She's a Maneater: 5 reasons ministers are leaving 'the church' in record numbers

Every day men and women who had once felt commissioned by God to spend their life serving His church walk away from it. The statistics are staggering: anywhere from 60-80% of pastors leave full time ministry before they ever reach the 10 year mark. Many of these people don’t just quit their jobs; they lose all hope in the institutionalized church. Many go on to extend the kingdom in profound and creative ways. Others end up holding a deep disdain for anything remotely resembling the institutions that pushed them away. And still some who have been burned ‘stay’ but wrap themselves in the security blanket of isolation and routine. This is a devastating state of affairs.

Perhaps the greatest travesty in the western church is that we have so severely wounded and pushed away those who were most passionate about movement and reform. Why do the people who set out to serve us end up running from us? And why does the body of Christ not rush to these wounded ones to help them heal and recover from the hurt they have experienced?

This is such a huge problem in Jesus’ church but it flies under the radar because those who have experienced it are in a difficult position to talk about it. Since I have been blessed with fantastic, godly elders and a phenomenal community of peers at CV, I feel like I am in a unique place to speak up for those that may not be so fortunate. If you’ve been around the church for very long, you’ve probably known someone or are someone who has been deeply affected by this. I don’t have any one situation in mind; I’ve watched this happen over and over again. After reading the book “Dangerous Calling”, I feel like it’s time for the church to have some healthy dialogue around why many of the people God has given to build us up into maturity, leave broken and distant from the body.

Below I have outlined several reasons why full time ministers continue to leave the organized church in record numbers. Of course, these things are not true in every church but they are more common than we’d like to admit.

#1 // Few people show genuine concern for their peace of mind, growth, and health

I am not sure who is most to blame for this, but leaders often don’t have the same opportunity that others have to participate in the body of Christ. Perhaps it is because they elevate themselves to a place of prominence and then must live with the consequences. Or maybe it is because everyone assumes that people in such a prominent role must have plenty of people surrounding them with love, accountability, and encouragement. People like to think their pastors are perfect even when they know they aren’t. In any case, it is very difficult for someone in this role to have a community that they can be completely vulnerable with. The pressure to maintain a perfect reputation can build up toward a breaking point.

#2 // Our modes of church often feel foreign to the scriptural precedent

The kingdom of God has not ever been and will not ever be an institution. Yet, humans have been trying to institutionalize it for 1800 years. Many of our modern churches are still trying. So when these two worlds clash, which one wins? Many of our young pastors walk out of seminary thinking they are walking into the church focused on seeking the kingdom only to find that they accidentally walked into a company focused on increasing their market share. Our churches are often more organized around sustaining themselves than extending the kingdom. Organization is a good thing – but only when it is there to enable and empower the forward movement of the organism.

#3 // Some leaders get in the way of Jesus leading His church

Jesus is the one and only head of the church – when men try to assume headship things can get very unhealthy. Jesus gave us everything we need to be successful: His words and His Spirit. We don’t need more leaders dressed up like CEO’s of fortune 500 companies; we need more leaders clothed in Christ, submitted to His Lordship, led by His Spirit. Leaders who spend a lot of their time trying to get people to follow them are in acute danger of distracting people from following Jesus. When a minister who truly believes they answer first and foremost to Jesus runs into a leader that demands they answer first and foremost to them, this creates an exhausting (and unhealthy) situation. While it makes perfect sense in the corporate world to have bosses and hierarchies, Jesus makes it clear that He alone leads, grows, builds, and sustains His church. Good leaders always model Jesus and point those they lead toward Jesus.

#4 // Their gifts are undervalued, suppressed, or ignored – and they can’t fit the mold we’ve built for them

The Spirit gives the gifts to whoever He pleases and then decides how they get used. When we limit the ministry of any of these people or in some cases, work to silence them, the whole body loses because it never grows up into maturity – and surely isn’t unified. Who can say to another part of the body, “I don’t need you”. And which part is more important or vital than the next? And what hand knows how to do the foot’s job better than the foot? Jesus was the ultimate apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – no one man or woman can embody all of these gifts -- we all need each other so we can truly continue Jesus’ work on earth.

#5 // They feel like their job hinders their ability to produce genuine fruit

When those who are leading our churches become concerned with branding and marketing their local body, a lot of unintentional and unfortunate things happen in the down line. For instance, we begin using metrics that Jesus never used and don’t end up measuring what really matters. People begin evaluating ministers by how many people attend their programs instead of the quality of fruit that is being produced from their influence. In turn, the priority of many churches has changed from being a Spirit-led, disciple making, kingdom centered, body TO becoming a mega-church. Jesus’ model of discipleship and growth was quite different from our predominant one, and ministers who know it have a difficult time reconciling the two in their Spirit.

This list is not exhaustive. It may not even be correct. I am praying for this to spark dialogue – not on message boards and comment threads, but in the hearts of leaders. We cannot sit by and let this continue. What would it look like if we took the images of the church mentioned in scripture to heart and began living them out? How different would it look if we operated like the body of Christ, the family of God, and the living temple? I believe things would look much different. The one thing I know is this: every body part is important, every brother/sister is important, and every stone is important. How can we truly be His church without them?


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