Call Interrupted:  How Ex-pastors Can Begin Again

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“I am looking to quit being a pastor…. Our church has been on a steady decline with no end insight, we have about maybe 10 people in the entire church that want to be involved and serve. Everyone else screams “feed me” on Sunday morning and goes home for the rest of the week. The senior pastor is cutting one program after the other and at this point we have no outreach at all and no programs to offer people when they come through our doors. If I wasn’t the pastor, I wouldn’t come to our church either. It’s very sad, but I can honestly say that I was closer to God before I became a pastor. I want to go on serving God, but just not as a pastor anymore.”

– ANONYMOUS- from Why Pastors Quit.

The stories are numerous. The experiences are similar. The statistics are staggering. But Bo Lane, a former associate pastor, author of Why Pastors Quit and creator of expastors.com makes one thing very clear about his mission to fuel honest dialogue about why clergy step down.

“I’m not here to bash the church,” says Lane. “I love the church and am a big supporter of it. The stats of pastors stepping away and leaving ministry are unfortunate. But it’s reality.  Why Pastors Quit and expastors.com asks how can we change the statistic.”

According to expastors.com, 70 percent of pastors constantly battle depression and 50 percent of them feel so discouraged they would leave the ministry if they could but have no other way of making a living. About 1,700 pastors step down from ministry each month.

About 6 years ago, Lane became one of the statistics. For years he had worked as an associate pastor in churches throughout Oregon, Iowa and California. He appreciated the benefits of ministry but the demands and frustrations associated with the calling became overwhelming. After the birth of his first child, he decided to step down.

“It was kind of a weird time in my life where I asked myself do I want to continue being in ministry as a pastor or not?’ he said. “I decided not.”  This decision led to a new calling: forming a network for expastors (ExPastors.com) and writing Why Pastors Quit to explore the many reasons why people leave the ministry. The resources also provide support and encouragement.

The concise and quick read Why Pastors Quit speaks to clergy who have felt called by God to lead but are forced to abandon the calling due to frustrations, stress and burnout. The book addresses why pastors quit, examines the true definition of an expastor and offers advice about what pastors can do to stay healthy. Why Pastors Quit also shares what the
congregation can do to support their spiritual leaders. “It breaks my heart to see a lot of men and women who God has called to pastoral ministry have fallen away because they’re still trying to get over their own personal hurt and frustration,” says Lane.

The book intentionally and effectively weaves the personal stories of expastors into the beginning of each chapter. He believes that sharing experiences is crucial to personal healing and changing the statistic.  “I believe personally that we learn the most when we share with each other our burdens, our stress and our frustrations,” says Lane.

The stories range from general frustrations to tragic endings. An expastor named “LES” shares how on his 24th wedding anniversary, a church member came to his home and murdered his wife and son. “Though this incident is extreme, things have to change,” says Lane. “We just have to figure out how. And doing that is by sharing our story.”

Lane quickly dispels the myth that many pastors exit the ministry due to moral failings or disgrace. “There’s an unfortunate taboo and connotation associated with expastors,” he said. “Stepping down because of disgrace and moral failure is unfortunately true in some cases but many who have stepped away have never had an affair. They’ve lived Godly lives but have succumbed to stress or were severely hurt by a church member or the church in general.”

While the calling can be frustrating, stressful and consuming, Lane shares one piece of critical advice to those who accept the call. “I would tell anyone going into ministry to never lose sight that your identity is in Christ and Christ alone. It’s not in being a pastor or in leadership,” says Lane. “Ultimately, Christ is the reason why we’re doing this in the first place.”

As the creator of resources focused on solutions, not problems, Lane discusses the pivotal role that the congregation can play in a pastor’s success. Prayer remains high on the list of solutions. “Sometimes we forget how powerful prayer can be,” he said.

Lane says understanding a pastor’s family can be a key to his/her success and statistics show that 80 percent of pastors’ families feel like they’re neglected for the church. One potential solution to changing that statistic: ask what makes the pastor’s family tick? “During the search process, committee members will ask good questions such as what is the candidate’s walk with Christ and their preaching style but they fail to ask that important question,” Lane said. “We should be asking questions like ‘if you were our pastor what are some things that we could do to facilitate a life that doesn’t include burnout or stress so that you would love us as much as we would love you as our pastor?’”

The book and online resource are the first step in supporting this cutting-edge discussion. The expastors network continues to gain momentum. Lane believes the next step is to address how expastors can re-engage in ministry.  (Lane now attends a church in Seattle and serves as the head of the media ministry.) He is now working on a second book The Lost Shepherd, which will focus on how expastors can now find their way back if that’s the
direction that God has called them. “Expastors.com will continue to push the envelope, ask a lot of questions, and hopefully point people to resources where they can start their own healing process and journey,” Lane said.  “I’m okay with God taking me in a different direction. I feel I’m right where God wants me to be and that’s a good feeling. That’s my hope for people struggling in ministry and for pastors who are considering stepping down. Ultimately I want us all to get to place where we can say I’m right where God wants me.”

For more information visit www.expastors.com.

Jennie Blizzard reports

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