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FIRST-PERSON: Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered


Forced pastoral exits are crippling thousands of churches every year, as these sobering statistics prove:

  • 23 percent of all current pastors in the United States have been fired or forced to resign from past positions.
  • The average pastoral tenure in a local church today is just 3.8 years.
  • Some seminaries report that over 50 percent of their graduates drop out of ministry within five years after graduation.
  • The attrition rate in the U.S. church is approximately 1 percent. This means more than 4,100 pastors are leaving the ministry prematurely every year. That’s an average of 79 pastors giving up on or being driven out of their churches every week!
  • 45 percent of the pastors terminated in one denomination left the ministry altogether.
  • Only 2 percent of church conflict involves doctrinal issues … 98 percent of church conflict involves interpersonal issues.
  • The most common factors in forced pastoral exits include conflicting visions for the church, personality conflicts, relational incompetence, lack of church discipline, contentious individuals or power groups and burnout.

Although there are times when it really is best for a pastor to step down, far too many good pastors are being driven out of ministry unnecessarily every week, leaving thousands of churches weak and vulnerable to spiritual attack. In many cases, factions multiply, ministries flounder and disillusioned members walk out the door looking for a new church.

As Scripture warns, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matthew 26:31).

The financial cost to a church for losing a pastor typically exceeds $83,000 and can easily be twice that amount as a result of decreased giving and other staff departures.

But the spiritual costs are infinitely higher.

When a pastor is forced out of his pulpit and his gift for preaching is silenced for months, years or forever, countless sermons will never pass from his lips to the ears of people who need to hear the Gospel.

When church members are embittered by a pastor’s forced exit and their gossip and backbiting leaks into their community, their non-Christian friends, neighbors and coworkers have one more reason to ignore Jesus and the Gospel.

As George Barna observed, “Modern people contend that the greatest proof that God does not exist is the behavior of Christians themselves! In short, the way Christians live and act is solid proof in their minds that what Christians believe is not true.”

When a pastor is not there to shepherd a married couple through difficult times, they are more likely to divorce, which often has a devastating impact on their children, including increased mental health issues, delinquency and impulsive behavior, as well as poor academic performance and increased likelihood to engage in drug use and sexual activity.

The ripple effect of a forced pastoral exit can spread far beyond a local church as its reputation suffers, evangelism declines and missionaries on the field are forgotten.

Whatever the measure, the spiritual cost of losing thousands of pastors each year is appalling. The church simply cannot afford to let these losses continue.

Ken Sande is the founder of two organizations that are dedicated to preserving and transforming relationships: Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360 (RW360).

    About the Author

  • Ken Sande