I’ve been privileged to meet and get to know many great pastors, and what separates them from the rest is probably not what you think. Sometimes we are guilty of judging a pastor or leader based solely on their public giftedness. In other words, we believe great pastors are great speakers or visionaries. While they probably exhibit those qualities, I have found 4 consistent qualities in almost every truly exceptional pastor that I know.
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to read this article, because you’re never leaving your church.
The reality is, though, at some point, you may decide to leave and will want or need to have a conversation with one of your pastors about it.
Before I give you a few tips to make the conversation easier, let me try and explain something almost impossible to explain. When you’re talking to a pastor — especially a senior pastor — about anything having to do with the church, you are not just talking about the church, you are talking about the pastor’s life, heart, and soul. I know you think you love the church as much as they do. I know you even believe that you’ve sacrificed and served the church as much as they have, but you haven’t. I don’t say that to be rude or mean; you just need to know that while you think about the church anywhere from two to ten hours a week (depending on your level of involvement) they are thinking about it all the time. They wake up and go to bed thinking about it. It’s probably unhealthy, but they can’t help it. They’ve invested everything in the church. They’ve sacrificed their family, health, marriage, and life to make the church the best it can be. It’s important you know that because every statement you are getting ready to make is going to be personal. It’s going to hurt, and we are probably going to get defensive.
Knowing that, let me give you some advice on how to tell your pastor you are leaving the church.
1. Don’t say, “It’s not personal.” Instead say, “I know this is going to hurt, but…”
I’ve already explained it, but this is probably the worst thing you can say. I know you don’t think it’s personal, but trust me; it’s as personal as it gets. I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, “We’re going to be looking for another church. Please don’t take it personally because it has nothing to do with you, it’s just…” It makes me want to scream. It would be like me saying to you, “I can’t be your friend anymore because I don’t like your kids. Please don’t take it personally because I love you and your wife, it’s just your kids.”
2. Don’t say, “I feel like God is leading me.” Instead say, “I want to leave…”
In all my years of talking to members who are leaving, I’ve never met anyone who started praying about leaving a church and heard a “no” from God. In other words, once you start praying about leaving, you’re going to leave. If you’re completely honest, you probably didn’t hear God tell you to leave; there are just some reasons you want to leave, and God didn’t stop you. That’s ok. The reason people like to use the “God card” is because they feel protected. After all, who’s going to tell you you’re lying about hearing from God? Always be leary of a God who never tells you what you don’t want to hear.
3. Don’t say, “I’m not getting fed.”
You telling a pastor you’re leaving because he doesn’t preach deep enough, or you’re not getting spiritual stimulation is like telling your spouse you’re leaving because they’re fat and ugly. It’s the most hurtful thing you can say because the pastor is doing everything they can to help their people experience God. It’s also incredibly arrogant because, whether you realize it or not, what you are saying is, “I’m at a superior spiritual level, and this church isn’t challenging or meeting my spiritual needs. And since you are the one responsible for setting the spiritual tone, I must be more spiritual than you, too.” There are many people in the congregation who are being “fed” by the teaching of the pastor. There is no good way to say this, so just don’t go there.
4. Say you’re sorry
You probably don’t feel like you need to, but it will make a big difference. If you can understand that after meeting with your pastor they probably won’t be able to sleep that night, and will probably either cry or feel like a failure once it’s over, you can understand why an apology is significant. Leave with humility and class. Leave with enough self-realization to admit it’s probably more about something going on in you than it is the shortcomings of your pastor or church. The church you’re leaving is probably doing the same things it was doing when you started attending, and you loved it and talked about how amazing it was.
Your pastor loves you. That’s why it hurts so much. He prays for you, and even though there are times you frustrate him, God has given him a burden for your soul, and when you leave you are ripping out a part of it. They understand that people are going to leave, their leadership and the church aren’t perfect, and you aren’t trying to be hurtful. Regardless, go about it like you’ve got the tweezers and you’re playing Operation — very carefully.
I’ve served in ministry for over 16 years, as a senior pastor for 10 years.
I’ve seen people come and go, hate me and love me, but one thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to and couldn’t do anything else besides pastor, it’s my life’s purpose.
The stats are scary and staggering, only 1 out of 10 pastors who start in vocational ministry finish their career in vocational ministry. Take a moment and comprehend those numbers, only 1 in 10 planes that take off don’t crash.
There are lots of reasons why pastoring is challenging, and no doubt your profession is challenging too, but the difference is when your life is over and you stand before God you will give account for yourself, your pastor will give an account for themselves and everyone God entrusted to their care. It’s heavy and hard.
After 16 years of sitting under, working for, and being a senior pastor, I thought you might want to know the truth about your pastor.
1. Your pastor is trying their best
You may not believe it. You may think their just throwing things together, but they aren’t. The results may not be what you want, but I’ve never met a pastor who didn’t want to succeed or make a difference. They’re preaching the best sermons they can create, empowering the best volunteers they can find, and doing whatever possible to try and motivate you to be excited about your church. Whatever is bothering you about your church, trust me, they’re more frustrated than you are.
[bctt tweet=”Whatever is bothering you about your church, trust me, your pastor is more frustrated than you are.” username=”jasonisaacs”]
2. Your pastor works harder than you think they do
You may work more hours than they do, but you’re not working harder. Their mind never shuts off. They’re planning sermons, making phone calls, and doing visits. They’re always on call; they’re counseling, providing care, and being a spouse and a parent. Every time they get ready to finally take a break their phone rings with a call from somebody in the church. The emotional strain of pastoring wears them out. Don’t assume that a lack of physical labor means they’re not working hard.
I wrote a book about the emotional tole of pastoring called “Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart.” Consider buying a copy for your pastor. Click here for more information.
3. Your pastor is rarely 100% confident
They work really hard to come across as confident, but most of the time when they are pitching a new idea or casting vision, their only “kind of” sure. They hope it works, they hope it was God speaking, but they’ve learned that waiting to be 100% confident will never come when you are working for God. I wrote more about a pastor’s illusion of confidence in this blog.
4. Your pastor has an ego
I’ve never met a great pastor who doesn’t have a little bit of an ego. They have to. When they walk into a church that hasn’t grown under the last five pastors, there has to be part of them that believes they can accomplish something others couldn’t. After enough people tell them “They aren’t getting fed anymore” your pastor has to have something on the inside that convinces them to walk up on the stage and speak again. Yes, some pastors can be egotistical maniacs, but every great pastor has to have a small ego to get out of bed every Monday.
5. Your pastor is worried you’re going to leave
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been attending the church for 20 years, pastors feel like you are just one conflict away from visiting another church. They probably shouldn’t be so defensive, but they have seen too many people walk out the door over small, silly things. The feeling of disappointment when someone leaves the church is impossible to explain to someone who has never experienced it, especially someone who is leaving. If you’re going to leave and choose to meet with them, use these tips I’ve provided in “How To Tell Your Pastor You’re Leaving Your Church.”
6. Your pastor takes things personally
Even when you preface your statement with “Don’t take this personally, but…” they still take it personally. I know in your mind it’s just a church, or it’s just a service, or it’s just a sermon, but to them it’s their life, calling, and identity. When you say you don’t like the music, or you’re leaving because no one has befriended you, they take it personally because you’re talking about their family. It would be like if someone said to you, “I really love you and want to hang out with you, but I don’t want to hang out at your house anymore because your kids are crazy. Don’t take it personally because it’s your kids, not you, but we’ll have to hang out somewhere other than your house.” That’s what it feels like.
7. You get on your pastor’s nerves sometimes
Don’t take this personally, but… you can be annoying sometimes. You probably don’t realize how fickle, or temperamental you are, but when you want to meet to talk about something “really important” and tell them you’re frustrated because your daughter didn’t get a solo in the Christmas play, it’s annoying. Sometimes it feels like the loudest people are the least involved, and that’s even worse. Which leads us to the next thing you need to know.
8. Your encouragement matters (especially Monday-Saturday)
You will never know how much your encouragement lifts their spirits, especially during the week. While your encouragement of their sermon on Sunday is nice, encouragement during the week feels like you really care, that during your busy day, you were thinking good things about them.
9. Your pastor would take a bullet for you
They would take a bullet for you, even if you wouldn’t take one for them. They have a burden for you because God gave them the burden. They pray for you, they care about you, and they would do anything they could to make sure you know God. There are times you might feel your pastor doesn’t care about you, but it’s not true; they do. They may not get to speak to you or may miss a visit sometimes, but if they didn’t care about you, they wouldn’t be your pastor, they would choose a profession with less stress, more money, and emotional stability.