How do you counsel a pastor when it is time to leave his church?

I get asked this a lot. Unfortunately, there is no cut and dry way to know. Here is a portion of an answer I sent to a pastor who has spent several years struggling through a very hard church. It sounds like he is at the end and trying to keep his family from crumbling. Additionally, his soul is beyond spent. With that small bit of context, here was my advice to him:

Good to hear from you. I regret your update is of this nature with the struggles growing. Only a pastor who knows what it is like to pastor a hard, struggling church knows the depth of pain and hurt you feel. I know that feeling and am saddened this suffering is what you are having to walk through. I am certain of this: God has good purposes in it for you that will make you more like Jesus, although almost impossible to see now. It was hard for me to see them when there were 3 different movements to get me fired at my church in the first 5 years. I can say I see them a bit more now, by God’s grace at the 10 year mark. But, the scars still remain as they will with you regardless what you do from here.

I certainly cannot tell you what you should do. I don’t know what that is. But here are a few thoughts as you consider the path from here:

  • Some of the best advice I ever got was this, “There is always another ministry. You only get one wife.” Since you mentioned the constant struggle this has been on your wife and children, this may be the time to walk away for their sake and regroup. It is a noble thing to make a sacrificial decision for your family and God honors that.


  • As hard as it is and the temptation to feel like a failure is great, there is no shame in walking away for a time. Get a job. Find a good local church to be care for and fed by the word. Enjoy your family without the rigors of pastoral ministry for a time. It is hard to walk away from a flock and even your calling. But there comes a time where you and your family are in such bad shape, you are not good for that church in that condition. The care from a pastor and another church with some time can even help you better assess what God is calling you to
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    at this point in your life.


  • If you stay and stick it out, the Lord will give you grace to press on, dear brother. Remember that. But, if you stay, it sounds like you may need to put up some strict boundaries for the sake of your family that have possibly been neglected. Only you know if this is true, but I am just throwing things out there for you to think about.


  • If you decide to leave, I would strongly encourage you not to go pastor another church right away. If you have been wounded to this despairing point, you need to get some healing to your own soul first and rebuild your family trust before you will be capable to care for another flock. I have watched too many guys in your position underestimate the level of hurt that has been experienced, jump back in too quickly to pastoral ministry, and bad things happen to them and their new church.

Well, there are some random thoughts. I hope in some way they are helpful and the Lord gives you grace and discernment on what his will is for you, your family, and ministry.

Dear brothers, the struggles of ministry are great and they take its toll on you, your soul, and your family. Suffering and difficulty is not a reason to walk away. But a weary, hurting soul that is totally spent in all areas of his life may need to walk away for a time, regroup, get some help and counseling, and be cared for by others. This pastor reached out to me and a few others and was humble and wise to do so. If this describes you, make sure you reach out to someone near you for help. Ask for help before you destroy everything that is dear to you in your life.


Posted in The Pastor's Soul
5 comments on “How do you counsel a pastor when it is time to leave his church?
  1. Jesse van der Meulen says:

    Thanks for this Brian. I had to leave pastoring my church 3 months ago for the sake of my family, plus it didn’t help that my board didn’t want me šŸ˜‰ It’s been tough to be in transition, and we have no idea what’s next for us, but I’m so thankful that no matter what – God still has us. We’ve been so thankful to find a Godly, Gospel-centered church to be a part of, what a gift to simply ‘be’ for the first time in a long time.

    • Brian Croft says:

      Thank you for writing and reminding others that there are times where we must step away for a time and that God cares for us through it. Bless you.

  2. What wonderful counsel you have offered here to these dear brothers! There’s a lot for me to file away, but under the heading “When is it time for a pastor to leave his church,” could you address another struggle: fruitlessness?

    This is not the pastor who is struggling with personal attacks and unreasonable time demands, but rather the pastor who is struggling against inertia, perhaps a congregation that is content to pay the bills and his salary, retaining his services for Sundays and hospitals. If he had no desire for the glory of the Lord, he could probably serve this church indefinitely, but he doesn’t, and he wonders if he can.

    I’m sure there are many answers, like the need for revival, and anecdotes, like Adoniram Judson. But what would you say to a pastor who expressed what he called “a holy discontent” or who said, “I just don’t think I’m the man to lead this church any farther?”

    • Brian Croft says:

      I will think on it. The one thing I would say is that the glory of God can be powerfully displayed in the faithful preaching and ministry of a man of God even in a place like you describe where people are not responding well. Just because you cannot see the fruit, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Read the story and life of Charles Simeon.

      • Matthew Bohling says:

        As one who regrets leaving a call in part because of the ā€œunresponsiveness of the congregationā€, these words from Brian are important. Sometimes in a congregation with much inertia, the pastor must grow in his prophetic stance towards the leadership and congregation that Christā€™s grace might lead to fruitful Christian lives. Simeon is a shining example in this regard.

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