What are Denominations Doing to Support ExPastors and Pastors Looking to Leave?

“One thing I have noticed is that when pastors leave or are let go, denominations do little in the way of helping. I’m sure there are exceptions to this but I know a few who feel left out in the wilderness.”

Jesse, a chaplain, made the comment above on a recent article on our website. Many people, from what I’ve recently gathered, share Jesse’s frustration and they’re asking some challenging questions:

What are denominations doing to support current pastors and those looking to transition out? How are denominations following up with pastors who have already left the ministry? And what is happening on a denominational level to support young and new pastors to give them a better understanding of the hardships and realities of a pastor’s life?

Because I believe these are valid questions and think many who have pastored within denominational structures deserve solid answers, I called a handful of denominational leaders regarding such topics. Most I talked with asked to remain anonymous. Since it isn’t my desire to cause a divide amongst pastors and their respective denominations and because I understand this can be a sensitive subject, I gladly agreed to their requests. That being said, because it’s also my desire to find a solution or at least put us on the path of finding a solution to this mass pastoral exodus, I’m going to give you my honest opinion on the subject. As you’ll find in my conclusion at the end of this article, we have a long way to go.

If you’re new to the conversation, I’d encourage you to read some statistics on why some pastors leave the ministry. This should help you get a better idea of why this issue requires more attention.

An Argument to Be Made

Without a doubt, there could be an argument made on both sides. From those who think very little is being done by denominations for pastors who have left the ministry to those who are quite pleased with the effectiveness denominations have on retaining and supporting their pastors. Such is the case with Dick Bruesehoff’s recent comment on our site:

“Thank you for raising what certainly are huge concerns in many denominations and for many of us who are working every day with pastors and their families. And while I certainly do see that many pastors are struggling with discouragement, loneliness, overwork and conflict, some of the statistics [in your previous article] don’t match the actual experience of at least my denomination. Thankfully we do not have 50% of our newly-ordained pastors leaving ordained ministry in the first five years. In fact our experience is that even after 15 years, less than 10% of pastors have left ordained ministry. And our experience is that a large majority (at least 7 of 10) do retire as pastors.”

Although I appreciate Dick’s comments, and have since followed up with him via email to get a better understanding of his position regarding this subject, I don’t think the situation in which his denomination sits is the norm. Quite the opposite from what I’ve gathered.

Lisa, whose father traveled to different churches during the last two years of his life working as a pastor to pastors for the Baptist Conference of British Columbia, also commented on our site. She said, “I know that not all denominations have support systems like this in place and I think that’s a disservice to the people who are serving in their churches and not just the pastors.”

There were several outlets available to me when I served as pastor in a large denomination. They did a decent job offering resources to pastors, whether it was a quarterly publication written for encouragement and edification or offering time at retreat centers for pastors and their families. Some denominations, especially larger ones, even enlist pastors or leaders as directors of pastoral care. They might provide a confidential number to call and offer support or counsel for struggling ministers or they’ll provide a list of Christian counselors for their pastors to seek out.

Even though the outlets most denominations offer can be beneficial, most (possibly all in some cases) are only available if the pastor reaches out.

You might be thinking, “How will denominations know whether the pastor is struggling if the pastor doesn’t reach out?” Well, the problem with that question is that the question is the problem.

Is There a Good Solution?

Continue reading on the next page

POSTED ON April 29, 2014
  • Jim

    When I left the pastorate after more than 35 years of volunteer service in our state Baptist convention, I heard from no one from the state offices. After all the investment of time, I would have thought someone would have attempted to make a contact. Neither have I been used by any Baptist churches following my departure. I am finding great fulfillment as a chaplain and for the first time feel like I am doing a real ministry.

    You might contact the Ministering to Ministers Foundation out of Richmond, VA. I have found their work to be a great resource for clergy going through forced termination.

    • That’s unfortunate, Jim. But thanks for your comment. That’s why we’re trying to get the word out. Hopefully we can start seeing the stats change in a positive direction. Many blessings to you, friend.

  • Dave Jacobs

    You guys consistently put out good stuff. Keep it coming.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Dave. Be blessed.

  • Gerri

    Thanks for posting this valuable information. My husband and I were pioneer Baptist missionaries overseas. He pastored a missionary church. When we resigned as missionaries after about 14 years of service, there was no one to help us. While we struggled at times on the mission field, unfortunately, not many of our churches even communicated with us. We felt abandoned…but we also know that many other missionaries have endured the same trials.

    • Gerri, thanks for your comment. Would love to hear more about your missionary work. Please feel free to connect with me further. And thanks for joining in on the conversation. Be blessed.

      • Gerri

        Thanks Bo…we are so thankful for the privilege of representing the Lord on our mission field..it truly was a blessing to experience His presence, power and provisions while there. Although nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished easily, it was on the field that God renewed our faith and taught us so much about serving Him and others. My husband and I still have a passion for mission work and are praying for Him to send us out again. It’s so worthwhile and fulfilling being able to impact others for His kingdom.

  • Shhh, don’t tell my denominati

    Great article. I really appreciate that you are tackling some difficult subjects that need to be addressed. I took what I thought was going to be about a 6 month sabbatical but it has turned into 2 years and counting. I moved to a new area for family reasons. When I contacted my local denominational leaders to ask if I could get connected with the local pastors, I was told that I could not participate. This was very disheartening and discouraging. I had given 25 years of faithful service and now I am completely disconnected. It has been very hard and discouraging. I find it interesting that if you ask the leaders about “connectedness” and “inclusiveness”, they would tell you that they are very welcoming. When you ask the average pastor in the trenches or those that have taken a rest for a season, they will tell you, there is no support and they make you feel like you have a disease. The reality is, most denominational leaders are disconnected from what is really happening in the real world of pastoring. In the mean time, I have found Chaplaincy very rewarding. Have you notice how many have made this same statement about Chaplaincy.

    • Great thoughts. I’d love to hear more of your story. If you have a chance, please email me at bo(at)bolane(dot)org. Blessings.

  • patrick

    As a divorced pastor I have found a lack of support by church leaders as well as colleagues. They are either unwiliing or unable to provide counsel. ronically my congregation has been very supportive. I’m interested in providing help yo hurting pastors and have offered to do so. What might be an effective means to accomplish this? Patrick

    • Patrick, please send me an email at bo(at)bolane(dot)org. And thanks for the comment. Be blessed.

  • Tony Bolen

    Twice I was let go from LC-MS congregations for unScriptural reasons (once for refusing to play favorites with the controlling Matriarchal family, and once because the congregation “could no longer afford a full-time minister). Both times the denominational hierarchy did nothing more than try to have my mental state “evaluated” (my wife’s as well!!!), and both times, the denomination did absolutely nothing to follow up with either spiritual or temporal care. Several colleagues have had similar experiences…all the while the LC-MS continues to cry about a “ministerial shortage.” God bless those of you who’ve received support when the chips are down, but if you desire to be faithful to the heritage of Martin Luther, may God be with you!

  • Andy Moore

    Was my post from yesterday taken down? It is no longer here. 🙁

    • Andy, we did not receive anything from you yesterday nor was anything deleted. Please feel free to repost what you submitted. Thanks.

      • Andy Moore

        What I wrote yesterday was that the church we left didn’t want to have anything to do with the denomination with which it was affiliated. When I talked with the denom. heads they only said I needed to fix whatever was the issue because the local church is autonomous, they can’t interfere with anything they decide. After we vacated the ministry there, the first place the church went was to the denomination to get them to supply an interim there until they call another minister. The denom. left us high and dry and has not checked on us since. Because the majority of denominations (and churches) seem to follow a business model for structure and ministry order rather than a biblical one, we shall always be left to the wolves. So sad.

  • me

    Another issue that needs consideration is the amount of ministers left high and dry after a church closes down. Denominations need to do more to support and ensure that ministers go through the process of healing instead of leaving them on the rubbish heap. Finding God’s will after ministry is a difficult feat with faced with isolation, loneliness and brokenness. We found that after 5 years of ministry as senior pastor that no body wanted to know us we couldn’t even find a spiritual home that was accepting of us as many churches do not like ex ministers. I’ve been out of the ministry over 5 years now and the heartbreak we have felt during that time can not be put into words. But we are so grateful that our God heals the broken hearted that in the midst of hopelessness he is there to give hope for the future. We still struggle with finding God’s purpose for our lives because our call is the ministry. My heart goes out to ex pastors, its not an easy road but I pray that you find hope and healing in Christ.

  • Larissa Douglas

    My husband was fired (the last of 4 or 5 pastors from this single church) there was not support from the local association, national denomination or even the church, they lied to us about severance. We were seriously disheartened that there are ministries for pastors who have a moral failure but for those who are wrongly accused and forced out because of unbelieving membership there is no care. We were forced to rely on our own savings. Eventually a seminary president whom we knew from our undergraduate studies heard our story and have us some much needed moral and referential support, which encouraged us immensely. We also received support from a theological author my husband contacted. But nothing denominational. We are now serving in another denominational church and don’t harbor bitterness but it seems there is a stigma on “failed pastors” even when they aren’t guilty! Even our friends or fellow

  • TheVillain

    Good article. If I could add one thing to the list, it would be this:

    Have an honest conversation about burnout. Specifically, how to assess, prevent, and especially treat it. I have spent my entire life in the church (with one denomination or another) and accepted my own call to ministry when I was a junior in high school. Went to college for the BA in theology, and finished seminary (Master of Arts in Counseling Ministry, concentration in Pastoral Care/Chaplaincy). I’ve been ice skating uphill for years trying to make the chaplaincy thing work, and one of the scariest parts of the discernment and inner work that I have seen from peers is how both in preparation for ministry, and in the practice thereof, burnout is misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mistreated.

    By and large, most of the people I’ve known who have walked away from ministry as a profession have all identified burnout as a major contributing factor. But in our congregations, our polities, and in our seminary classrooms we treat the pastor who says “I’m feeling burned out lately” or “I’m afraid of getting burned out” like we treat the terminally ill. Even in the more liberal congregations I’ve been a part of, burnout was regarded as a sort of excommunication, as if it were a pale of sorts from which there was no return. Couple that with the overwhelming expectation placed on new or younger pastors to be able to quietly and graciously handle 60-90 hours of work a week, and what you have is a recipe for disaster.

    I’m sure there are a lot of different definitions of burnout, and a lot of different lenses of faith by which we can assess burnout in ourselves or others, but in my professional experience, we are radically and woefully under equipped to face it. We need to talk about it. We need the liberty to do so, and the assurance that discerning burnout will not result in a pink slip. Some of the most brilliant and effective pastors I’ve ever met have left because of burnout. Some rage quit and burn so many bridges that they blacklist themselves from returning (if ever) to ministry. Some quietly leave and regardless of where they wind up, mourn their ministry for years. Sure we tell our pastors to take care of themselves in the classroom, but in the field, it’s a vastly different experience. So let’s have an honest conversation about burnout.

Bo Lane is the founder of ExPastors, a community that strives to offer help, healing, and hope for expastors, pastors, and church leaders, and author of Why Pastors Quit. As a media professional with more than 15 years of experience, he has developed marketing and brand strategies that have revolutionized churches and businesses, both large and small. Bo left full-time ministry after serving more than a decade in churches in Oregon, California, and Iowa. He is also a writer, filmmaker, woodworker, husband and father.