You’re Not Only Letting This Church Down, You’re Letting Jesus Down.

I think we can agree that being a pastor is more noble than being a convict. But announce that you are a former pastor and there will be raised eyebrows and whispers as though you had identified yourself as a former convict. Likely, either will elicit a silent response as they think, “I wonder what he did.”

If you’re a former pastor you’re at least a curiosity to unchurched people. Among church people the assumption about you is likely to fall in one or more of the following categories:

  • You committed some terrible sin and were either forced to resign or were fired.
  • You are weak and couldn’t handle the heat in the kitchen so you gave up.
  • You rejected your calling and left ministry for secular work.
  • Unless you are 65+ years old and retired from ministry, being a former pastor seems to be an indictment of your character, your faith and perseverance, and/or your obedience to God. Regardless, you didn’t finish the race. You either quit or got disqualified; and both are disgraceful. Actually, neither are disgraceful but that’s how you feel, isn’t it?

    If you’re a former pastor then you’re an expastor, which sounds like you are a divorcee. Ask almost anyone who has been through a divorce, and whether they wanted the divorce or resisted it, it made them feel like a failure at marriage. Most people go into pastoral ministry with a vow (or at least with a mindset) of till-death-do-us part. Not retiring from the pulpit or dying in it can feel like failure—even though it can also produce a feeling of relief.

    In Israel during the time of Jesus there was no greater position in the Jewish community than the rabbi. There was nothing you could have done vocationally that would have made your parents more proud. If you were a rabbi there was nowhere to go but down as a second career.

    Likewise it can be difficult for clergy to leave the ministry (for whatever reason) for another vocation without feeling that it requires great explanation and probably apology of some sort. As one deacon told a burned out pastor after he resigned, “You’re not only letting this church down, you’re letting Jesus down.” And that’s the real blow.

    As one assistant pastor told me, “I not only feel like I had to leave the ministry for my own physical, emotional, spiritual, and marital survival; and not only do I not know what I will do next because ministry is all I’ve ever done and all I know how to do; on top of all that I have the weight of hearing and feeling that I’m a huge disappointment to God.”

    The well-hidden and well-documented epidemic of clergy leaving the ministry (see Chapter 1) and the injury, wounds, pain, and scars known by former pastors makes a book like this one so very important and helpful.

    Whether you are a lead pastor or an assistant pastor; whether you are young in the ministry or a battle-scarred veteran; whether you have already left the ministry or are considering it; whether you left your church voluntarily or were asked/forced to leave; whether you long to return to pastoral ministry or are intent in fleeing in the opposite direction … this book is for you.

    This is an excerpt from Dr. Ramon Presson’s foreword in the book, Why Pastors Quit by Bo Lane. To find out more about the book, click here.

    POSTED ON April 4, 2014
    • Margo Ruark

      Christians can say the most unloving things, don’t they? Next time if someone asks, and you feel compelled to answer what you used to do…say you were/are a sex therapist and see if that leads to a more loving conversation.

      • Thanks for the comment, Margo!

    • Andrew

      The simple reason you leave is because you didn’t know God and eventually your belief in God failed. That is great news, because when you stop believing in God you are actually realizing that to believe in God was insufficient… and it was. This notion of believing in God as this site promotes, as every church promotes, defies your very existence since you actually know God – just forgot. The biblical text is like a road map to help you know God again and “live with God”.

      Ministers say the words, sometimes you even mean it, but do you really know the meaning of all the stories… no. You go on telling them based on “faith” without contemplating that even that is insufficient (as it says in the bible)…

      There is a leap that happens when you know. You will realize that the 10 commandments were not obligatory laws, all the stories mean something else, and Jesus is really the way and the truth….

      Until you know, you are just lost sheep… not shepherds (though you think you are)… and you have no flock just people who pay you money if they like what you say… not much different than some “old profession”…

      Know God…

    • Tony Bolen

      Thank you! I still struggle with the thought of “being a hireling who abandoned the flock,” and yes, people inevitably assume the worst when you leave the Ministry. That said, as a former heathen, I could not imagine the ugly, unChristian behavior so prevalent within the “sanctuary” walls. I’m putting my life back together now (with God’s help) and trying to reassemble the broken pieces of my family in the process. I’ve finally been led to a noble vocation that pays well (you left off the part about how an “MDiv” on your resume is a certain way to continued unemployment), and I am grateful for being allowed to make a difference in some people’s lives…but it still hurts like hell. Thanks again-

    • Mike

      I came back to my church after going to my 20 year High School reunion (which itself was almost 20 years ago now) to find the locks on the church changed. I was not given a key. That led to a heated discussion at the Church Council meeting on a Wednesday night. In anger I walked out of the church. Several felt that I was not leading the church. So rather than split the church I quit. We really struggled for six months. I always felt that I had let Jesus down. I felt like a disappointment to him.
      Four years ago I was forced out of my position as area missionary because of changes within the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the pastors on the board kept telling me that I needed to resign because the association could not afford to pay my salary any longer. Two days after my resignation went into effect, he took my place at more salary than they were paying me. That hurt the worst. I left the area and took a secular job 1200 miles away, but due to “an act of God” literally, I had to move back to where I was serving before. I am now the bi vocational pastor of a small church in that association. I struggle with the anger and bitterness over that association almost everyday because I drive by that building every day on my way to work. Very often I see the man that took my job. I have absolutely no respect for that man.

      I have searched for a full time position for four years and nothing has opened up. I feel as though I must have really ticked God off because I feel as though He has put me on a shelf and said, “I’m done with you.” I still have nine years until retirement age, but no one wants a pastor this age.

      • Larissa Douglas

        My husband pastored a church where our association was an issue to. Our church had fired 4 of it’s last 5 pastors and deacons admitted they were a “pastor killer church”. They eventually fired my husband too, not a surprise. So I understand the feelings of anger and resentment towards the association/false ministers that are prevalent throughout our nation. I would not however allow your feelings to convince you that God cannot or will not use you. It took 6 months for my husband to find work again after he was removed. He is now back in ministry after a 3 year hiatus of constant interviews and rejection. But God is faithful and he’s been serving for two years in a church that has been such a blessing. God will use you, he used us at the pastor killer church but not in the ways we thought he would. And today he is using us and this church to bring the gospel to our community. Following Jesus is hard and he do pastors such a disservice by not telling them how often suffering is mentioned in the bible. Take heart, he’s not finished with you! He hasn’t put you on a shelf. If you’re still alive you still have usefulness. Read 2 Cor 4 again and remember that in our sufferings he is breaking our vessels—to reveal the treasure of the gospel inside. The more broken down our vessel the more clearly his gospel (the treasure) shins forth and proclaims his glory and grace!

    Ramon Presson, PhD, a licensed marriage & family therapist, is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin. He is a newspaper columnist and with a dozen books in print, he is the most published practicing therapist in Tennessee. From 1989 to 2004 Presson served as an assistant pastor in large churches in North Carolina South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee. Ramon has had the unique privilege to work alongside with, be mentored by, and later co-author several books with Dr. Gary Chapman. Ramon’s newest book is titled, “When Will My Life Not Suck? Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned.” Ramon & his wife, Dorrie, and two teenage sons live outside of Nashville, TN. He can be reached at