I have had the honor of working full-time for a number of churches in a number of roles over a 20+ year period. Of those jobs that I had and quit (yes, from some I was fired) the reason for my departure always boiled down to one or more of five factors. My tendency was to stay too long whether out of financial fear, a false sense of martyrdom or a lack of emotional intelligence.
As I talk with Pastors and Church staff around the United States, many of whom are questioning their current ministry job or call altogether, it has caused me to reflect on the five reasons that have caused me to quit church jobs over the last 20+ years. So, in no particular order, right or wrong, here they are…
I am an 8 on the enneagram and am a rather vision oriented, driven person. I need to be challenged and while I love routine, I also have a deep need to move the needle forward, to see actual progress and transformation. In a vast majority of jobs that I left (and even ones where I was fired), boredom was a huge factor. No one has to be bored. In any environment people can find challenge if there is room for freedom and creativity.
- Inability to Provide for my family
This has been a factor in almost every church job I have left as well. Ministry does not pay well, however, it is possible for churches to pay their pastors and staff well and still not break the bank. The scripture reminds us to pay workers their due wage. No good pastor or staff member is in ministry to get rich. Ministry always requires some sacrifice, but it is rather embarrassing what many church pastor/staff families have to go through financially.
- Toxic Work Environment
This is the reason that most people leave church and non-church jobs. In fact, a study of the great resignation showed that the health of the culture was the number one factor by far in the great resignation. Compensation barely cracked the top ten. No one wants to be a part of something that is unhealthy. I have only ever left one church job where the work environment was healthy.
- Mistreatment of my Children
This is a big one and it is perhaps the saddest and least excusable on the list. Children are off limits. Pastors’ kids, church staff kids, all kids. Off limits. There was more than one occasion where I would find one of my children hiding somewhere in the church in tears over the meanness of adults in the church. Gross. Just gross. Their faith suffered greatly. Their mother and I did too.
Racism is incompatible with Christian teaching and the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus fought racism among the Jews by welcoming the Gentiles. I cannot nor would I ever remain a part of a church where racism was tolerated in the culture. You will never meet a human being that is not loved by God.
In one case, it was only one of these reasons, in another case it was four of the five! Needless to say, all of them were unnecessary and probably valid reasons to go. Of all of the churches I have served in a full-time capacity (not including interim roles), there is only one that I would ever consider working for again. Churches are not perfect, nor am I, but my story is the norm for far too many pastors and church staff and that is the real tragedy.
How we care for our pastors and church staff and the culture we allow is a big deal, now more so than ever. Remember, health trumps.
Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director