If you want to continue using the old site, you still can here.
  • Favorites
  • Print
  • Rate Me

preaching article Preacher to Preacher: Three Vital Questions Before You Quit the Ministry

Preacher to Preacher: Three Vital Questions Before You Quit the Ministry

based on 8 ratings
Oct 30, 2012
Scripture: none
(Suggest Scripture)


"Some were called and some were sent; and some just got up and went!" A hard-nosed, angry woman, member of a local congregation whose long-term pastor had run off the tracks and was forcibly removed from ordained ministry, used those old lines to spout her opinion of my predecessor. My call was to help the congregation find recovery and a vision for a new day.

Regrettably, that departing pastor was not alone—or a rarity. Recent reports indicate an average of 1,500 pastors quit the ministry every month, some forcibly because of ministry malfeasance and others because they have come to the end of their ropes and cannot carry on any more.

I just spoke with three of them in the past 12 days. All three are gifted preachers, and from all reports are caring pastors. I am saddened that they will no longer be counted among us. What is equally startling is that the report about pastors leaving ministry also says about 50 percent of pastors serving American congregations are so discouraged in ministry that they would quit if they could afford to do so. It is a shallow, cheap shot to dismissively respond to this phenomenon by saying these pastors must not have been called.

In my 40 years of pastoral ministry, I have met a few pastors whose ways made me wonder if they really wanted, or needed, to be in ministry. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt. 7:16). It seems safe to assume that where the fruit is lacking is a good indicator of a lack of heavenly call. Some of those whose fruit seems absent or poisoned are still placed in congregations; in a few of those cases, that scares me. Experience as a pastor and now a seminary professor makes me all too aware that some people seem to miss their calling. A pastor leaving the ministry is not always a terrible thing. Sometimes, it is a good thing; some pastors need to tough it out.

Let's face it: Pastoral ministry is not for wimps! Read Paul's words in the New Testament pastoral epistles; but before you go there, consider the strangest blessing in all of holy writ, which seems to be laser-targeted toward pastors: "Blessed are you," Jesus said, "when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).

Did you catch that "prophets who were before you" phrase? Whoever said pastoral ministry is always fun and easy was either smoking something funny or just flat out lying! Maybe they just don't know much about what it means to be called.

That "prophets who were before you" phrase also reminds us that prophet persecution preceded Jesus' ministry. I am remembering Elijah, whom Ahab called Israel's trouble-maker (see 1 Kings 18:17); but there were others who because of their faithful proclamation suffered, and some left or at least wished they could.

Paul, recalling Elijah's experience, wrote, "God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appealed to God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.' But what is God's reply to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' So, too, at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:2-5).

So before you quit: Remember you are not the first, and you are not alone! The same God who was there for Elijah's dark moment is here always for you and yours.

I posed these three vital questions to the young pastors who said they were considering throwing in the towel at their tough place: First, "Are your hands clean?" Second, "Is your heart pure?" Third, "Is your Savior sufficient to see you through this?"

If your answer is not in the affirmative to any of these, then do what you must to make it right. If your answer is yes, then ask yourself, "Am I following my calling?" I know about this because I am one who once tried to quit and could not find the heart peace to walk away. I learned that sometimes the devil sends some folks after you because you are giving him a hard time. If that is what it is, stand tall in Jesus and keep on truckin' for Him!

Two of my three questions, you probably guessed, are taken from Psalm 24:

"Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (Ps. 24:3-5).

The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is professor of ministry and preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia and Due West, SC. A Presbyterian minister, he was most recently senior pastor of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church in Augusta, GA.

Talk about it...

Brad Brucker avatar
Brad Brucker
0 days ago
Thank you Leslie! Great article, so much more could be said. A pastor friend shared while encouraging young pastors "All our difficulties and discouragements in pastoral ministry are very similar." He went on, "The one big difference with pastors who can better handle disappointment and discouragement is time." Time in the ministry enables us to develop a thicker skin. I believe Chuck Swindol said something like, "The pastor who perseveres with joy is the pastor who increasingly developes a thick skin and a soft heart!" And there is no substitute for time is such development! But us older pastors, like Leslie must be willing to mentor and encourage the younger ones like Paul did with Timothy and Titus! Blessings!
Dennis Munn avatar
Dennis Munn
0 days ago
Good article, as far as it goes. Sadly, the author doesn't address why 1500 ministers leave ministry each month, or offer possible solutions.
Daniel E. Simmons avatar
Daniel E. Simmons
0 days ago
From a worldly perspective, the pastorate will never be worth it... I think it is designed that way so that we must depend on God and a steady prayer life... we have to remember the people we have helped along the way and realize that God does not make mistakes when it comes to putting people in ministry... we are the ones with the problems.
Dan Shoaf avatar
Dan Shoaf
0 days ago
I appreciated this article. I think the two other statements in Psalm 24 are appropriate sources of questions as well. It has been my experience that pastors are often discouraged because they have lifted up their soul to an idol...such as having a large, growing church, or the kind of dynamics demonstrated by the early church. Pastors aren't often a deceptive bunch, but they often have problems speaking hard truths that need to be spoken to members and leaders, and they indirectly deceive themselves and others by their grandiose expectations.
Joshua W Speights Jr avatar
Joshua W Speights Jr
0 days ago
Thank you for your insight. I recently convened a leadership meeting to discuss pledging to our church building project. I was met with direct reasons why some in leadership would not pledge. One reason was that this particular leader felt that the church was not read to build because there was too much dissension in the church. It shocked me because I was not aware that there were those in leadership in disobedience to the vision. I felt like quitting then, but I reflected upon those who had not bowed down to Baal and praise god I still pressing on. Thank you for this encouraging word, being a Pastor is extremely difficult when so many disobey the Pastor who speaks for God believing that they have the right to do so.
Judy Humphrey-Fox avatar
Judy Humphrey-Fox
0 days ago
I recently read "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna. Their basic premise is that many of the things we do in the church aren't based on the New Testament, but rather on the cultures in which the church has developed. The NT churches were more like what we would now call "house churches". There were no ordained clergy. Every Christian was responsible for meeting with brothers and sisters, sharing testimonies, offering teaching as the Holy Spirit led, and being part of the flow of the worship experience. Elders, like everyone else in the church fellowship, had "full-time jobs" in the "secular" world. Apostles traveled among the churches giving instruction and guidance. The position of pastor, as we now know it, simply didn't exist. Viola and Barna contend that the major reason for clergy burn-out is that we're trying to do a ministry that Jesus never intended anyone to do. Their biblical study and historical research seems to me to be right on the mark. I joined "the ministry" with a very strong sense of "calling". I've been following that call for over 24 years. Viola and Barna have helped me understand my sometimes ambivalent feelings about "the ministry". Perhaps the issue isn't about pastors getting thicker skinned, or congregations being kinder or more supportive. Could it be that we're part of a system that is very far from what Jesus intended his church to be?
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
@Dennis Munn. Here are some statistics that address why 1500 ministers leave the ministry: 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches. 50 percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce. 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor. 50 percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. 80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first 5 years. 90 percent of pastors said their seminary or Bible school training did only a fair to poor job of preparing them for ministry. 85 percent of pastors said their greatest problem is they are sick and tired of dealing with problem people, such as disgruntled elders, deacons, worship leaders, worship teams, board members, and associate pastors. 90 percent said the hardest thing about ministry is dealing with uncooperative people. 70 percent of pastors feel grossly underpaid. 90 percent said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be before they entered the ministry. 70 percent felt God called them to pastoral ministry before their ministry began, but after 3 years of ministry, only 50 percent felt called. Next I will list statistics for pastor's wives.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Pastor's wives: 80 percent of pastor's wives feel their spouse is overworked. 80 percent of pastor's wives feel left out and unappreciated by the church members. 80 percent of pastor's wish their spouse would choose another profession. 80 percent of pastor's wives feel preasured to do things and be something in church that they are really. The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that in their marriage was the day they entered the minstry. Pastor's Marriages: 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression. Almost 40 percent polled said they have had an extramarital affair since beginning their ministry. Pastor's Children: 80 percent of adult children of pastors suveyed have had to seek professional help for depression. These stats are from an article titled "Bad News About Your Pastor" by Rich Murphy. I will continue with what he says you can do for your pastor.
Jo Cox avatar
Jo Cox
0 days ago
From comments: "disobedience to the vision" and "disobey the pastor" are a couple of phrases that jumped out at me and deeply disturb me. Seems, well, it disturbs me.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Pray for your Pastor. The greatst gift you can give is to take time to pray for him. We need to realize that pastors are prime targets for the devil. If he can cause a believer to fall, it's a victory for his kingdom. But, if he can cause a pastor to fall, he can hurt the lives of many other believers. We have a responsibility before God to hold up out pastor in prayer, and seek God's protection over their lives. Be Reasonable In Your Expectations. Too many people expect the pastor to be everything, I have heard about people expecting their pastor to pick up their children from school, talk to them when they can't sleep, mow their lawn, and fix their car. God has given specific instructions about what the pastor is supposed to be. Let him be it, and protect the calling and anointing God has placed upon him. Compensate Him Appropriately: There's an old line about the church board praying like this, "Lord, you keep our pastor humble, and we'll keep him poor. That attitude is way too common. Pastors and their families have the same finacial needs as everyone else in the congregation. In fact, they often have more expenses because of the needs of visiting people and ministering their church. When God established the tithe, He said that it was to go to the Levites (the ministers); not to pay for the mortgage on the church, the electric bill, and the youth field trip. Let Your Pastor, And His Wife Know You Appreciate Them: Everyone needs some encouragement now and then. One of the motivational gifts mentioned in Romans 12 is exhortation. This gift is badly lacking in the Body of Christ today. It is especially lacking towards those in ministry. We expect them to encourage us, forgetting that they need it as well. A kind, or encouraging word, a card, or even a small gift will work wonders to build up your pastor and help him to continue in the calling God has given him. Don't let your pastor become a statistic. Be a blessing to him, so he can continue to be a blessing to you." Again those are the words of Rich Murphy. I hope that helps you Dennis (and anyone else who might benefit from this).
Rodney Shanner avatar
Rodney Shanner
0 days ago
I think the #1 issue is that you need to be sure of your "call" from God to pastor. I have learned that Satan will cast doubt here as he cast doubt about Jesus' mission when He was in the wilderness. With these words he sowed doubt, "If you are the Son of God"(Matthew 4:3 and 6). That little word "IF" is full of doubt and uncertainty. So, be careful when you question your call. Satan may be behind your uncertainty.
Bill Williams avatar
Bill Williams
0 days ago
@Dennis, I appreciate your contributions, as they have been very helpful. I would like to point out one detail, though. You equated the OT Levites with ministers, and from the context, I believe that when you say ministers, you are referring specifically to pastors. I'd like to point out that in the NT, the equivalent of the Levites is not the pastors. Its the church as a whole. All who are members of the church are ministers. The priesthood of the Levites in the OT has been replaced with the priesthood of all believers in the NT. I think that's an important distinction to keep in mind. Having said that, I do agree with your overall point that those who labor full-time in the pastoral ministry are entitled to adequate compensation, as Paul instructs. Again, I was blessed by your comments. God bless you!
Bobby Bodenhamer avatar
Bobby Bodenhamer
0 days ago
"I never thought it would happen to me" but it did. 20 years ago I was burned out, and depressed. Following experiencing death by "Staff infection", I had left a church that I loved dearly. A very powerful staff person in the church undermined my ministry and so, after 10 years as pastor, I resigned and went to another pastorate. Now my 10 years at the church consisted of some very great years that my wife and I cherish dearly. The church went from 300 members to 1,000. The Bible study program went from 40 to 400. Hundreds were baptized. Indeed, we had several years of constant revival. How fortunate was I to have experienced what few pastors get to enjoy. Having experienced such joy and then to have one whom I trusted turn on me was very painful. This person had been a member of the church for many years and I knew when we hired her that if it didn't work out between the two of us, I would need to leave for many in the church couldn't choose between the two of us. I didn't want them to go through such pain. I took another church and was there only 18 months. That is another story for a different time. I took a year off for rest, renewal, and writing. In that time I felt led to maybe go back into that denomination (SBC) as a pastor. I had my resume sent out and the first 3 pulpit committees that I spoke to said that they were looking for someone under 40. I was 46. God wasn't in that in my opinion so I pulled my resume. During this time I started studying a model for doing therapy that was easily tied in with Scripture. If interested see my website renewingyourmind.com. Well, some of the brethren did not think what I and about 30 other pastors were doing was Christian. Indeed, one of our leading pastors called us "New Age". The technology is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). You can read about it on my website. This same pastor brought in Watchman's Fellowship who also believed that NLP was New Age. I was invited to meet with the speaker. Well, he knew absolutely nothing about NLP. The short of the story is that I was practically excommunicated from the local Baptist Association. My reputation was ruined and I had one pulpit committee turn me down because of it. This hurt. This hurt deeply. How could men that I had served beside of for many years believe that I had somehow rejected the Gospel and gone New Age? Many did and what really hurt was that some seemed to glory in my "downfall". As one Methodist Minister said, "You Baptist shoot your wounded." No doubt agreeing with much of what Judy Humphrey-Fox says in her post, I felt led to start a Cell Church. I had committed 3 to 5 years at least to the work. My desire was to get such a church going and then turn it over to a younger pastor and I would continue my therapy
Bobby Bodenhamer avatar
Bobby Bodenhamer
0 days ago
Part II. It seems that I was too wordy in my remarks and my statements were cut off. My editor has done some real wrestling with me over the length of my manuscripts. :-) I want to add to my remarks that none of us are smart enough to judge a brother. When a fellow minister, leaves the ministry, we don't know what has been going on with him. Let's follow Paul's admontion to "lift up a fallen brother knowing that we might very well be next". I have served my present church for over 20 years. My wife who is retired from business does the music ministry. Both of us serve for no charge. Our church is small and we have some very poor people.They cannot afford to pay salaries and pay rent as well. So, we gladly serve for free. My wife must put in 40 to 50 hours a week with the music program. She is passionate about it. Though we never was successful with the Cell Groups, we have a ministry for which we are grateful. I went into a deep hole of paranoia and depression following those events mentioned. I never questioned God or lost my love for the Lord. I know that sin reigns on this earth and oft times the innocent suffer. AND, I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR THOSE FEW PASTORS WHO KEPT BELIEVING IN ME WHEN SO FEW DID. WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS JUSTS WHAT THEIR SUPPORT MEANT TO US. THANK YOU
Joel Rutherford avatar
Joel Rutherford
0 days ago
Your Comments
Dan Llewellyn avatar
Dan Llewellyn
0 days ago
Dan Simmons- I agree wholeheartedly ...... "we have to remember the people we have helped along the way and realize that God does not make mistakes when it comes to putting people in ministry" Thanks for helping many along the way- it matters.
Michael Morton avatar
Michael Morton
0 days ago
re # 7 Dennis Cocks. I appreciate this article and especially Dennis' comments. Dennis, I would encourage to submit an article to Sermon Central and address some of your comments. Maybe do a series. Are there solutions beyond 3 simple questions?
Gene Cobb avatar
Gene Cobb
0 days ago
The Church as a whole has tried to ruin the position we call "Pastor." Reading stats about the ministry gets old. I have been a Pastor for many years now and at a young age I felt a divine call from God. I have been blessed with many good mentors who have taught me well and given me sound council. But I have also had my share of problems. No different than many of you. But at the end of the day, it is the strength from God that keeps me going. When I entered the ministry I knew I would not be wearing designer clothes and taking long vacations. If I wanted a big income I could have continued in the direction I started out in as a young woman, that of becoming an attorney. But God had different plans for me and for my husband. He left the world of business to become a full time Pastor. We are much poorer in worldly standards, but far richer than we ever dreamed in what really matters.....helping others and serving the Lord! We are going through a difficult year, but that has only made us more determined to keep on serving in our church. I meet once a month with a Women's Clergy group in our county. We range in age from 28-59. The strength and faith we share has been such a blessing. My point, as a youth I knew that God was calling me to a ministry. It took several years to realize He wanted me to be a Pastor. My point, wait on the Lord. He will direct you at His perfect time. It would be great also if Pastors would support one another and encourage one another and pray for one another. It's too bad there has to be articles like this one......but it is a very good article.
Anthony R. Watson avatar
Anthony R. Watson
0 days ago
In most African-American churches, the church is run and controlled by the "Board of Deacons," which is not Biblical. This is the main issue that bugs be about the Pastoral office. Secondly, Pastor's just aren't respected like they used to be. "We hired you, and we can fire you," is the mantra in the Black Baptist church. I am so sick of organized so-called religion, that I am literally on the brink of walking away from ministry. Thick skin has nothing to do with one's sanity. One can still die a premature death, thick skin and all. I am not willing to die a premature death caring for folks who could care less about me. I'm thinking about pursuing a career in academia. At least in that arena, my accomplishments would be appreciated without all of the red tape, unwritten laws, and antiquated traditions.
Kevin Wenker avatar
Kevin Wenker
0 days ago
Brother Watson - it is not just the Black Baptist congregations. I have been a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (I include the name so you know this is not some liberal fly by night group) for 36 years and it is the same there in far too many of our congregations. It never used to be, but it is now.
Dav Ross avatar
Dav Ross
0 days ago
Pastoral ministry for me has been the greatest privilege, and the greatest wound. I'll do it until I get permission to quit. During times of wounding I see my own carers, during times of priviledge I store up the memories. My finances? I have no spare cash at hand, and I live in a rented home. I have clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. I have a loving family and some recreational outlets. Though I struggle to avoid depression at times, I still know that I'm doing what I was called to do, though "why me" is a question I've been known to ask. I know my people pray for me, which helps enormously. His grace is (at most times) sufficient for me. These are my thoughts today, who knows how I will feel tomorrow. All I know for sure is that my saviour lives and he has called me to take up my cross and follow him.
Myron  Heckman avatar
Myron Heckman
0 days ago
I'd say be careful before quoting Rich Murphy's statistics (in posts 7.8 and 10) from the pulpit or anywhere else. For example, he states 50 of clergy marriages end in divorce. While the percentage that does end in divorce is too high, it's not near 50 by my observation. So it makes me wonder if all the numbers are skewed pessimistic. George Mueller wrote that his first task each day was to get happy in the Lord. It's good advice for us pastors who have plenty of reasons to be down, but One reason to be up.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
@Myron Heckman, while I cannot say for certain that the statistics are 100 percent accurate, I will say for certain that I have felt and experienced many of those things (and still do) which have been listed. And I also go to Pastor's conferences each year and talk to pastors who also suffer many of these fates. The special speakers at these conferences address the struggles of ministry in their messages to let us know we are not the only ones who experience hardships in ministry. And it is MUCH hard on our wives! When my wife and I have struggles in our marriage, it is usually ministry related. Not that I spend too much time with others or anything like that, it is the battles that people put us through that cause the problems. Although my wife supports me and helps me greatly in the ministry, she wishes I never had become a pastor. I have came close to losing my wife and my ministry several times over the years. So to just comment that the stats may be high doesn't negate the fact that too many pastors and their families are affected negatively by the pastorate. If you read the Scriptures you will see that even Jesus was discouraged many, many times. Jesus never said it would be easy, and most pastors know that all too well.
Myron  Heckman avatar
Myron Heckman
0 days ago
Dennis, I don't mean to negate or understate pain in the ministry. Like all, I've been through it. My concern is that an exaggerated statistic either undermines our credibility or sends the hearer into an unnecessary despair. I appreciate that you shared research with us to help us understand the kinds of problems commonly faced.
Dennis Cocks avatar
Dennis Cocks
0 days ago
Thanks Myron, I understand your concern.
Gordon Brownlee avatar
Gordon Brownlee
0 days ago
Romans 8:5-6 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The baggage that too many pastors carry, is based on this fleshly burden. And it should not come as a surprise then when a congregation responds in a fleshly manner. There is a solution that I would like to share with my Brothers and Sisters in ministry, but it will require a radical return to life by the Spirit. This will involve some courage on your part because it necessitates dealing with some of the failures. Yet the benefit is astounding. ?The Shadow of the Spiritual? is free for the asking .

So, what did you think?


Thank you.