The 11th Reason Pastors Quit Too Soon

AmpersandPastoral ministry is hazardous work.

Study after study shows the burnout rate for people in full-time ministry is high and growing.

Tim Peters tackled this issue with a very helpful post, 10 Real Reasons Pastors Quit Too Soon.

As I read it, I noticed something missing from his list. And it may be the most important and most overlooked reason of all. I believe it is so central to our identity as pastors, that it’s an underlying factor for most of the other 10. 

I think it should be listed as the #1 reason, but I’ll settle for adding it as reason #11 for now.

Reason #11: The Drive to Build a Bigger Church

This was the 10th most-read post of 2013. Click here for the entire Top 10 list.

10 Reasons sidebarTake a look at the list on the right. How many of those stressors are influenced in both major and minor ways by our obsession with having to grow the church bigger every year?

Good people are being driven away from the call of God before they’ve done what God called them to do. This includes a tragic increase in pastoral suicides recently.

How many factors on this list would either be reduced or disappear entirely if we weren’t obsessed with the unbiblical drive to build bigger and bigger churches?

Let’s take a look at some excerpts from these 10, each followed by a few words of commentary from me.


1. Discouragement

Fifty percent of pastors report feeling so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could.

How much pastoral discouragement comes from feeling like we don’t measure up when the church doesn’t get bigger each year?


2. Failure

Seventy percent of pastors say they have a lower self-image now than when they started. Many pastors have difficulty recognizing success. They compare themselves to other pastors and other ministries. Comparisons produce only two outcomes: (1) you think you’re better, which results in excessive pride, or (2) you feel like you don’t measure up, which creates a sense of failure. The key is not to compare, but to celebrate your successes.

When our self-image is in Christ and his calling, we’re fine. When it comes from this kind of comparison, we’re in trouble. Even celebrating success will only lead to trouble if success means greater numbers.


3. Loneliness

Seventy percent of pastors do not have someone they consider a close friend. …They don’t want to come across as less than perfect. They feel they can’t be transparent and vulnerable.

A lot of this comes from operating under the top-down, pastor-as-CEO/Rancher model, rather than the pastor-as-shepherd-who-cares-for-the-sheep model. CEOs spend time on the ranch and have to keep up appearances in front of the help. Shepherds who, like Jesus, “no longer call you servants… but … friends,” can hang out with the rest of the sheep, and are less lonely.


4. Moral Failure

Thirty-three percent of pastors confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior.

Small Church pastors aren’t immune to this, of course. But I have noticed a tendency in male pastors, when we’re obsessed with external success, to give in more easily to sexual sin. We see it as a reward for success and a comfort in failure.


5. Financial Pressure

Seventy percent of pastors feel grossly underpaid. Most ministries are nonprofits so pastors are not compensated well. When you can’t fully provide the life you want for your family, it makes it hard to continue. Then you look at friends not in the ministry with big houses and nice cars…

…and a Smaller Church means smaller pay. So Small Church ministry should lead to more financial stress, right?

Wrong. This issue isn’t church size, but our attitude towards it.

80% of churches will always be small. So 80% of us will be underpaid. It goes with the calling.

Take a look at the last line of the excerpt. The stress is increased when we compare ourselves with others.


6. Anger

Each year, 4,000 new churches begin and 7,000 churches close. When things aren’t going well, pastors become angry – with others, themselves, or God. Thoughts fall along these lines: “I did everything you told me. I went to seminary. I started a ministry. Why are you not doing what you said?”

What, exactly, do we believe God said? That if we applied the right principles, we’d build a bigger church? If so, 80% of us will live in constant anger at God for something he never promised.

Here’s what he did promise: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Including overcoming our obsession with numerical success, if we let him.


7. Burnout

Ninety percent of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.

This is the toughest one for Small Church pastors. The hours are long, no doubt about it.

But long hours filled with fulfillment in following God’s call to care for the sheep don’t lead to burnout. Hours spent chasing after unbiblical numerical goals will kill us.


8. Physical Health

Seventy-five percent of pastors report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

Eat properly and exercise regularly. There’s no substitute. This may be the only one of the 10 that’s the same for all pastors, no matter what size your church is.


9. Marriage/Family Problems

Eighty percent of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.

When the ministry is about pursuing numbers, the pastor is the CEO. When you’re the CEO, church time and family time are separate times – or they’re combined in an unhealthy way where the family is also recruited into the “work” of the ministry.

When ministry is about living life with people who love Jesus and love each other, friends in the church can bring comfort to your family, just like the church does for other families in the church. The comfort and love of the people in a healthy Small Church can and should help families heal. I know. I’ve experienced it first-hand.


10. Too Busy/Driven

Ninety percent of pastors feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.

When “ministry demands” are seen as predominantly oriented towards increasing numbers and maintaining systems, instead of developing relationships, 90% of pastors are left feeling inadequate. So we make up for it by trying harder.

But if your calling is to love people, instead of managing systems – which is what most of us are called to do – no amount of hours will make up for the fact that we’re not ministering in our gifting “sweet spot” when we’re trying to build a bigger church.

No, loving people and building a bigger church are not mutually exclusive. But one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other, either.

Let’s get busy with what God called us to do. Loving people, not chasing numbers. He’ll take care of the rest. And he’ll take care of us, too.


I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. 90% of us would be better pastors, healthier people and more fulfilled in our calling if we could just acknowledge this one, simple truth.

“I’m (insert your name here) and I’m a Small Church Pastor.”


So what do you think? Have you faced increased stress over a drive for greater numbers? Would being OK with your identity as a Small Church pastor ease that burden?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Ampersand photo from kvanhorn • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

The full text of Tim Peter’s post appears at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

27 thoughts on “The 11th Reason Pastors Quit Too Soon”

  1. I agree with Brian and Chris, more great stuff! I too pray for more to find the encouragement that I have found here. I truly count your ministry as a God-send. Your insight and heart have helped to begin the turn around I have needed. Thank you friend!

  2. At first I thought you were someone else that my Husband was reading. Then I started to see some changes. Good changes. I now want to know more about who Karl is and what this is about.

    1. Hi Deena. Yeah, I’m just a Small Church pastor who learned some lessons the hard way. I’m trying to help people like you and Scott avoid some of the same pitfalls, if I can. I’m so glad you and Scott are being blessed.

  3. Not all people want a mega church, nor do they want to live in Orange County. I attend a small church and for all of you who are small church pastors, I say thank you and bless you. You see, I want a pastor who knows me by name, who will be with me in the cold spells until Jesus lifts me up into his loving arms. I want a pastor who has the same passion for God that I do. I want a pastor who teaches God Word, I want a pastor who is willing to work for the Lord hand in hand, who will fellowship with me, who is willing to learn hand in hand beside of me, I want a pastor to whom I can confide, laugh,and cry; a pastor who is my brother/sister in Christ, a pastor, who is a part of our small community, who is forthright, honest, with a love for what he is doing because he knows the Lord called him. I want a pastor who lead us in growth (not in number, but in spiritual growth). I ask the Lord daily to give all small church pastors the strength, love and wisdom they need. I ask daily for their families to be blessed. I ask daily for the Lord to bless them (It’s a calling, and not many of us could come close in following their footsteps). I am a Small Church member, and for all small church pastors remember…a small church in a small community is a mega church in a small comunity. Thank you! God Bless

    1. Thank you Diane. That was beautifully said. I’m writing tomorrow’s post on exactly this subject. Congregation members often have a greater understanding of the value of a wonderful, loving, healthy Small Church than pastors do.

  4. Very accurate. I am a small church pastor and have been for 25the years. I am on my second church plant. I spent 12time years on the first one and that church is now 25I years old. I started the church I presently pastor 13and years ago. I believe it also will remain. If I left today it would continue. Yet, I do not feel successful. I look at the size and the time it has taken and do not think I could do it again even if I had the time remaining. Keep on with articles like this. I wish I had read something like this 25 years ago!
    Pastor Darrell McAdams
    Pastor of Living Waters Church in Cleveland, Tx.

    1. Hi Darrell,

      You’re not alone in feeling like this. From what you’ve said in your comment, it sounds like you’ve served the people and honored God well. It’s sad that our obsession with numbers has left too many servants like you feeling like failures.

      I wish I’d read something like this 25 years ago myself. That’s why I’m writing it now. Out of my own sense of failure, the Lord has helped me find a new way to define success in ministry. It’s time to spread that good word around!

  5. Hi Karl,

    I just found your site today, and I’m feeling so encouraged by the thoughts and ideas you and others have expressed here. I am a church planter in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My church is 9 years old, and we have about 60 people in worship each week. It is the healthiest church I’ve ever seen. Still, when you’re a church planter, the focus on growth is even more intense. The pressure to “Grow or Die” is constant. So many of us start with next-to-nothing for resources, so if we can’t quickly grow the church to enough people to pay our salary and the rent on the building, the denomination pulls the plug – sometimes after only two years! Fortunately, my denomination has allowed us to continue to do ministry out of our inherited church building (which used to be a house) without charging us any rent. This has allowed us to stay afloat, but I continue to work at about a half-time salary for doing full-time work.

    I would love to see a special section or collection of articles on your site about the unique pressures of new church pastors who find themselves as small church pastors – and facing possible extinction if they don’t get the numbers up quickly enough. As difficult as it is for any pastor to see a church fail, it is twice as painful for a new church pastor to watch something she created be dismantled and dissolved because she couldn’t get enough butts in seats.

    Thanks again for this site!
    Pastor Laura Guy
    Living Water Christian Church
    Parkville, MO

    1. Hi Laura,

      I’m so glad you found us! Your story sounds very familiar for a lot of church planters. I’d love to do some pieces on that subject, but not having planted a church myself, what I have to offer will be limited.

      In the meantime, based on your comment, I’ve added a brand-new discussion forum today, entitled “Church Planters”. You can find it under the FORUM tab on the main menu.

      There are no topics started there yet. Maybe you can be the first one to get a conversation started! Hopefully it can be a place where small church planters can get together to share ideas and experiences.

  6. hi Karl read your thoughts and thank you for your encouragement was just what i need i’m a pastor of a small church and i’m so blessed with the people i have around me and thanks a again for sharing your insights. i have to confess i did go through burnout in another church my wife and i pastored and i can tell you i learned a lot of lessons from that experience, and thankfully i am a better person for it and more mature in my out look on ministry.
    God bless you richly and your ministry Karl

  7. Of course, while we are not to be indifferent and holding a “never-mind” attitude toward the growth of the church, we are to be alert so that “ego-centric” motive stands in the way which becomes the catalyst of all the 11 reasons that might cause us to quit too soon. We are to work faithfully (hard enough) yet joyfully whether there is growth or not. Do our best with joy and leave to God the rest!

    1. Spotted a grammatical mistake: Second line should read: be alert so that “ego-centric” motive WILL NOT stand in the way…….

  8. Karl,

    I have been in ministry for 18 years, and the last 14 years I have been on staff at two large churches (above 3,000 and the first four years of ministry serving as a youth pastor at a small church) serving as the lead youth pastor of large youth ministries. The past year I moved to a new role at my church as a neighborhood pastor, overseeing about 1,000 people…

    The reason for this comment is I have recently resigned my position as neighborhood pastor at my current church, and have accepted a senior pastor position at a church in another state (We start in January). This church is a three and a half year old church plant that runs about 120 in attendance. It isn’t yet self supporting, so we will need to raise a portion of our salary… I will be the only paid staff, and the church doesn’t own a building, but meets at a high school… I am 40 years old, married, and have three kids (Ages – 20 yr old, 17 yr old, and 15 yr old).

    What advice or links to articles could you recommend to help prepare me for what we are about to do? I have just recently started following your blog and Twitter feed. I have really gotten a lot out of what I have read so far, but would like to find more specific articles that speak to situations like the one I am about to be a part of… Anything you have will be a big help.


    1. That’s a tough one, Joe. The reason I wrote my book and started this ministry was because I couldn’t find what you’re looking for.

      Not to be too self-promotional, but I’d start with The Grasshopper Myth. It doesn’t deal with practical aspects so much (that might be my next book) but with setting the right tone and attitude. If you order it in print, I’ll add a free copy of Jim Powell’s book, Dirt Matters with it. It’s a new, very good book with practical steps for developing a healthy church culture (the dirt the church is planted in).

      You might also want to check out my six-part series on church turnarounds at this link:

      I wish I had more for you – especially about how to meet your family’s financial needs. This is a much-needed area of church leadership, but the resources are slim. But, then again, if there was a lot of material out there on this subject I doubt I’d have written my book or started this blog.

  9. Pingback: What If We Made Disciples and Left Growth to God? | New Small Church

  10. Great article. I am finding this very helpful. We planted 5.5 years ago with a shoe string budget (under 3k) and 5 people. We are very small and as a church planter one of the hardest things I faced was being bi-vocational.

    @ Joe who is going to pastor the church of 120 people I would say either learn to live on less ( a lot less) or find a job to supplement. God has blessed me with a great job outside the ministry. Also depending on the structure of the church review the budget for any areas that can be trimmed to move you towards full time quicker. Many churches pay $500-$600 a month for a copier. Can you do e bullitens on the website? Do you really need bullitens, can you use kinko’s etc.

    We had to do a very hard thing recently. We moved from a store front location to an office. It saves us $400.00 a month, it was hard because it can be viewed as a step backwards, but God is good and His favor put us in a great office. Some of the members were not happy losing the store front but it had to be done for the health of the church. Besides all that the building we were in was falling apart and we did not have the money to fix it up. Part of the ceiling fell down one Sunday when I was preaching. May God bless you sir.

  11. This is such a wonderful post. I am a small church pastor and I am going into my 3rd year as pastor.. This article is very encouraging because i have heard other people in church leadership say that small churches don’t survive and that is so discouraging. I believe the word of God when Jesus said Matthew 18:20
    For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” When Christ becomes the focus size does not matter. Also this is very good advice and helpful for a newbie such as myself Thank you,

    1. I’m so glad this could be a blessing to you, Lora. Don’t let anyone tell you that Small Churches can’t survive and thrive. That idea is not borne out by the facts. Megachurches are great, but they’re the new kids on the block and are still very rare. Small Churches are, and have always been the norm for the body of Christ – a body that has been surviving and thriving for 2,000 years and counting.

  12. Pingback: Here's an Idea, What If We Left "Church Growth" to God?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *