Commentary: 'Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered'


Forced pastoral exits are crippling thousands of churches every year, as these sobering statistics prove:

  • 23 percent of all current pastors in the United States have been fired or forced to resign from past positions.
  • The average pastoral tenure in a local church today is just 3.8 years.
  • Some seminaries report that over 50% of their graduates drop out of ministry within five years after graduation.
  • The attrition rate in the U.S. church is approximately 1%. This means over 4,100 pastors are leaving the ministry prematurely every year. That’s an average of 79 pastors giving up on or being driven out of their churches every week!
  • 45% of the pastors terminated in one denomination left the ministry altogether.
  • Only 2% of church conflict involves doctrinal issues … 98% of church conflict involves interpersonal issues.
  • The most common factors in forced pastoral exits include conflicting visions for the church, personality conflicts, relational incompetence, lack of church discipline, contentious individuals or power groups and burnout.

Although there are times when it really is best for a pastor to step down, far too many good pastors are being driven out of ministry unnecessarily every week, leaving thousands of churches weak and vulnerable to spiritual attack. In many cases, factions multiply, ministries flounder and disillusioned members walk out the door looking for a new church.

As Scripture warns, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Matt. 26:31).

The financial cost to a church for losing a pastor typically exceeds $83,000 and can easily be twice that amount as a result of decreased giving and other staff departures.

But the spiritual costs are infinitely higher.

When a pastor is forced out of his pulpit and his gift for preaching is silenced for months, years or forever, countless sermons will never pass from his lips to the ears of people who need to hear the gospel.

When church members are embittered by a pastor’s forced exit and their gossip and backbiting leaks into their community, their non-Christian friends, neighbors and coworkers have one more reason to ignore Jesus and the gospel.  As George Barna observed, “Modern people contend that the greatest proof that God does not exist is the behavior of Christians themselves! In short, the way Christians live and act is solid proof in their minds that what Christians believe is not true.”

When a pastor is not there to shepherd a married couple through difficult times, they are more likely to divorce, which often has a devastating impact on their children, including increased mental health issues, delinquency and impulsive behavior, as well as poor academic performance and increased likelihood to engage in drug use and sexual activity.

The ripple effect of a forced pastoral exit can spread far beyond a local church as its reputation suffers, evangelism declines and missionaries on the field are forgotten.

Whatever the measure, the spiritual cost of losing thousands of pastors each year is appalling. The church simply cannot afford to let these losses continue.

One of the best ways to protect your church from this kind of catastrophe is to send several of your leaders to the Sowing Peace Conference that is scheduled for April 18-20 at Midway Church in Villa Rica, Georgia.

In addition to receiving training and resources that will help to guard your church from a forced pastoral exit, your leadership team can learn how to use the principles of relational wisdom (biblical emotional intelligence) and peacemaking to build unity in your congregation, strengthen your marriages and equip your members to share the gospel more easily with their friends and coworkers.

Don’t miss this opportunity to protect your church from division and to enhance your members’ ability to live lives that reveal the transforming power of Jesus and his gospel.

See conference details and registration at


Ken Sande is the founder of two organizations that are dedicated to preserving and transforming relationships: Peacemaker Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360 (RW360).