think… (Sorry, but this post is no longer available at its original source)



  • Jim May 2, 2013 Reply

    Most new pastors (no age distinctions) and the church at large, have put such an emphasis on formal education that they have forgotten the priceless value of mentors. And many who ought to be mentors are put off by the new pastors who have styles and pasts that are different and push the edge of the envelope. We need an environment within ministry to cultivate mentoring relationships where new pastors rely on the wisdom, insight, and experience of “seasoned” pastors. Those experienced pastors must be willing to set aside the style differences and make a long-term investment in lives and ministry of new pastors.

    • Bob July 15, 2013 Reply

      Young pastors leave ministry because of the self focus, nepotism, negligence of many senior pastors. Most senior pastors just want to hire someone to work with people groups that he does not have the patience for. Normally senior pastors are more interested in socializing with their big donors than mentoring and entrusting their associates for ministry.

      I have been in ministry for 20 years as an associate working with all age groups in large and medium size church. I never made more than a starting school teacher’s salary each year. All of the pastors I worked with made 50 to 100 percent difference in salary with similar amount of experience and education. Even though I carried a more significant administrative role, it made little difference.

      I am now a school teacher. A teacher receives a grand total of 14 weeks off every year (which includes all holidays).Upon receiving certification and being granted years of experience for similar educational experience, I now make 55 percent more than I made in ministry and with more time off. I also spend more time with children and teens in the public school than I ever did in the local church.

      I believe most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, know that the only two full time employees needed in any local church is the janitor and the secretary. The pastors need to mingle with the mangled during the week in a job that uses their gifts and spread the load with a team of folks in pastoral ministry part time throughout the week. The results are much better. Less stress. More joy. I am doing that right now.

  • Scott Burdett May 2, 2013 Reply

    @ Jim- You are spot on.

  • Lane Corley May 2, 2013 Reply

    Spot on!

  • Chet Thomas May 2, 2013 Reply

    I have seen/experienced a number of these on this list. Some of it (not really having weekends) you know about beforehand.

    Numbers 5 and 6 are pet peeves of mine. How many churches call a Pastor, telling him, “We need a new vision for this church,” and then are shocked when the Pastor starts bringing in a lot of changes?

    • Rev Steve December 25, 2013 Reply

      I was hired by the church search committee to bring about change, to take the church into “new places where it’s never been before.” When I got there, the existing church body just wanted to play “church as usual.”

  • David Watson May 2, 2013 Reply

    I think the mentoring aspect that has been mentioned is a huge issue. It certainly was for my in my first five years. I intentionally sought them out and found some who were willing, some who were not, and some who said they were but didn’t return my calls afterward. That marked me.

    I think a larger issue, though, is a lack of value placed on their contribution to ministry. I certainly don’t mind scrubbing toilets, putting up tables, and vacuuming. But when that’s all a young pastor is entrusted with, their gifting and calling are being frustrated and bottled. That would drive anyone at any age away.

  • Chuck May 2, 2013 Reply

    #1 is definitely “#1” in my experience: disillusionment.

    Not justifying it, just saying.

  • rickchromey May 2, 2013 Reply

    Great list, but I think the real blame lies not in the pastor but the school of ministry.

    Here’s my full response: http://verticalchristianity.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/the-real-reason-young-ministers-leave-the-pastorate/

    • Chet Thomas May 2, 2013 Reply

      Rick, I agree, I think our Ministry Schools are definitely part of the issue; there needs to be more of an emphasis on how to be a mentor and a little less on how to be a church manager. That said, a lot of these guys come into seminary with an “I’m God’s Gift to the Modern Church” attitude, and no amount of education will take that away.

    • jgeerdes May 3, 2013 Reply

      I would agree that our schools are certainly turning out people who are ill-prepared for the ministry, but I’m not sure how much of it is their fault. The reality is that too many churches send their students off to these schools expecting the schools to turn them into ministers, but that’s not what schools do. Schools turn people into students. Churches turn people into ministers. The ministry education process needs to start long before someone even recognizes the call to vocational ministry. It starts with parents and other saints who are willing to pour into young lives, mentoring and also allowing the youngsters to engage and minister to their own ability. It continues with youth leaders and/or pastors who deliberately invest time and energy into more mentoring, developing and calling out the gifts (as Paul mentioned had been done for Timothy). It builds momentum with the student heading off to Bible college or seminary, where he/she is taught to teach him/herself because there is no possible way any mentoring or schooling could ever fully prepare someone for ministry. It accelerates when the student finally becomes the pastor, at least in title. Inevitably, new pastors think they’re going to hit the ground running, but end up just hitting the ground, bouncing a couple of times, and then, if they’re blessed, rolling.

      I have learned that some of the best ministry happens when I’m rolling.

    • Dave May 3, 2013 Reply

      Good article Rick. One of the things that I see in the young pastors I know is that few of them are willing to put in the hours that are necessary. I don’t mean hours of study, or hours of paper work. I mean hours of hanging out with people that they want to lead. Some think their diploma gives them the right to lead so they get bent out of shape when people do not follow them. I find that when I take the time to engage someone – truly attempt to know them, ask for their story, and take and interest – they return the favor. The people I lead are not just sheep in the flock. They are my friends, my accountability partners, the people I get honest with when I am struggling in one way or another. Seminary gave me information, but it did not prepare me for being a pastor – most of that, I learned the hard way in the trenches of messy lives.

      • Chet Thomas May 3, 2013 Reply

        “few of them are willing to put in the hours that are necessary. I don’t mean hours of study, or hours of paper work. I mean hours of hanging out with people that they want to lead.”

        This is something I have had to learn the hard way: taking the time to get to know the people you seek to lead, and gaining their trust.

  • Karl Vaters May 2, 2013 Reply

    I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that 80-90% of the churches in the world are small (under 250 people). Which means that’s where 80-90% of the lead pastor positions are.

    Not every church will grow large enough to have a full staff, or even their own facilities. Most won’t. But no one tells ministers in training that they’re likely to spend some, most, or all their pastoral ministry years in a Small Church, dealing with Small Church issues.

    It’s very discouraging to be taught from the perspective of a large or megachurch with a diverse staff, full pay and adequate facilities, then get thrust into the reality of a Small Church. Our seminaries and bible schools need to do a better job preparing ministry students for this reality.

  • Trapper May 2, 2013 Reply

    A ten-year-old car is actually one year NEWER than the average car in the US these days, so THAT can’t be it…….! 🙂

  • Rikie May 2, 2013 Reply

    #3, 4, 5, & 6 have combined to make my first pastorate a nightmare. And I was already in full time ministry as an associate for 10 years first. After 6 years here I am very broken. I have experienced great churches and toxic ones. And this one is definitely toxic. The last three pastors have all been new, and they have shredded all of them. If it were not for two different colleague groups I would have been done two years ago.

  • Jim May 2, 2013 Reply

    For those of us who are currently in difficult situations, please be assured there are people who care. See the Directory of CareGivers ministries at http://www.caregiversforum.org/directory.htm
    These ministries offer various levels of care and rest; some are free others have fees.

  • Peter D May 2, 2013 Reply

    I left full time ministry for one reason only. I cannot support a family in the United States on those wages. I now sit on the board of a church that has a substantial income and is debt free. Where I am at, I am the sole voice in making sure that our pastor AND FAMILY are well provided for. This is the biblical model. Take care of those who take care of you spiritually. Anything less is the result of a church that continues to happily sit in the squallier of their sin. Harsh? Yes.

    • Frustrated Pastor May 23, 2013 Reply

      Would you be willing to share your story with me about you transition from ministry to “secular” work? I’m currently in the same situation that you were in.

  • Adrian May 2, 2013 Reply

    Pastoring is not for wimps!

    • Jim May 2, 2013 Reply

      People who get wounded are not wimps. Anyone serving on the front line of the battle has the potential of being wounded. Sometimes those wounds are so severe as to prevent a return to the front line. Sometimes they require a long recovery and there are some instances when a return to the battle, even in a support mode, would be unwise.

      • Adrian May 3, 2013 Reply

        Generally speaking…pastoring is not for wimps.

  • Tim Ghali (@tg24) May 3, 2013 Reply

    Needed conversation, especially as the Boomers retire throughout this decade.

    Appreciated the comments on mentoring. I’m in my thirties and I’ve appreciated a number of seasoned pastors speaking into my life. Those who have been most helpful are the ones who advised how to adapt and serve your culture and context.

    The consumerism mindset in our churches is driving a lot of these points though. In a number of places, the unwritten rule is “If we don’t like the changes you’re making, we’ll kick you out or make you miserable until you choose to leave.” That’s not cynicism – that’s a reality in a number of churches. It’s usually said a lot more spiritual than that and I suppose in some cases, they may miss this reality by being sincerely blind to it.

    Stil, I have been encouraged by the number of pastors who have been fulfilling their calling by being bi-vocational and church-planting. May not be ideal, may not be sustainable throughout their careers, but it’s kept some great people in ministry today.

    I have also been encouraged by some of the churches who have responded to these issues. This has been refreshing and empowering for me in my current context.

    Some other good things happening – vocationally and non – thankful for that as we serve to build the Kingdom.

  • Dave May 3, 2013 Reply

    Although I agree that pastoring is not for wimps, I also think that most churches still see the work of ministry being the job of the pastors and not of the people. I have been involved in two church plants and I have served at two mega churches. I also served on the team of a small church which grew to 600. In the small church or church plant setting I had to be able to anything and everything. The big problem? I am not Jesus!
    In the giant churches I was able to settle into my areas of strength and excel. I didn’t have to lead 20 ministries. I could specialize in those areas that fit how God has wired me. Every position will have those areas that are less enjoyable, but when I have about 85% overlap between who I am and what my job requires me to do, life is good!
    I am leading people who are doing the ministry. It is not my ministry, it is theirs. My role is to equip them to do their ministry. I am constantly amazed at how much someone with a family, a full time job, and hobbies will do in ministry if I give them the permission, the proper tools and the power to make decisions. I am their coach, not their boss. I love it when I hear, “Pastor, I can’t believe you are letting me do this, but I love that I get to ________.”
    The question is, as pastors, do we need the credit or are we willing to set other people up to be the hero?

  • Frustrated Pastor May 23, 2013 Reply

    I’m a young pastor, 32 years old, and I am so close to leaving the church forever. In my nearly 9 years in ministry, I have began to loose faith in this whole church “thing”. Let me explain.

    One of the biggest factors for me is income. I look at my friends who are making, in many cases, 3 times the amount I make while I sit drowning in over $90,000 of student loan debt, not including my wife’s student loans. On top of that, I am also a new father with a 2 month old little one. Not only am I underpaid, my church cannot afford to put anyone, other than myself, on insurance, therefore there is no safety net for my family.

    The other big factor in my frustration is church members themselves. It has been emotionally, and spiritually, shattering to see how church members really behave. I have never seen a more hateful, backbiting, closed-minded group of people. It amazes me that people who proclaim to follow Jesus, a loving and compassionate person, could be so the exact opposite.

    As I am looking to get out of my current ministry setting I am running into two major road blocks: 1) No one outside of churches wants to hire a minister, and 2) if was to stay in a ministry setting and hope things might better in another congregation, older ministers are not retiring/moving on an making way for the new generation of pastors.

    • Jim May 23, 2013 Reply

      Brother, I feel your pain. Please find someone to talk to. You can find a list of people who really care about pastors at http://www.caregiversforum.org/directory.htm or contact me at nKurEdge@gmail.com.

    • jgeerdes May 23, 2013 Reply

      Frustrated Pastor,

      I fully understand your pain. I just turned 33. I have been pastoring at the same church for 11 years. Before we arrived, the church had been in decline for most of 50 years. This year, our average attendance (32) will be virtually unchanged from when my wife and I moved here more than a decade ago. This means that we are contending with a very similar salary situation. In addition, while my wife and I have made substantial progress at repaying our school loans and such, we still owe a significant amount. And I can attest that we have indeed seen the ugly side of people as well. Indeed, even when so-called Christians are not hateful, backbiting, and closed-minded, they tend to be lazy, apathetic creatures with little interest in growing spiritually, giving sacrificially, or pursuing a life of Christ-likeness.

      I will echo Jim’s advice. Find someone to talk to. Perhaps your denominational structure allows you a bishop or overseer of some sort to talk with. If not – or if you’re not in a denomination – then I would strongly recommend finding a fellow pastor who will be your friend (i.e., someone you can just sit down with, be real, and unload). If you don’t have anyone that you can do that with, contact someone on the caregiversforum.com list, please contact Jim, or I will also offer myself: jrgeerdes gmail.com

      God did not intend for His ministers to be chewed up and spit out. He did not intend for us to be bitter. The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace… – were meant for us, too, regardless of our present circumstances.

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