More Reasons It’s Difficult for Pastors to Leave the Pulpit

I’ve posted before about how one of the major reasons pastors leave the pulpit is because they realize they’re no longer preaching the truth.

So why would people remain pastors once they realize the Bible is no longer credible? Lots of reasons. Uncertainty about a new career is only one of the issues.

David Hayward (a.k.a. nakedpastor) left the ministry (even though he’s still a Christian) and he knows firsthand how hard it is to leave a church. He listed a number of reasons it’s difficult for anyone to leave the pulpit and some of them haven’t been discussed very much — even in articles about The Clergy Project:

2. family: Especially if your family is Christian, they had so much pride in the fact that you were “serving the Lord“. Pastors will anticipate a great deal of disappointment from their families when they walk away from this very special calling that so many people took such delight in.

7. enemies: Those who have questioned, ridiculed or even opposed the pastor’s ministry will suddenly have all the ammunition they need to say, “I told you so!” I’ve heard many times that leaving the ministry was proof that I shouldn’t have been a pastor to begin with. It feels like throwing in the towel, and there are people who love to cheer that demonstration of surrender.

8. meaning: To leave most jobs doesn’t bear the weightiness that leaving the ministry does. Leaving the ministry carries an existential significance that shoots a resigning pastor into the darkest of nights because, as most pastors sense, their job wasn’t just a job, but an extension of their spiritual selves. Ministry is the expression of their convictions, and to leave the job appears to be the desertion of these core convictions.

Why should we pay attention to these reasons? Because these are the hurdles we need to help pastors overcome if we want to help them leave that profession and begin another. It’s not as easy as, “Just go do something else.”

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • A Morris

    Perhaps it might be better if these types of pastors stay on the job. They could be a force for good by preaching and practicing only the humanistic aspects of the faith and changing their church from within. We can’t eliminate religion entirely, so these agents of reason working undercover might be a good thing.

    • george.w

      Some good might result from it if they did but well-intentioned deception is what we’re trying to get away from. 

    • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

      Ministers would have the wolf by the ears — they wouldn’t want to keep holding on, but afraid  of getting bit if they  let it go.

      • george.w

        That’s a very good description. Ref. #7 on the list. When a teen says “I’m planning to enter the ministry” they get all kinds of positive reinforcement but once their in the ministry, it’s like disarming bombs all day. The ministry is a profession that chews up and spits out an alarming percentage of people who enter it.

        • A Morris

          “disarming bombs all day” is a great description of the job. My wife is the administrator of a local church, so I know what you mean by this.

          “chews up and spits out” – are you speaking from experience here?

      • george.w

        Gah! “they’re”

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      Many people who go into ministry do so in part because they are thoughtful, introspective, and principled. For people like that, the hypocrisy of keeping up the deception of belief every hour of every day can be downright painful, and can foment self-loathing.  The good they’re able to do for a few people might simply not compensate enough. 

      • Babs

        Probably so, and consider how the bar is rather low to go into ministry – a tax-exempt, rather free-form ‘business’ that you can fashion according to your own druthers rather than those of a corporation. A person who would like to care for peoples’ emotional wellbeing outside of the religious framework would have to go to ‘real’ college, get an advanced degree, and other hoops to jump that are not there especially in the DIY ‘house church’ movement that is so popular now.

  • DG

    I would suggest lost of career is probably one of the major reasons. 

  • Ronlawhouston

    I think many people enter ministry not so much out of religious zeal but for the desire to minister to the needs of people.  The best pastors I’ve met actually minister without preaching.  One problem is that churches expect their ministers to be preachers also.  The world needs ministers, preachers, not so much.

    • judith sanders

      So, try to work for a non-profit, become a nurse, therapist, etc.

  • The Other Weirdo

    At the end of the day, most of these boil down to the religious claim that there is no meaning  outside of faith and god. When they lose both, they feel like there is nothing to live for

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke, orphan

    I don’t really have  lot of pity here. ministry is a great scam, if you can get it. it’s the best of both worlds, except you’re the one to have to get up early on a weekend day. other than that, it’s easy work. 

    • george.w

      Before you embarrass yourself any more, step back and consider you really don’t know what you’re talking about here.


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