When should a pastor resign?

As I write this, a phone call came yesterday from an embattled pastor.  He’s under constant duress from a group of leaders who want him out for whatever reasons–some real and some contrived–and are growing impatient with his inability to find a place to land.  His question to me was whether he should resign. And if so, should he ask for severance, and for how long, and should he couch the terms in words to protect his future job prospects from being endangered.

I wish I could say this is a rarity.  But I receive such calls almost weekly.

Here are some thoughts on the subject….

A pastor may resign any time he chooses. Whether he should or not is between him and the Lord who sent him to that church.

A pastor should resign only when the Lord chooses or if he is forced to do so.

Scripture knows nothing about pastors jumping from one church to another, about pastors climbing the ecclesiastical ladder in order to enhance their resume, or pastors being forced out of a congregation.

Welcome to the church of the 21st century.  We have all those things and more.

Many will say a pastor should expect to be jobless at least once in a long career.  In most cases, that means being forced out, either abruptly or more gently.

When I asked an editor for subjects for this blog, among his suggestions was this one: “When should a pastor resign?”

I wish I knew. I wish there was a simple answer.  But here goes….

One.  The pastor whose support from the congregation has dwindled away to next to nothing should resign.  There’s no point in trying to lead people who will not follow.

The reality, however, is that he has to feed his family.  (This is a strength of being bi-vocational; you need not hang around longer than necessary in order to have a paycheck.) Therefore, he may wish to negotiate his departure with the leadership.

Two. The pastor who is told by the Lord to resign should do so.  (I admit this is one of those “well, duh” statements, clearly obvious.  But it must be included in the list.) Again, he may need to arrange for some interim financing until he can get another church.

Three. The pastor whose family life has shattered should resign and find a way to work on rebuilding it.  This statement needs some further refining.  This is not saying if an adult child does something immoral or illegal that the pastor should  turn in his papers.  Those who put this kind of burden on deacons and pastors are being unreasonable and exercising a letter of the law (which kills) instead of the spirit of the law (which gives life; 2 Corinthians 3:6).  It would however be impossible to list all the circumstances which would require a pastor to resign.  He and the church should pray for wisdom and be willing to do whatever would honor Christ, bless the church, and affirm the ministry of this shepherd.

Four.  The pastor who does something illegal or immoral or blatantly unscriptural should resign.  In most cases, of course, even if he doesn’t resign, the congregation will do it for him, as they should.  Churches which allow an immoral pastor to continue in the pulpit–I’ve known of such cases–are betraying the Lord out of a misplaced fear of doing something disruptive.  Only courageous men and women should ever be placed in leadership roles in the church.

Five. The pastor who no longer believes what he preaches should resign.

Six. The pastor whose heart is no longer in his work, who no longer loves the people and who resents the demands placed upon him by the congregation should resign.

Seven. The pastor who realizes either that he is unsaved or was never called by God into this work should resign.

My counsel to the brother who called this week included this reminder toward the end of the phone call: Seek out other counselors.  Listen to several people.  “In a multitude of counselors there is safety,” says Proverbs.  Then, make up your own mind as to how the Lord is leading.

No pastor should remain at a church longer than he should.  The pastor who rides a declining church all the way to the ground because he has nowhere else to go does a shameful thing.  There is always “someplace else” to go, as long as McDonald’s and Chick-fil-A are hiring.

God, bless your church, please. And lead your pastors.

6 thoughts on “When should a pastor resign?

  1. What if a pastors wife stuggles staying off pain meds as she became addicted. Should he resign or should he continue with the aid of the church

    • There is no easy answer to this. The pastor should call in key church leaders and discuss it. They should pray about it, seeking the counsel of her doctor, etc.

  2. What are your thoughts with regard to a pastor who files for divorce from his wife while maintaining there was no adultery by either party?

  3. What are your thoughts when a pastor does very little. The congregation is very small and the church has very little money.

    • I’d find someone (or two or three people) in church or denominational leadership in the area and pick their brains on that subject. There may be reasons for this, but I’m like you in that the situation is not good. The church is small so he should be out trying to find people, as well as ministering to the ones he has.

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