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Why Do So Many Ministers Drop Out of Ministry? How We Can Help

Photo of Bob RussellBob Russell | Bio

Bob Russell

During his senior year of high school Bob realized a desire in his heart to enter the ministry. Soon thereafter, he enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary where he graduated in 1965. At just twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church. That small congregation of 120 members became one of the largest churches in America, with 18,000 people attending the three worship services every weekend in 2006 when Bob retired. Now through Bob Russell Ministries, Bob continues to preach at churches and conferences throughout the United States, provide guidance for church leadership, mentor other ministers and author Bible study videos for use in small groups. An accomplished author, Bob has written over one-dozen books. Bob and his wife Judy of 52 have two married sons and seven grandchildren with whom they enjoy spending their time. Bob also enjoys playing golf and is an avid University of Louisville football and basketball fan. 

In an earlier article, I listed six reasons why so many pastors are dropping out. Financial stress, a gnawing sense of failure, dysfunctional church leadership, inexplicable loneliness, time pressures, and constant criticism all contribute to a very troubling attrition rate. Whatever the reason, 70% of ministers in the Christian Church drop out within the first ten years. No wonder fewer and fewer young people are considering ministry as a profession.

What can the church do to reverse this disturbing trend before we experience a significant shortage of ministers?

Christian Parents:

Many parents who have been involved in the church for years discourage their five-talent children (see Matthew 25:14-30) from considering the ministry. They want their gifted kids to have worldly riches and fame, and they don’t want them to experience the potential heartache and rejection of ministry.

However, we need the brightest and most gifted people leading our churches. The Old Testament teaches we are to offer the firstfruits, not the leftovers to God. Parents, we need you to lay your best on the altar. God can use one- and two-talent men, but the church needs more five-star recruits. There’s an old hymn that says, “Give of your sons and your daughters and speed them on their way.”

Ministerial Recruits:

If you are considering ministry, be realistic about what you’re getting into, so you’re not easily disillusioned later. Ministry is a wonderful calling, but it’s a difficult occupation, and it’s getting tougher. When God called Saul of Tarsus to minister to the Gentiles, the Lord informed him upfront of how much he will “suffer for my sake.”

Instead of envisioning yourself as a dynamic evangelist preaching to adoring crowds, see yourself as a humble shepherd, tenderly caring for whatever size flock God entrusts to you. Plan to be thankful for wherever God assigns you, and “Bloom where you are planted.”

Bible College and Christian University Personnel:

It seems prudent for our Bible colleges and Christian universities to get back to a primary mission of training ministers. Let the main thing be the main thing. If we can’t do that and survive, then let’s close the doors and look for another model to accomplish the task.

Be courageous enough to objectively evaluate the students who enroll in ministry, and tactfully encourage those who aren’t gifted or committed enough to seek another area of service. We risk degrading the ministry if we don’t offer that guidance. We should remind students that preaching is a high and holy calling. Qualified people will respond to a challenge, yet they will become discouraged by others’ incompetence.

Church Elders:

God appointed the first elders to help Moses “carry the burden of the people so that [Moses] will not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11:17). One of an elder’s primary assignments is to assist the preaching pastor in leading as many to the Promised Land as possible.

Elders, your task is to be an encourager to your preacher, not just an evaluator.

Regard the preacher as a co-worker with Christ, and work together with him to see that the flock under your care are loved, fed, and protected. Find ways to enhance your preacher’s standing with the congregation. He’s the quarterback of the team. Respect his leadership and be his biggest supporter and protector.

Pray for him. Compliment him. Encourage him. Be generous with him. See that he has an ample salary, health care, and retirement benefits. In areas where he is weak, come alongside and boost him up. Provide resources for him to attend seminars and conventions. Do everything you can to make him successful.

Years ago, the minister of a large Baptist Church was a great speaker but was very poor at managing his personal finances. The deacons considered firing him because he was in so much debt that the congregation was losing respect for him. One gifted deacon volunteered to oversee the preacher’s finances, and soon he was on solid financial ground. His ministry became so successful that today one of the buildings on their church campus is named after him.

Elders, take advantage of seminars that provide ongoing training. Regardless of how long you’ve been leading, you should be eager to continue to learn and improve. You should be a better leader five years from now than you are today.

Local Preachers:

Communicate with your elders. Give them every chance to support you. Be humble and accountable. Be transparent about how you spend your time. Befriend your elders and invite them into your home or go out to eat with them or take in a ball game together. They are much more likely to be supportive if they know your heart.

Avoid unfair comparisons. Nothing creates more discontent in ministry than comparing yourself with someone in a more impressive situation. Every church is unique. Refuse the temptation to compare, which can make you miserable. Some seed falls on fertile soil, and some seed falls on hard soil. The harvest is often not the result of the ability of the sower but the receptivity of the soil.

Expect some opposition and get emotionally tough.

Jesus certainly didn’t have it easy either. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4).

You are not a prima donna. You are a servant of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t call you to a playground but to a battlefield. So, ”Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).

He’s the quarterback of the team. Respect his leadership and be his biggest supporter and protector.

Be positive about your church. Sure there are disappointments and critics. But there is much that is favorable also. Focus on what God is doing. Rejoice in small victories. Quit whining and be joyful always. The pessimist says, “The glass is half empty.” The optimist says, “The glass is half full.” The Psalmist said, “My cup runs over”! It’s so often a matter of your perspective.

And remember you’re not home yet! So, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be . . . and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

(For more teaching from Bob Russell, visit Used with permission.)