When should a pastor leave a church?

“The one who rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

When should a pastor leave a church?

1) When they fire you.

If they vote you out, preacher, and change the locks on the door, it’s a pretty good sign they want you gone. At that point, even if you know beyond all doubt that God sent you and this action represents complete rebellion on their part, it’s time to leave.  The Lord no longer expects you to stay.  (Whether He wants you to go down the street and rent an empty building and start a new church is an entirely different matter.)

2) When the Holy Spirit tells you.

That’s the other “simplest answer” to the question, to be redundant.  After all, the One who called you into this work and sent you to that church–He did, didn’t He?–certainly knows when it’s time for you to move on.  Usually He opens another place of service at the same time. However, occasionally He will command you to resign and leave but has not yet opened up the next place of service. When that happens, you find out all over again what “living by faith” really means.

3) After this, the answers become a little more ambiguous and complicated....

I threw out this question to our Facebook friends, hundreds of whom are active in ministry at one level or other.  Their answers fell into four categories. What follows is a summation of points they made….

a) The congregation

–When the membership stops coming and/or stops giving.

–When the church is no longer growing.

–When the people are unresponsive and everything is stagnant.

–When the members are not doing their job but look to you to do everything.

b) The family

–When staying is detrimental to your family

–When your spouse says “it’s me or them; choose.”

–When your family is being attacked daily.

–When your elderly parents need you to move near them.

c) Yourself

–When you have lost your vision for the church.

–When you have lost your passion/concern for the people.

–When there is immorality or any kind of moral failure

–When your health is failing because of the church.

–When you no longer believe what you are preaching.

–When you have fouled up the works so bad that recovering and moving the church back to a healthy status seems impossible.

–When you have to make yourself go to work.

d) Deacons and other leaders

–When your leadership is rebelling by leaving the church or opposing you

–When the leaders have their own agenda and block your work

–When the leadership is ungodly, carnal, and determined not to follow Christ.

–When your leadership base disappears and no one is listening or following.


Nothing about this subject is as simple as Points 1 and 2 (they fire you or the Holy Spirit moves you).  Oh, that it were.

But, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we sometimes want to make it. Here are my own personal conclusions, for what they are worth.  I offer them to brothers and sisters who are in the middle of their own personal battles for survival in the ministry. God bless you, my friends. Hang tough.

1) No one said it was going to be easy.

We do well to prepare young ministers and their families for this.  In the words of Paul to the newly minted believers of Asia Minor, “It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom” (Acts 14:22). The instructions of our Lord to the disciples as they went out on a short-term mission project of Matthew 10:16-42 are invaluable.  (Note: If you look at that passage, the first question that occurs is why we begin at verse 16, and why not verse 5.  Answer: Verses 5-15 are temporary, one-time only instructions that pertained only to that situation. In fact, the Lord reverses some of the instructions later in Luke 22. But Matthew 10:16-42’s teachings have proven themselves applicable in every generation since.)

2) Some matters should be settled up front (at the start of this ministry).

Are we together in this as a family?  Are mom and dad on the same page (with each other)?  Do our parents recognize that we may not be able to live within a 50-mile radius and respond every time they call?  Does the minister’s spouse feel a similar call from God for ministry?  Or, does the family see the pastoral ministry as just one more vocation Dad could have chosen and a great way to be well-known in the community?

3) Are you willing to get counsel when the work gets harder than you ever expected?

You cannot do this alone, friend. You will need godly mentors and counselors to advise you and constantly lift you to the Father in prayer.  If you have no such advisors and friends, get some now!  (Ask the Father. Then, start paying attention. He wants this more than you do!)

Spouses should be aware (and will be soon enough!) that there is a lone-ranger mentality in many ministers that makes them believe to ask for counsel is to admit defeat. “I can do all things through Christ,” they will insist.  But this attitude is carnal, not spiritual, and completely unscriptural.  God never sent His servants out alone. He sent them in twos or even larger groups.  Read Romans 16 or I Corinthians 16 and decide for yourself whether the great Apostle Paul felt he could do the ministry all by himself.

4) The Holy Spirit is not some drill instructor sergeant who is determined to beat you down into submission and willing to enact any suffering necessary to achieve it.  He is the indwelling Lord Jesus Christ and He loves you (and your family) more than you do. So trust Him.

Ultimately, Point 2 (“When the Holy Spirit tells you to leave”) is all you have. Everything else is just “working conditions.”

–They don’t like you? Read Matthew 10:25.

–Your parents are laying a load of guilt on you?  Show them Matthew 10:37.

–Your spouse says the work is too heavy? Share Matthew 10:38 with him/her.  (Note: Do not preach to her! Instead tell her, “This is what we are dealing with, honey. This is the cross He asks us to bear. Let’s help each other.

–You can’t sleep at night? You are tormented by self-doubts and fears? You worry about losing your job?  (et cetera)  Get thee to a counselor friend and do it today!

You were never intended to handle this burden alone.  Never.

5) Treat your spouse as your own heart during the difficult times.  Share with her, listen to her, pray with her, and spend time with her. One of the greatest reasons ministry wives feel they can not take it any longer is their husband has abandoned them to handle all their burdens alone. True, he has his own load to carry and sometimes seems about to collapse, but the solution is not for each of you to go it alone. Together, you are far stronger than separately.  (Sorry for this elementary lesson your pastor should have driven home in your pre-marital counsel! One 4 x 4” board is not as strong as two 2 x 4’s nailed together. The grains of each will reinforce the other.)

6) Try to get through this day.  Seek God’s “manna” for this day only.  Tomorrow, you may decide to jump ship, but today, you’re going to hang in there.

7) Take the long view. “For the joy set before Him, (Jesus) endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

“This momentary light affliction is working for (you) an exceeding weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Finally.  The most important point we have made is get counsel. Find a friend, preferably someone older and wiser, someone who has persevered over the years. Even if they do not see themselves as mentors or professional counselors, call him/her up and say, “Could I come see you for a few minutes?” 

See what God can do.


1 thought on “When should a pastor leave a church?

  1. Jonathan Edwards’ farewell sermon to his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts after they rejected his ministry to them after twenty-three years of service is very instructive to ministers and congregations of their responsibilities before God, and the account they will both give to God in the last day.

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