Why does it seem that pastors are leaving the ministry in record numbers?
I have sat on a couple of pastoral search committees, but honestly, I have seen a few pastors come at go at the church I used to attend, only to see them move onto a bigger church and paying them a larger salary. Not all of the pastors that do this are doing it just to use the church as a stepping stone for another job. Sometimes there are doctrinal differences or in-fighting by the congregants that make it almost impossible to grow in unity and in love. At other times, there are deacons and elders who hold the power and can pressure the pastor to do and say what they want, instead of what the Bible teaches. In these cases, the pastor is well advised to leave if they can’t change the situation. Really, in such cases, it would take the Spirit of God to move through such a church to bring them to repentance. The church just might need revival, but if all else has failed, the pastor may have no choice but to leave and be used by God elsewhere, in a place with the church is submissive to the Word of God and clings tenaciously to the teachings of Scriptures.
If you took all the pastors in every state in America, you might be shocked to find out that the average pastor’s tenure in a local church is 3.6 years.  Just a decade or so ago, the average stay for a pastor at the same church was about 6 years, so in about the last decade, the pastor’s tenure at a church has been nearly cut in half. What’s going on? Why do pastors seem to stay for such a short time any more, when just 20 or 30 years ago, pastors would often stay at one church for their entire life? Part of the reason is that Christians have been giving less and less, and that means pastors are being paid less and less. This has also caused an explosion of bi-vocational pastors (such as I am) who are now forced to work another job or two to support their family since many churches not only don’t pay the pastor a salary, there are few, in any, financial allowances for them like car maintenance, supplementing health insurance. This is my situation, so I am forced to pay out of my own pocket for gas, insurance (car, home, and health), tires, and other Bible tracts and materials. Bi-vocational pastors who responded to the survey, indicated an average tenure of 7.77 years while fully funded pastors indicated a current tenure of 10.79 years and you can probably see why paid pastors stay a bit longer, but bi-vocational pastors, by a slim margin, stay longer than fully paid pastors. Why is this so?
Many pastors who were forced by health or age to retire, have lamented the fact that they should have stayed longer at the churches they were at. One pastor acknowledged that he left some churches too early. He regrets not having stayed to “right the ship” and to pour out more of his life into the church. To this retired pastor, he said that God receives more glory in turning around a “valley-of-dry-bones” church than going to one that’s already functioning well. When it gets difficult is just the time when a breakthrough is possible. Far too often, the pastors bail out when the going gets too difficult. The average pastor receives a salary of $35,360, with a median salary being $33,550, is part of the reason that pastors might leave. These are the same reasons that teachers leave teaching positions and that’s to find a better paying job for their college education. The two professional degreed jobs in the U.S. are a pastor and then a teacher. That certainly does nothing to help morale. According to figures supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, the average pastor’s salary rose by only 1 percent between 2012 and 2014, but that was actually a setback for them because of the 3.9 percent inflation rate for the same two-year period.
I believe it’s in the best interests for a church to keep their pastor as long as possible. For one thing, you don’t know what the next pastor will be like, because many of the seminaries are growing more liberal every day. In fact, I changed seminaries late in my schooling because one of the seminaries started teaching things that I don’t believe are found in the Bible. I ended up finishing at Moody Theological Seminary. Clearly, no God-called pastor I know of is looking to become wealthy off the ministry that he has received from the Lord, and if they’re in the ministry for that reason, they will surely be disappointed, but if they’re in it for the money, they’re in it for the wrong reason anyway. Pastors who fulfill their calling because of the Biblical admonition to preach the gospel should not have to struggle so much to where they’re forced to find other employment or to find a church that can pay them enough for their family to survive. To have the pastor supported is a God-given mandate, as Paul wrote that ‘those who preach the Gospel should live from the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). Of course, this doesn’t mean they should be paid exorbitantly, but at least enough to survive. That’s one of the main reasons that I have found why pastors move from church to church. They have no other choice. Some must quit to work another job just to survive, but for most of the pastors I know, they would be totally miserable do anything else.
I know that pastors are staying for shorter and shorter time periods in churches these days. It’s not only because churches are hurting financially, the attendance seems to be shrinking. It’s as if the church today is in the Laodicea era Jesus rebukes in the Book of Revelation (Rev 3:14). This lower attendance also means that there are fewer funds available for evangelism, ministries, and a pastor’s salary or at least a supplemental salary (for bi-vocational pastors). I must admit I have been tempted to look elsewhere for a pastor’s job that pays me a fulltime salary and at least some benefits, but my heart is bound to these men and women in our church. I have been there for nearly a decade, and obviously, I don’t do it for money since I don’t receive a salary. My pay comes from the Lord and not in this life. It comes in the future kingdom when Jesus will hopefully say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21).
1. Lifeway Research, July 18, 2011. Dennis Cook, author.