Three-and-Done: Why Ministry Leaders Quit and 3 Books That Can Help You Beat the Odds

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Most ministry leaders, specifically pastors, tend to leave their ministry after 3 to 4 years. It is an unfortunate statistic that limits a ministry’s ability to flourish. I have heard from several ministry leaders regarding this issue. Here are some reasons why ministry leaders quit after 3 years:

1. The honeymoon phase ends.

The fanfare that previously surrounded their leadership has subsided. Immediate buy-in to suggested changes becomes rare.

2. Your flaws become more obvious to others.

Everyone begins to see them for who they are, including their flaws. And people seem eager to point them out.

3. The ministry’s flaws become more obvious to you.

The thought of, “Now I know why the prior ministry leader left,” creeps into their mind. They now see the organizational issues, the employee issues, and, unfortunately, the politics of the ministry.

4. Dreams become work.

It was fun to dream. But it takes work to make a dream become reality. There are numerous hurdles to overcome. They wonder if their vision is worth the work.

5. Uncertainty of the next step.

They have had some early success but are now unsure of the next step. They struggle to find motivation. They begin to think it is best for someone else to take their turn at leading the ministry.

If you find yourself in this situation, this post may help.

Recommended books for those who are in their 3rd year of ministry leadership

If you are in your third year of ministry, take some time to read these books. These books will help you understand your current situation and, hopefully, motivate you to push through this common slump.

1. The Dip by Seth Godin

Most leaders will face a point when fun transitions to difficulty. This is the dip. Seth Godin discusses when leaders should quit and when they should push through the dip.

2. Great by Choice by Jim Collins

A follow-up to his best seller, Good to Great, Collins describes how some organizations thrive during times of uncertainty and chaos.

 3. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Strategy by various contributors

Harvard Business Review compiles their 10 most significant articles on strategy. These articles continue to guide much of our current organizational strategy thought. It is a must-read for any leader.

For more on this topic, check out this article by Thom Rainer. 

Dear Burned Out Pastor,

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Three-and-Done: Why Ministry Leaders Quit and 3 Books That Can Help You Beat the Odds

    • Thank you for your input, Russell. Admittedly, I am not sure what you mean by providing positives on this topic. Could you explain this a little more?

  1. I would add another book to this list: “Managing Stress in Ministry” —- by David Frisbie, with a foreword by H.B. London. It is the single most powerful book for pastors that I have read.

  2. Are saying that ministers leave their current church after three years or leave the ministry entirely. After reading the article, I was not sure about the emphasis. Thank you. Love your articles. Jeff

  3. I would be curious to know from which denomination/tradition these stats come from? As a Lutheran pastor I have served 3 congregations over 26 years and most of my colleagues are in similar situations. I am only aware of very few who have left the ministry and if they did it was due to inappropriate boundary violations and our church body has a no tolerance policy when it comes to this sort of thing. Maybe our longevity has to due with a rather involved candidacy process with approvals and endorsements as well as a lengthy and now expensive academic expectation. Needless to say there are many checks and balances to help potential clergy understand and recognize their sense of call or the possible lack of call. So I have to wonder, are those clergy who leave lacking in a support network, do they have mentors, is there any institutional involvement prior to an ordination and afterwards? This is no vocation for a “lone wolf”–we are all in this together, at least that has been my experience and I get concerned when I see pastors with out a support network of fellow clergy or a supportive church behind them. I mean, even Jesus had the disciples, though often clueless!

    • Great question, Stephen. LifeWay Research performed a study that included all Protestant denominations/traditions. The average tenure for pastors was 3.6 years. Unfortunately, I do not have the denominational breakdown readily available. You have brought up some good points, and there are certainly additional reasons for this statistic beyond what I mentioned.

  4. another salient issue to consider is finances. When a church cannot afford to pay you (full time or part time) that can be cause for some one to leave a position in a ministerial setting to go to another

    Another thing for consideration (it is not a reason to leave or stay, just a factor in the equation) is the notion of covenantal relationship. Where does the minister or the congregation see the value of covenantal relationship?