April 20, 2015

Three reasons pastors drop out

by Caleb Kolstad

While I am sure there are some good reasons for pastors to leave the ministry, I can think of three negative factors that contribute to this very sad statistic:  

  1. Many men who drop out of the ministry were never truly called to begin with.

Let’s not make this first point more complicated than it needs to be.  When the going gets tough, ‘hired hands’ typically find something easier to do.  For some it means becoming a postman, or working as an accountant, or doing landscaping the rest of one’s life.  Anything other than the pastorate.

As the Shepherd par excellence, Jesus put it this way in John 10:11-13:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep.”

A man truly called into the pastorate lives out convictions like this, “I would rather pay to study and preach then be paid not to study and preach.”

Or this, “I would rather pastor in McFarland, USA than pastor nowhere at all!”

Charles Spurgeon was said to have told his pastoral students, “If God calls you to be a minister, don’t stoop to be a king.”

It seems likely that many men who drop out of the pastorate or who abandon the mission field were never truly called to begin with!

  1. Some men who are no longer in pastoral ministry were victims of Corinthian-esq behavior(emotional, mental, physical, & verbal abuse).

As one who has grown up in the church I have learned that “professing” Christians can act far worse than the world (2 Cor. 12:20-21)!

In this vein, some congregations, like the church at Corinth, cast off faithful men of God like fleas on a bloodhound.  Pseudo Christians simply can’t handle the truth (John 3:19-21)! They treat the inerrant Word of God like a bag of trail mix.  They simply throw out what the find distasteful (which often includes biblical shepherd-leaders).

Paul’s painful testimony in Corinth can be pieced together if you carefully read 1 and 2 Corinthians.  For a good overview of 2 Corinthians read Douglas Kelly’s, New Life in the Wasteland: On the Cost and Glory of Christian Ministry.

Suffice it to say, it is not easy for a bruised shepherd to read sections of Scripture like 2 Corinthians 2:1-4:

“But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? And this is the very thing I wrote you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy would be the joy of you all.  For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”

Or to live on the backside of this, Have I become your enemy because I am telling you the truth? (Galatians 4:16)  To be hated and rejected by your enemies is one thing, but to be despised and ostracized by your church “family” is another thing altogether.

I have witnessed more than a few good men step away from the ministry having been chewed up and spit out by some carnal church.  Much has been written about abusive pastors but not enough ink has been spilled describing toxic churches and battered pastors.  Both camps dishonor the reputation of the Christ they claim to represent.

  1. Some men are no longer in the ministry because they have disqualified themselves from the office of pastor/elder.

The Evil One works overtime trying to “disqualify” qualified ministers of the gospel.  We need to remember that Satan does not fight like a gentleman.  He has no problem aiming for the officers of the Lord’s Army, in fact, it is his standard mode of operation.

My friends, why do you suppose the Holy Spirit included passages of Scripture like 1 Timothy 1:19 and 2 Timothy 4:10?

Paul himself said, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

The apostle also reminded his ministry protégé in 1 Timothy 4:16, Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as you do this you will insure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.

Some men are no longer serving in vocational ministry because they did not take these somber passages to heart.

Caleb Kolstad


Caleb is the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Freeport, IL.
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  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    It has always been my belief that pastors have the most difficult profession of all. They are very much in need of our encouragement, our prayers and our mercy. It is true that those entrusted with teaching will be judged more harshly, but so will those who were harsh and unkind with the shepherds entrusted with their care.

  • Frank Turk

    That first category ought not to be underestimated. I think it actually causes a lot of what happens in the next two categories.

  • calebkolstad

    Jane. I totally agree with you and more importantly I think the Word of God agrees with your comments below.
    1 Thess. 5:12-13 is a very important verse. “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” 1 Peter 5:1-4 and Hebrews 13:17 are also very instructive here.
    One of the reasons some local churches have a history of short ministry tenures among their pastors is because they do not faithfully flesh out passages of Scripture like 1 Thess. 5:12-13. Even the mighty apostle Paul could not stomach further rejection from the congregation at Corinth. 2 Corinthians is such a raw book esp. for battered pastors.
    In light of these passages, a local church should try and smother faithful ministers of the gospel with love. Practically how can we show appreciation and love to our pastors? I experienced an abundance of undeserved kindness from one congregation when I was an Ast. Pastor in Carmel, Indiana. It made serving the flock there such a JOY rather than just a weighty burden.
    Many blog articles and books have been written about what God expects from His undershepherds (and rightly so). Not enough has been written about what God expects from the flock of God in relation to their leaders. I hope to address these issues more in future blog posts. Blessings to you.

  • calebkolstad

    Frank Turk. I hope you are well brother. Thanks for the good insight.
    My list is obv. not comprehensive.

  • tovlogos

    The points are valid; yet the same principles apply to Christians in general, regarding endurance. Of the four categories in Matthew 13’s Parable of the Sower, only 25% of the recipients of the seed of the Word retained the message and flourished. The individual awakening that occurs in John 3:3, is a weighty responsibility on any true believer.

    • Good point from a good word.

      • tovlogos

        Thanks Jesse — same to you. That was a serious witness you gave in the video.

  • Heather

    Great article. This caught my attention: “Much has been written about abusive pastors but not enough ink has been spilled describing toxic churches and battered pastors.”
    I couldn’t agree with you more, and I’d love to see someone on the Cripplegate go into this more. Not only that, but how do the loved ones of the pastor being beat up deal with it? In my case, it is my dad, and it is such a spiritual struggle to keep myself from becoming bitter against those type of Christians.
    On another point, I wonder if pastors don’t make it that long today because we expect soo much from them and God just never created men to be able to handle that much in the first place? The Lord Jesus says to come to Him if you are weary and heavy-laden, but it seems to me that too many people would rather go to their pastors instead of the Lord Jesus, know what I mean? Jesus can more than handle all of our problems and He can give us peace in a way that even pastors can’t. I just have nothing but respect and thankfulness for the self-sacrificing hearts of pastors (so thank you!), but I do think people put too much on them these days.

    • calebkolstad

      Heather, I have a special place in my heart for faithful men like your father. In part, because I was/am a PK. In two different settings I saw my father get beat up pretty badly by immature Christians and professing Christians. He was such a great example to me of faithfulness in the midst of very trying times.

      I also have a heart for men like your dad because of my own experiences. Providence is both mysterious and sweet. Think of Simon Peter and what Jesus says to him in Luke 22:32 against the backdrop of 1 Peter (Peter greatly encourages suffering Christians to endure and persevere). I have served in two ministry contexts over the past 10 years. The revitalization context I felt called to meant going into a difficult local church setting and having to get beat up a bit (quite a bit for the first 3 years actually).

      Let me recommend two resources that may be of help to you and your father. One is a series of articles at Reformation 21 on “Battered Shepherds.” You can find these encouraging resources here http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/podcast/35586

      The second are some articles I have posted here. http://preacherboy316pt2.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-first-baptist-church-of-corinth.html


      One of the main reasons I posted some of these articles was to encourage faithful Christians to not lose heart in doing good. To know that we labor not in the vain if we labor for the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58).
      Jude 24-25! CK

      • Heather

        Hi Caleb,
        Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging words and for the links to the articles. They were greatly encouraging. I seldom meet other Christians that understand this struggle. My dad has also been an example of faithfulness to me like no one else I’ve ever seen. It was the legalistic Christians that would beat up on him, which, to me, is the worst kind because no matter what you say, they are righteous in their own eyes for what they are doing (I guess just like the Pharisees?). It seemed like the more they beat up on him, the more he loved them, and that always stunned me. I followed in his footsteps to love them too, but the injustice of it all quietly wore on me over time and bitterness against those type of Christians started to set it. I know Christ went through the same thing, but it’s one thing to know it and another to see it happen to someone you love (which, maybe that’s what the Lord wanted me to see?). But I have known the cleansing power of Christs love within me and I know the best way to stay pure from bitterness is to stay in close fellowship with the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit. All that to say, I needed to hear these words of encouragement again today to remind me of that and so much more, so thank you 🙂

  • Joe hickman

    Psalm: 23: 1. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He is my (HIGH-PREIST-MY-PASTOR.) Since The Cross. I Listen to Jesus Christ for He is The Word The Holy-Bible. St. John: 6-34. Then said they unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. St. John: 6-35. And Jesus said unto them, (I-AM-THE-BREAD-OF-LIFE:) he that cometh to me shall (NEVER-HUNGER;) and he that Believeth on me shall (NEVER-THIRST.) By reading The Word The Holy-Bible The bread of life shall never thirst or go hungry (FOREVERMORE.) Shepherds and sheep. Ezekiel: 34-1. The word of The LORD came to me; 2.” Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what The Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3. You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4. You have not strengthened the weak or heal the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them hashly and brutally. 5. So they were scattered because their was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. 11. ‘ For this is what The Sovereign LORD says; I Myself will search for my sheep and look after them.12. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. 13. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 15. I Myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares The Sovereign LORD. 23. I will place over them (ONE) shepherd, My servant David, and He will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd. 24. I The LORD will Be Their God and My servant David will Be Prince among them. I The LORD have spoken. Amen. Are we not Kings-Saints-Preists. Is Our Lord Jesus Christ not KING over ALL. No my Beloved we must listen to The LORD God Amighty Jesus Christ NOT man. We gather to these Biblical Holy places called houses of God for one reason and that is to WORSHIP OUR LORD God JESUS CHRIST sing Praises to The Lord raise His Banner to the Highest. THANK-YOU-JESUS. HALLELUYAH PRAISE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Amen.

  • calebkolstad

    A pastor friend asked me the following question this morning related to this brief article: Pastor Chris Bogstad asked, “Is there a category for good men dropping out to go serve God in other areas or God directed them to another place of service whether they preferred it or not?”

    My answer to him this morning was YES. Some men who serve the Lord in vocational ministry (pastors/staff elders) later choose to serve in a different vocation in the business world BUT remain lay elders (lay pastors). I believe faithful lay leaders are the backbone of the church. One cannot have too many qualified lay elders shepherding the precious flock of God.

    The second reason I give often brings men into different areas of ministry service (Christian colleges, missions agencies, evangelical seminaries, parachurch orgs, etc).

    My threefold list is certainly not an exhaustive one. What reasons would you add to my list?

    I added a fourth suggestion. Reason 4) Many Seminaries and local churches do not sufficiently prepare young men/new pastors for the “real world.”

    • Jonathan Dale

      Thank you for the post, Caleb! A possible fifth reason is pastors not taking the long view, which ties into patience. I’ve been made aware of this through my own pastor. He explained that he went into his last church with a desire to quickly revamp the church into the Biblical model; according to him, the backlash from many members of the church helped to lead him leave after just two years.

      At our church, however, he has been here five years and going strong, despite many “well-intentioned dragons” present. I think it has a lot to do with his taking a longer view here; he still has a burning desire for our leadership and congregation is to be aligned with God’s Word, but he isn’t forcing change upon anyone quickly. He just keeps preaching the Word, seeking to encourage and build up the leadership, and trusting the Lord to work on all of us in the process. This increased patience seems to be making a difference between his last pastorship and this one!

      • calebkolstad

        Jonathan- thanks for the helpful observations/comments. 2 Tim 4 does say always preach the Word, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with GREAT PATIENCE…
        The hardest part of ministry is often not faithfully preaching the Word of God but faithfully upholding the Word of God. It is one thing to preach on Matthew 18:15-17 or 1 Cor. 5 (church discipline) it is another thing to patiently and faithfully apply it. I think many people will tolerate something from the pulpit that they do not like (be it election, what King Jesus says about marriage and divorce), what they often will not allow is when you move with your elders to apply the truth to the life of the congregation. This in my humble estimation is where the rubber often meets the road.

  • Some comments were deleted because they sought to make private/personal matters public. Such is not edifying nor honoring to Christ. If you have personal concerns to address with Caleb, please do so privately.

    • Todd

      Thanks Mike. Not the time nor the place. Caleb what a wonderful article!! I have already ordered the books you have suggested and if you have any more books that would help please suggest. Seven years ago we started a Church Revitalization and it is work. I would add one of the reasons men leave the role of pastor is lack of denominational support. When a local Church has an issue and the larger denominational party is weak on doctrine and standards the pastor has one less place to turn for support and encouragement. Particularly if you serve under a denomination with Bishops who choose where a persons pastors. Our Church is independent baptist but I have friends who are under Bishops, who are consistently moving their families and uprooting their lives and sometimes are just victims of another man’s mood swing who decides to complain to the Bishop without ever at least speaking to the pastor. So many factors and some are structural but thank you for this article!! Once again, if you have any more materials on this subject, please share!

  • Dan Freeman

    I think Heather touched on another important point. Many churches do not have biblical elder structures, so the senior or teaching pastor is expected to be and do everything that biblically the entire elder team should be and do. From what I have seen, this often causes the senior/teaching pastor to A, become prideful with a “big-shot” mentality, or B, become burned out by all that is expected of him, because he by himself does not have all the spiritual giftings, time, etc., to do it all.

  • pearlbaker

    “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40.) If we are so severely warned regarding even the smallest offense against one of Christ’s followers, what will be the chastisement for offending the ones God has called to be the messengers, the beautiful feet that bring the good news of the gospel of salvation (Romans 10:15)?

  • Isaiah

    Isaiah 1:10–17 (ESV)

    10 Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
    11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
    12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
    13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
    14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
    15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
    even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
    16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil,
    17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

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  • William Niemand

    Good read. It’s a sad sight to see so many pastors and spiritual leaders shy away from their chosen/called profession. I knew this pastor who had a good reputation among the town folk, but he shied away from his congregation and started a restaurant where many under-aged kids now indulge themselves in alcohol and tobacco. Whether this haunts him or not, I don’t know, but suffice to say that money has now become a significant part of his life. Customers and church members are very different. At the same time I followed a pastor who was (in my opinion) unjustly booted from the traditional church. He started his own non-denominational congregation and did quite well. He has been a victim of numerous smear campaigns, but most of these people who fiercely judged him are like facsimile of the people in Corinthians. The last observation I’ve made is more positive. I have great respect for traditional Protestant doctrine and church structure, but pastors shying away from the traditional church are gaining a lot of ground on the youth front. I’ve seen churches popping up in places where people need to hear the gospel again. It’s wonderful to see that the church isn’t limited to a specific geographical location or building.

  • Brian

    Excellent article Caleb! I think you’re spot on in each of the three categories. I wonder if there is also a category for guys who are truly called to the pastorate, but not to a 40 year marathon of vocational ministry (which is often how we envision it playing out for the man who is “truly called”). I’ve known godly men who seem to be genuinely gifted and called, but need to step away for a season for the sake of their families, or to avoid total burnout. I’ve also known men who for similar reasons stepped away from the pastorate and never returned, but continued to serve the Lord faithfully in other ways. Scripture doesn’t seem to define calling by length of service in a particular field, but by a life-long pull toward the ministry of the Word and prayer. Do you think a man’s calling may be expressed through the pastorate for a season, then through other forms of teaching & disciple-making in another season of life?

    • calebkolstad

      Brian- Thank you for adding some helpful insights to my article above. I think you are right. A man can be temporarily unqualified.
      For example, The elder/pastor’s children are not “faithful/obedient” per Titus 1:6 or the pastor may need to devote more time to his family/home so that he can “manage his household well” (per 1 Timothy 3:4). MacArthur has said on many occasions that if you can’t control your wife or if you lose your family you’ll lose your ministry.
      If someone commits physical adultery they are no longer a one woman man (per 1 Tim 3) and are therefore permanently disqualified (1 Cor 9:27). I think John Armstrong calls this the “Stain that Remains” (see also Proverbs 5).
      I think I have answered some of your other questions in the comment section above. Press on in faithful service to our Master brother.