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

The full text of Tim Peter’s post appears at

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