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Jul 21, 2009

Why Pastors Leave the Ministry

by Fuller Institute, George Barna and Pastoral Care Inc.


* 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
* 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor's children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
* 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
* 75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
* 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
* 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
* 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
* 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
* 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
* 33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church .
* 50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last months.
* 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
* 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
* 94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor's ministry.
* 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
* Moral values of a Christian is no different than those who consider themselves as non-Christians.
* The average American will tell 23 lies a day.
* The profession of "Pastor" is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above "car salesman".
* Over 4,000 churches closed in America last year.
* Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
* Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month , many without cause.
* Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
* Many denominations report an "empty pulpit crisis". They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.

#1 reason pastors leave the ministry - Church people are not willing to go the same direction and goal of the pastor. Pastor's believe God wants them to go in one direction but the people are not willing to follow or change.

Statistics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.


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  1. Gravatar

    This is dire. I would say that the No.1 reason pastors leave the ministry is due to relational breakdown, and not having different goals and vision. But can we argue with statistics? I think so.

  2. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    It's an impossible position because what we expect from pastors today has nothing to do with what God intended. It's a man made position.

  3. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    I did the pastor thing for about 5 years. My people were wonderful. They did expect me to be more spiritual and together than they were, but they were very loving. I still know most of them today.

  4. Gravatar
    RIch Arnold

    There is only one thing that ultimately keeps me in full-time pastoral ministry: the call of God. Christ says to me, "Come here, my beloved; I have something I want you to do. Shepherd these people like I would if I was there. In fact, walk closely with Me and I will shepherd them through you." What am I going to do? Tell the Almighty, "No,"?! Sure, I wonder what in the world he was thinking, but He who captured my heart with His love and can do me no wrong has called me to shepherd some of His people, so I do it as He gives me strength - hopefully with genuine love and humble service empowered by His Spirit. Love 'em; teach 'em; lead 'em. I too stubborn to quit, so I guess I'm a lifer.

  5. Gravatar

    Can you cite the source of these statistics? I know it says Barna-Fuller-Pastoral Care, but I can't find these stats on Barna's site, and when I google barna and fuller, I'm not seeing a published version from either group. Where did you get these, how old are they, and are they all one study or an amalgam of studies? I'd love to reference them, but not without proper sourcing. Thanks!

  6. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

  7. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    You can also see more stats at the tale end of this atricle.

  8. Gravatar

    Like Leeann I thought that this survey could be many different vocations. I don't know many people who never struggle with their work. Life can be relentless. What I will say is that I don't know of many professions where the people seem to be so fixated on how hard they have it as pastoers seem to be. I grew up in the home of a pastor long ago in a land far away at least from here. My brother had a quite different experinece at that than I. This life is tough "dependence" is a great word. Surrender is another one.

  9. Gravatar

    I believe there’s a difference between a pastor and other vocations because being a pastor was never meant to be a vocation. It was meant to be a function that develops out of relationship. The difficulty and stress associated with the vocation is due to the fact that pastoring has over time morphed into something it was never meant to be. Those people I know who are functioning as pastors as God intended are not suffering the burnout that the professional group is experiencing.

  10. Gravatar

    I agree with your distinctions. The pressures of space prevented this thought, but It fits what you said and some of the others. The way we have been training pastors for generations seeks to creat the local super scholor, not that theology is unimportant. As a result they are sadly lacking in readiness for relational ministry. One of the other posts asserted this area of failure. That is not meant to point fingers at them personally, rather at the system. It exhibits a lack of understanding about ministry. Working with/in the lives of people is messy. Relationships are messy. There is certainly a tension created, because ignorance of scripture also creates a mess.

  11. Gravatar

    If we have been called to live under the law of love, John 13:34-35, then discipleship should be about loving people. I find interesting that stat about the pastor, the chief disciple maker, that 70% of them don't have any close friends. That by the way, is a stat that my experience finds easy to believe, pastors are lonely people. I know, I'm one. But if the pastor has trouble making friends, then this means that we don't have a good grasp of our most basic function, loving people and helping them love others. That may well help explain the dissatisfaction and overall hassle that most pastors find the ministry to be.

  12. Gravatar

    As I a pastor myself I am surpised none of you including Darrin talk about God's strength in a person's life. If a believer in North Korea can sustain persecution in jail than I as a pastor can sustain some of the pressures. Plus, I don't have to take responsibility for the pressures either. The institution of "church" cannot crush me as a pastor because my relationship is not with "it" but ultimately with God.

  13. Gravatar

    I'm going to be brief. The reasons are many but if the Pastor is online with God's purpose and will and the church does not submit to the God's and His service authority, the church will not have no direction. If a church wants to be under the grace and glory of God, we must become the same church as outlined in Acts chapters 2 and so forth. Either we want to become our church or become God's church. It will depend on us and we will be accountable unto God for this. Also the church must return to living on God's first love and live under the direction and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit. We must cover and assist our pastors in prayer.

  14. Gravatar
    David Bartels

    I mentor pastors. And I can tell you that the situation is dire. Some of why we're here has to do with our training of pastors. We're not keeping up with the culture. We can also see that the church, the world and leadership are moving in opposite directions. Our culture is changing rapidly and few pastors are trained and ready to deal with that...not to mention unable to bring disparate factions/generations together to be able to find the vision and passion to move ahead and change. I'm busy and I could be busier. Help is available. Just think, for every pastor who drops...multiply that by the defeat of their call, their marriage and their family. Multiply that again by the number of leaders they work with...and their families...not to mention the families of the church and the observing families in the community. The effects ripple out and noted above, for generations. THERE IS HELP.

  15. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    David I would like it if you would contact me personally at I did not write this article but I work with pastors as well and I'd like to become friends and hear some of what you have to say. I can tell you have the same heart as I do for pastors.

  16. Gravatar
    terry hartikka

    As a pastor in a denominational and then non-denominational setting for just over 30 years I realize that pastors give churches too much power over their lives. They walk into settings with people and denominational structures they really don't, or perhaps shouldn't trust, who have power over them. Many church organizations say that the man of God comes first, but they run things with the clear understanding that the church comes first, because that's where the money comes from. Pastors become expendable commodities, often times because they're afraid to challenge the system or get out of it. When they don't they develop a cognitive dissonance that contributes to burn out. When it comes to allowing humanity in pulpit and pew, we all too easily set a wrong standard - perfection. The greatest tragedy is not that people and their pastors fail, but that we seem to continually sin against the remedy. Also, when we seek new people in our outreach we are also rightly asking for problems

  17. Gravatar

    There is no such thing as a pastor as we know it. There was never suppose to be a man standing above everyone lecturing the sheep. This guy "in charge" replaces the Holy Spirit and should not be. No man is above any other, all believers should be racing for the bottom not the top.

  18. Gravatar

    Hi. I was a pastor for decades, and left to become a chaplain as my marriage fell apart. Painfully, after attending churches and becoming a helper again, I continue as a hospital chaplain and pastor (very) part time a group of people facing the closure of their church. 1. some of the comments are so judgmental towards pastors. Yes, we have hurt people. I have hurt people. Somtimes out of arrogance, sometimes out of my own inadequacies. But to pastor is a calling, and it is Scriptural. Sorry about that. 2. And yes, I also have had a lot of contempt for other pastors. From the language to the clothing to the books we read to the language. I have had to repent over that and become a booster of whomever pastors me (including a bitter, retired man who was conservative and new young pastor who is revisionist). 3. I still don't trust denominational officials, including my own bishop whom I love dearly. But, as we say in the South, bless his heart, he cain't hep it! Jon

  19. Gravatar
    brandon jackson

    i want to quit becouse i had a youth kida at camp said i was flirting with them but i was not. this hurt i feel like every time god does something i get push back. i just cant take it anymore. am done with it

  20. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    Brandon I personally don't feel you should quit for that reason. Especially if the allegations have no truth to them. I know it hurts, but I don't think it's a reason to give up. Keep trying.

  21. Gravatar

    I think of it this way: No other position has to lead the people who pay them directly. And also work alongside (lay-type) leaders who are actually untrained, doing it only voluntarily as an aside to "real life." And moreover, there is not the sort of clear policies and procedures that guide other workplace settings. So to ensure everything is in fact done in order. No wonder pastors often feel as though they are aliens caught up in an alternate reality. Because....they are! Thus, I feel the largest issue is polity. Of course, I know I'm going against the grain when I say this. But, until structures are more rational, practically as well as theologically thought out, little is going to improve.

  22. Gravatar

    Hmmm ... still would like to see where these stats are gleaned from -- followed the above links and got nowhere, really, other than back to here -- too bad those sources will not post their tools so that the questions can be examined for their wording -- over 20,000 pastors leaving ministry in one year really is a cry for closer examination

  23. Gravatar
    Darin Hufford

    THis article was pulled from a book called "Pagan Christianity." They list all sources there. You can to to George Barna's websie (The Barna Research Institute) to find these statistics. YES, you're right, it's a call for closer examination. I suspect that the numbers today are even higher.

  24. Gravatar

    I did ministry for over 7 years. For awhile, I was lucky to work under a great senior pastor. But the other times, it was miserable. I hated the church politics, the cliques, and the drama. Mostly, I hated the way my wife was treated. They were expecting her to be free labor. She has her own career. She image me all the support in the world and was involved as much as she could be. She always felt pressure that if she wasn't part of every little thing, my job would be in jeopardy. It got so bad that we would go to the next town to do grocery shopping. Or if we wanted to have a date night. I felt I was working for a Fortune 500 company instead of the church. Finally, I had enough and left. I now work at a boring job and I've never been happier. Potentially damaging my family life was NOT worth it. They didn't understand. I'm a believer first, a husband second, and a pastor third. I can't say I would ever consider going back. I like what we have now. Peace and happiness

  25. Gravatar
    Randy Kanipe

    JDS, I hear you. I've been a pastor for nearly 23 years. Much has changed in those 23 years. Mostly, the church universal has grown more hostile toward clergy, and servant leadership has been compromised by the requirement to chase the almighty dollar. Parishoners feel perfectly free to slander, malign and even physically attack the pastor. Three of my mentors have died of stress related heart attacks. I was too - until I got smart and started exercising. I'm now a third degree black belt. Sad to say, but the best preperation for ministry in the postmodern age of the church is to learn some solid self defense strategies; Not because of atheists or terrorists, but becuase of the spiritual terrorists who sit in the pews every Sunday. So little respect for God, even less for God's called servants. 80% of the people I was ordained with have since left the ministry because of this stuff. The church has lost it's very soul in so many ways. LOOK FOR THE MOVIE BETRAYED: THE CLERGY KILLERS DNA

  26. Gravatar
    Junbert Guigayuma

    the statistics were severe...but the reality remains...the resurrection life of Jesus will sustain and empowers us all the way...apart from it no one of us will be able to answer our divine call...

  27. Gravatar
    Traveler For CHRIST

    GOOD Shepherds who really WORKING under DIRECT COMMAND (THE TRUE CALLING of THE LORD GOD), will never ever stop to DO their WORK. I think most of these PASTORS are those people who are just only CALLED by men as SHEPHERDS but NOT - CALLED by THE LORD YESHUA (JESUS). Many CALLED PASTORS are NOT truly CALLED by THE LORD, because we can see that of ALL THE BAD FRUITS of THESE FALSE-CHRISTIAN-LEADERS from a CHRISTIANITY what is without TRUE DISCIPLESHIP. This CHRISTIANITY is just a DEAD CARNAL-RELIGION.

  28. Gravatar

    I have Pastored two churches. First one for 3 years. I am currently in my 26th year of the second one. I have on occasion entertained the thought of leaving ministry but I just can't. While my first church was a short time, I absolutely loved that congregation. While I think a leader can always hone his craft, I believe it is difficult to create a leader. You either are or you are not and it isn't hard to tell the difference. Spotting the leaders among us is the key. Those are the ones who will receive the leadership training available with a humble Spirit. I believe that other than an undeniable calling the key to longevity in Ministry is relational. First to God and then others. I learned a long time ago that I relate to God and others through my weaknesses rather than my strength. A broken and contrite spirit breaks down the imaginary walls built by the world of ego and pride. Thank you Darin. I love your thought process. My prayer goes out to the discouraged. Blessings!

  29. Gravatar
    CrIg Hohnberger

    These stats are distressing. Please God, in the name of Jesus, protect the pastors from the enemy, the world and the flesh; give them the strength and boldness to stand in the gap for those they shepherd; and raise up an army of intercessors to pray and protect pastors. Craig Hohnberger

  30. Gravatar

    Reading through all that have been said, I am compelled to add the following. Pastoral work is an honorable work, it is the only work that God is the primary employer. It is dear to God's heart. However some pastors doing have discredited the work with the help of the devil. I sympathized with pastors and the challenges, but more often pastors contribute to their own pains. I have been around pastors and the church for 25years as a lay leader. I have seen the abuse of members by pastors and their families. When a pastor offend a member who does the member go to without exposing the nakedness of his pastor. People are leaving churches for many reasons but when a member leaves a church because he or she was abused by pastors, it as deadly as a pastor's kid who will have nothing to do with God because what the church did to his or her family. So as we are on this topic, let's think about how to make pastoral work as honorable as God intended it.

  31. Gravatar
    Mike Kelly

    These statistics are unfounded at present. IF you have found ORIGINAL validation for them - please let me know where. All references made in this stream thus far are false (e.g., 'page moved','no longer available', etc.,..). Need something substantial for dissertation citing! Thanks!

  32. Gravatar

    I never expected my pastor to be my buddy or my friend. I never expected him to be at my beck and call when I was in trouble. Not one pastor at any church I have ever attended even cared to know my name or get to know me as a person. Every time they acted like they were "my boss" and I was to obey them without question. No wonder they have job dissatisfaction. Pastors say they just want to be able to share with others or just be friends. Not possible. Unless you have a religious degree of some sort, bags of money, or you are willing to commit yourself 100% to the institutional church forsaking all others, they will have absolutely nothing to do with you. They do not want to know their parisoners. Being a woman, it is made extremely clear that I am less than and inferior. I'm tired of all the whining pastors do. That is why I left. I had nothing to offer that anyone wanted. Period. And, being a discerner, that just nailed the head in the coffin. Sorry pastors, no pity.

  33. Gravatar

    All I ever wanted was for my pastor to love me. I would have jumped through hoops for him. Children respond well when you love them. So do sheep.

  34. Gravatar

    Paul said "The more I love, the less I be loved" 2 Cor. 12:15 This is our calling!

  35. Gravatar

    I need to know where these Pastors go after leaving Pastoring? Do they go into a different field of ministry? I would like to know that. These Stats are very negative without details associated with them. It sounds like they leave Christianity with these stats. Is there a survey that says what they are doing now? That would be good to know if there is some positive ministry or something they have gone into. We need to get people really converted so that we can act like Christ instead of the world. More teachers are needed in Churches that have a life changing experience. More teachers are needed period.

  36. Gravatar
    Casey Sabella

    I've served in ministry throughout my life. (40 years) Pastoring is hard. Quitting is harder. When you un-call yourself, you have to live with the reality that your life is off-center. You can change your theology to fit your lifestyle, but ultimately it doesn't work. Is the system broken? Completely. Does that invalidate the call? Never.

  37. Gravatar
    Hayward Hannan

    The nasty anti pastor rhetoric shared by some in their comments simply ratifies the premise .The pompous piety expressed by other magnifies the ignorance. You want a reason why pastors burn out? Read the ignorance expressed in some of these exemplies the problem!

  38. Gravatar
    Michael Brown

    I want to quote the statistics in this article in my Doctorate of Ministry Thesis and need to verify who the Fuller Institute is and the validity of their research.

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