Monday Morning Insights

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    Reasons Pastors and Churches “Divorce”

    There are three basic reasons why Pastors and churches ‘divorce’ or go their separate ways:

    1- God leads the Pastor to another place of service. Or, God leads the Church to find another Shepherd. This is the murkiest of the reasons in the sense that it is extraordinarily difficult for either the Pastor or the Church to know when it’s time to “split up.” If things are going well in the Church, it is even more difficult. But if things are going poorly for either one or both pastor and church, the decision is obviously a bit easier. Nonetheless, the leadership of the Spirit being for the most part intangible, the decision to leave is only made after a considerable period of prayer.

    2- Infidelity. The second reason Pastors and Churches go their separate ways is no different than the reason husbands and wives sometimes divorce: infidelity. Pastors can become unfaithful to the Church in a number of ways not limited to - a growing indifference to the needs of the flock; another Church becomes more ‘attractive’ (the grass is greener theory of life); or a sense of being unappreciated and thus unappreciative. Churches too can become unfaithful to their pastor, in failing to pray for him; by always comparing him to a former pastor or an idealized pastor they would like to have; by inattentiveness (sermons become something to be endured rather than an opportunity to grow as a believer); and by staying away from worship (voting against the pastor with their absence).

    3- Money. Let’s face facts here; just as husbands and wives leave each other because of infidelity and money, so too Churches and Pastors often part ways for exactly the same reasons. Many Pastors are underpaid and many Churches operate on the presumption that “you have to keep the preacher humble by keeping him poor”. So, it is quite normal, and human, that if the Pastor is offered a better salary package by another Church he ‘hear the voice of Go calling him there.’ When Churches undervalue their Pastor, they will inevitably discover that if offered the opportunity to be valued appropriately, he will take it. To be sure, there’s always some wag in every church who honestly thinks that “we just pay the preacher what he’s really worth” and though they would never tolerate that kind of treatment from their own ‘boss’ they not only tolerate it, but actively implement it in their treatment of their pastor.

    Which, if any, do you think are reasonable for pastor/church divorce?  Dr. West shares his thoughts here… What do you think?

    Dr. Jim West has an interesting piece at his blog on the reasons why pastors and churches 'divorce'. I like pieces like this that make me think a little bit. Hopefully it will help you get the wheels turning today as well. I'd love to hear what you think? Have you ever been 'divorced'?


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    1. Stephen Wulf on Wed, July 11, 2007

      Wow, very interesting thoughts.  I really appreciated this post, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the use of the word divorce within the context of pastors, ministry, and churches.  I certainly can understand the emotional feelings of how leaving a church (especially one that you started, which was my case)can feel like a divorce, but my hesitancy in using this word comes from my understanding that my allegiance/marriage is first and foremost to Christ and his desire for the direction of my life.  The Apostle Paul is a great example of this, planting churches and then moving on to another region to start all over again.  

      What I did find interesting and very evaluative was the authors musings for why people move on.  It made me think how easy it can be to use our super spiritual devises to take us to another place simply because we are bored with our present condition. 

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    2. Jason Curlee on Wed, July 11, 2007

      I can especially understand #3 when it comes to staff working at the church as well.  If many churches pastors are underpaid…imagine what their staffs are.

    3. Daniel on Wed, July 11, 2007

      I second Steve’s thoughts.  Christian pastors may be called to move on to a different congregation, but Christians are called to be faithful in their marriages—even in cases of infidelity of ‘money problems’.  Good insights, but let’s not call it ‘divorce’ (which God hates).

      My two cents.


    4. Jim on Wed, July 11, 2007


      Please note that I did put “divorce” in quotes.  Naturally they don’t literally get divorced; but they do, in fact, sometimes behave as divorcees.

    5. Aaron on Wed, July 11, 2007

      “divorce” is a strong word. There can be even more reasons in that sometimes the spiritual coach might be called for various reasons. When you no longer can lead the same group or move the church where it leads the church in a new direction. while each seperation will have some pain involved. I think we can all work in grace and love just as Paul and Peter did in the new testament. Even Paul, Barnabas, and Mark had their differences. Who is right? Cant tell. Sometimes change is needed.

      And as we know usually change is uncomfortable.

    6. dpastordan on Fri, July 13, 2007

      Having listened to some of the experiences pastors have gone through with churches, divorce may be a mild word.  Just as there are dysfunctional families, there are dysfunctional congregations and pastors. 

      I would not consider God calling a pastor to another work “a divorce” if in fact the call is true.  I served my first church for 2 1/2 years and had a definite call to the one I am at presently.  I really did not want to leave my first church and frankly my wife and I were scared at the possibility of going “fulltime” when as a bivocational pastor my secular position paid very well. 

      I would add exhaustion to the list, maybe #4, for some pastors.  I have been told that 80 percent of the pastors who go through a building program leave within two years of the completion of the project. 

      A pastoral friend of mine just left a church because the congregation failed to live up to what was promised.  The church had a parsonage but the pastor desired to have a housing allowance.  The agreement was the pastor would live in the parsonage for three years and then when a house was bought, the church would pay a housing salary.  After six years, with some growth, the pastor still in the parsonage, “God called…”  The congregation had a sufficient budget but “we have a perfectly good parsonage, look what we can save…”

      Several times colleagues have left churches because of finances.  Churches that fail to be faithful in meeting their pastor’s financial needs often have a rude awakening when the pastor leaves and they discover they cannot attract a new pastor unless they drastically increase the pastoral compensation package.  A pastoral friend of mine only had one cost of living increase in nine years.  He left.  The church ended up paying double for the next pastor.  Shame.  This was a church of 400.

    7. Bruce on Mon, July 16, 2007

      I read a survey once that was done with several thousand participants.  The survey said that 9 out of 10 church attenders believe that the primary purpose of the church is to take care of its members.  When the same question was put to the pastors of the same churches the survey said that 9 out of 10 pastors said the number one purpose of the church is to reach the lost.  No wonder pastors leave churches after 2 years.

    8. ronald washington on Wed, August 08, 2007

      it dont take a rocket scientist to understand

      the point .just as your members play crazy quit picking up thier habits. you know what the man of God is saying.You wonder where church folk get that pettiness from .

    9. Pastor Cindie on Sat, June 07, 2008

      Hi Todd…God Bless you for this insightful article. I would however like for you to consider naming what you have written about and calling it what it is “Spiritual Abuse.” 

      If we, as Chistians, wont even admit that pastors CAN and ARE abusing and being abused, we will NEVER understand what Christ is here to help us understand in His role in the trinity, and our journey with HIM to Salvation.

      As a “teacher” of the gospel, I find it offensive that pastors sit in judgement of their flock. There is enough blame to go around in this world….which leads to sin, which leads to pastors finding all kinds of excuses to rid themselves of their flock, only to move on and “poison” another one. All of the conflicts and or excuses you and other bloggers have mentioned above are MAN mad, not God made!

      This is why man needs Christ, NOT RELIGION!

        Judgement in the eyes of man, not God, only leads to more pain and brokenness…how is this “to His glory?”

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