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9 Reasons Some Pastors Overstay Their Calling

Pastors overstay

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? The pastor who may have done great ministry in the past who stays on long after their effectiveness has waned. But the congregation loves them too much to deal with it, so the church stops being led properly, then starts to decline.

A church can stay in a state of decline like this for years, even a decade or more. This is not only hard on the church while it’s happening, it makes the situation extremely difficult when a new pastor eventually does arrive.

Sometimes they’re staying too long in a church they should have left. Sometimes they’re staying too long in pastoral ministry after they should have retired. That’s why the podcasts this month aren’t just about longevity, but about how to leave well, too.

So why do some pastors stay too long? Here are a few reasons:

1. Their Identity Is Wrapped up in Being a Pastor

Retirement can be hard on pastors because pastoring isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. And sometimes that calling can be confused with our identity.

Many pastors don’t just wonder what they would do if they left the pastorate, they wonder who they would be.

2. They Can’t Bear to Say Goodbye

True shepherding pastors aren’t just putting in the hours, they’re making relationships – deep, lasting relationships. But then, in most cases, when they stop pastoring the church they’re required to stop attending the church. They don’t just lose their job, they have to say goodbye to their relationships, their spiritual home and more.

3. Lack of Financial Options

Retirement is almost impossible for most pastors because most of us haven’t put sufficient money away to retire on. And even in younger years it’s hard to leave one church until you have another pastorate lined up right away — especially if you have a family to care for.

4. A False Theology of Non-Retirement

This isn’t frequent, but it’s not rare, either. Some pastors link the command to be a minister (which is for every Christian) to their role as pastor (which is only for some, and sometimes for a season). This can cause them to feel disobedient to God if they’re not holding the title of pastor.

5. They Have Nothing Else to Do

When I transitioned from the very active role of lead pastor to the less active role of teaching pastor, I still had a lot to keep me busy, as evidenced by the article you’re reading and so much more.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.