The Single Hardest Thing About Being a Pastor – Relationship Attrition

People leave

October is Pastor Appreciation Month and it really is a good time to be a Pastor and it’s nice to get all those cards and letters of affirmation. But as you do that for your Pastor it might be helpful to know what his single hardest issue is.

I’ve been serving as a Pastor for well over 30 years and I can tell you the hardest issue your Pastor faces is what I call “Relationship Attrition.” That is when people leave the church.

Now the truth is – we will all have people leave.

I was interviewing a prospective pastoral coach and he told me over the phone in our interview that he had grown his church to over 3000 people and during that time never lost a church member. I didn’t hire him. He was a liar.

We will all have people leave.

  • Jesus lost Judas.
  • Peter lost Ananias and Sapphira.
  • Paul lost a staff member in John Mark and others along the way.

News flash people will leave your church. But that doesn’t make it easy.

At Cross Church we have more than doubled in attendance over the past several years. But the thing that keeps me up at night is how many people have left our church. We have gained far more than we have lost but that doesn’t make it any easier.

And people leave for lots of different reasons…

They leave because they get mad at the Pastor. That’s always a joy. To think that your actions have driven people away from God rather than drawn them closer to Him. I mean we all answered this call to ministry for the later not the former.

They leave because the church has changed. You made the decisions to position the church in the best possible way in order to reach people for Jesus and still people leave.

They leave because of their own spiritual backsliding. It’s not your fault. There is a thing called the priesthood of the believer and soul accountability. However, not everyone in the church will see their departure as anything less than your fault as the Pastor.

They leave for consumer reasons. More and more people are shopping for churches like they shop for restaurants. They are just there to consume and not contribute. These people are destined to leave.

They leave because they move out of town. Two summers ago, we had five families in one month move to Kansas. They left for all the right reasons, but still the hurt for our Pastors who had invested hours of relational equity into them was severe.

The point is – people will leave. And knowing that doesn’t make it one bit easier.

Every time a church member leaves, the Pastor on some level is prone to take it personal. People will say it’s not personal. But by their actions they are saying we just don’t want to be around you anymore. We like someone else’s church more than yours. We like someone else’s sermons more than yours. How could you not take it personal? With the exception of moving out of state for a job it is personal.

And if you wonder why it’s hard for some Pastors to get close to people in the church – it could be because the last five families that he got close too left!

As a Pastor how do you deal with this reality?

  1. Live for the approval of God not men. Make his approval the primary goal of your life and ministry.
  2. Be open handed with the relationship resources that you’ve been given. When they leave send them on their way gladly. Perhaps, there are good and godly reasons for their departure. And unless you plan on staying and serving in the same church all your life as the Pastor – you must give space for people to leave for the right reasons.
  3. Know that few human relationships are forever. I pray your relationship with your wife is until death do you part. I pray your children will always be there for you. But outside of those family relationships there are few that will last forever. And even your children will one day leave the house. At least we hope!!!!

And for the church members who are reading this? Remember during Pastor Appreciation Month that your Pastor loves people. The reason he serves as a Pastor is because he loves and cares for people. And because of that it hurts his heart when people leave. It will serve him and the church well to look for ways to affirm him during those seasons of departure. He may not be your Pastor forever – but while he is look for ways to guard his heart and protect his focus.

I leave you with that.





1 thought on “The Single Hardest Thing About Being a Pastor – Relationship Attrition

  1. If a man is called by GOD to be a pastor ,be the pastor GOD called you to be!! Don,t worry about the little things,that is for GOD to handle. Just be sure you ars listing to GOD and not people!!!! Love in Christ Doug.

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