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Why you lost your pastor . . . again

| by Phillip Foster

I read the other day of a pastor who had just finished 48 years in the same church. Anymore, that’s like hearing of a marriage that has lasted 50 years or more. Those are getting few and far between. There are many reasons pastors don’t stay with a church for that long.

1. The way the pastor is treated

I work with pastors and other leaders of Christian ministry when they are at their worst. They call or are referred to me because they are discouraged, dissatisfied or feeling defeated. This isn’t what they thought ministry would be. They never thought it would be this hard.

I worked at a Bible college with young people about to enter into the ministry, and I know some of the baggage many of them took with them into their chosen vocation. I think they were adequately prepared to preach, teach or to serve in whatever role they had chosen; but I think we prepared them to serve in a healthy emotional climate that doesn’t exist in many churches.

Recently, I worked with an older individual who had felt called into the ministry. His first church was a catastrophe. He was disturbingly mistreated, criticized, blamed and eventually left out of frustration, even though he had doubled the attendance in eight months and brought new members to Christ.  What happened?

What happened to him has happened to most ministers at one time or another in their careers in the ministry. 

2. An unhealthy church led by unhealthy leadership

This unhealthiness was triggered by their interactions with the church leadership or having to deal with some of its membership. Some last longer than others, but it’s like rodeo riders. They may ride that bucking bronco for a little while, but eventually they get thrown off.

Pastors are human. They want to be appreciated for what they do. They are subject to making mistakes as we all are but the majority of them respond to correction, unless that correction is overly harsh, constant, unreasonable or without cause. 

3. Lack of mentoring

Young pastors especially benefit from instruction or guidance from leadership that appears to care about his/her well-being. We find that to be true in the church just as we do in the business world.

Joel Head, in an article featured on 6sixseconds, discusses how lost productivity is largely due to lack of employee engagement. He points out that attempts to make employees happier and more satisfied in their work have for the most part failed because they rely on external motivation. What has been discovered is that employees are most influenced by the relationships they have with their employer.

Richard Deci, author of Why We Do What We Do, suggests that in order for leaders to nurture deeper involvement they need to support autonomy and facilitate feelings of competence and relatedness through building stronger relationships. 

4. Responding to criticism

Leaders must learn how their words and actions either build up or tear down relationships. They must learn to be more responsive and less reactive, as well as be an influence rather than control or dominate. In addition, leaders must learn to point out strengths and weaknesses clearly for the purpose of developing competence and promote collaboration and connectedness versus allowing their employees to feel isolated, without support and ultimately responsible for any mistakes or failures.

The long and short of it is that leaders must relate to their pastors on a personal level. They need to have empathy, the ability to experience emotionally what another may be experiencing. The result will be responding to their pastor with understanding versus criticism and judgment which will lead ultimately to dismissal or their pastor’s leaving.

Phillip Foster

Phillip A. Foster, Ph.D., as a psychologist and Director of, provides spiritual direction, counseling, training and consulting, to those in ministry or other roles of leadership in the church. He is also the author of Here’s My Heart, Lord.

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