Tuesday, June 16, 2015

When Your Husband Leaves the Ministry

“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9
The  church in the woods of North Idaho was filled with an air of expectancy  as we waited to hear the last guest speaker that evening.   Missions conferences were popular events in the 70's and our church was growing with enthusiastic new converts eager to hear how God was working in the world.   A revival was sweeping across the country in those days  and three years earlier the Lord had snatched me out of the counter culture.   

Reports from foreign missionaries  had captivated us all week as the silver haired gentleman from the Africa Inland Mission wrapped things up.   My husband and I  were just  sure he was looking at us when he pointed at the congregation and  thundered,   If not you, who?  If not now, when?”    We were ready to  grab the baby and head for Africa but our pastor explained that it didn’t work that way.    Robert had  just two years of undergraduate art courses  but would need to get training at a Bible college.    So six months later we moved to Spokane and started classes at Moody Bible Institute.

While my husband worked ridiculously long hours plodding through four more years of college,   I took care of babies and learned to squeeze a nickel till it bled.  And it was a joy to do so because we were striving for something with eternal value.

But in the long run, things  didn’t turn out the way we had hoped.    Twenty years and three senior pastorates later  my heart broke as I watched  my  beloved  hit the wall and make the toughest decision he has ever made.    He left the ministry feeling totally defeated.

We didn’t realize it then,  but  he was not alone.   According to FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development). researcher Dr. Richard J. Krejcir:  
“Over 70% of [evangelical and Reformed] pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry and thirty-five to forty percent of pastors actually do leave the ministry, most after only five years.” 1
Research shows a laundry list of reasons why pastors throw in the towel: Unreasonable expectations  of the pastor and his family,   conflict with leadership or parishioners,  doctrinal disputes,   inadequate training,   marriage problems,  and sometimes  moral failure.  

Another prominent  factor is financial hardship.
 The National Association of Church Business Administration reported that as of 2012… the average U.S. pastor makes about $28.000 per year…  If we look at most pastors, about 80% of them work full time in the ministry and they draw roughly $28,000 to $42,000 per year.” 2 
Much attention has been focused on the extravagant  lifestyles of some mega church pastors,  but they account for a small percentage of churches.    The National Congregations Study reported:  
Despite the recent proliferation of very large Protestant churches we call megachurches….the average congregation had just 75 regular participants.”  
 Further studies indicate  59% of churches have between 7-99 attendees. 3  

Low pay and  understaffed churches  often mean a pastor must work two jobs  besides multi-tasking at church.    This  creates an unsustainable workload  leading to burn-out.   Such conditions can make it unbearable when added stressors such as  disagreements  over doctrine or other issues arise. 

These are the reasons why it ended for us in 1996,  the year our eldest child was married.  My husband was getting older and was too exhausted to continue working two jobs while dealing with all the pressures of full time ministry.    We have done much soul searching over the years and  agree that we would have done some things differently.    Even so, we doubt the outcome would have been much different given the circumstances.   

Offers came to serve elsewhere but we were emotionally worn out and chose not to uproot our family again.   The adjustment period was difficult but God’s grace is sufficient  and here we are 19 years later.   

Leaving full-time ministry did not throw a wrench in the eternal works of Heaven.    God is sovereign over all  our affairs  and getting a grip on this fact  is truly the most comforting pillow we can rest our heads upon at night. 

 If you’ve experienced these things  may I offer a few suggestions?
  • Your husband will be glad to be relieved of all the stress, but he may never fully recover from  the loss.   He committed his life to serving God’s people  but it  also happened to be his vocation.  He worked hard to prepare  for the ministry and probably never anticipated changing  careers.   Support, encourage, and pray  for him.   God is not through with him yet!
  •  If you have children, nurture the spiritual life in your home  because the negativity  involved in these situations  can have a lasting impact on our kids.    It’s important for our children to see we have not abandoned  the  faith or the  church. 
  •  If your husband was wronged by someone try to let it go and move on.   Some things will have to wait until the next life to be made right.  If you allow bitterness to take hold it will poison you and those around you.  
  • Don’t think  your labors were in vain.  I received  a  delightful  email from a woman  whom I had no recollection of,  thanking us for sharing the Gospel with her  40  years ago.    She became a Christian  and  she and  her husband served as   foreign missionaries.    Our witness to her had always been  part of her testimony  and she wanted to let us know.
  •  You may feel as low as a toad but you must keep your eyes on the Lord.  Don’t  even think about dropping out of church!    Find someone you can talk to who will encourage you.    How we need loving mature believers to come alongside us in times like these!
  • You will need time to recover and refresh  but don’t  rest on your laurels for too long.   Look for new opportunities to serve the Lord.   God  will provide them when we’re willing.    My husband serves as an elder  now and his wisdom and gifts are a blessing  to our church.   His past experiences are certainly  being  put to good use.
 Simply put, we need to dust ourselves off and get back in the saddle—even if the horse is headed down a slightly different path.


  1. We are going through this right now. My husband left the ministry due to many of the things you mentioned. We are currently taking some time off to get our lives back in order because all our personal things have been let go while we ministered. We plan to "attend" a church in a next town over but do not plan to "lead" again. Thank you for the support in this post! :)

    1. I'm so sorry. Keep looking up -the future will be brighter.
      God bless you.

  2. Clicked over here from another blog, as the post title caught my interest! My husband is on church staff (unpaid) and also teaches full-time at the university level. All those hours of reading and preparation for every individual lecture or sermon, along with all the church drama, and add a wife and toddler into the mix. Going to read over your post again and glean some wisdom!