This week's question comes from a reader on the Internet who asks, "What makes pastors change churches? Or, what are the main factors that cause pastors to change churches?"
There obviously isn't going to be a single answer to this question, and many of the causes are dependent on the denomination. For instance, the placement of pastoral staff in the Roman Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church is left to the wisdom of the bishops and their assistants. On the other hand, even these ministers may request to leave a particular parish for a variety of reasons.
One reason for leaving a congregation is that in some denominations it is almost impossible to get a pay raise without changing churches. Although the majority of ministers are college educated, and most have advanced degrees, their "salary packages" are often well below the community standard, let alone the standard for other professionals with similar levels of education. For instance, most clergy hold both a bachelor's degree and an advanced degree-a master's of divinity. The number of years in a university would be commensurate with most engineers and attorneys, and yet a clergy's pay scale is generally well below both. Now, I'll grant you that those in professional ministry probably didn't get in for the money, but bills have to be paid and our kids need braces too. In any event, because many churches cannot afford to give the minister a significant pay increase over the years (and still others refuse to), the only way a minister can keep up with inflation is to seek another position with a larger church.
Another reason ministers leave a church is that their ministry has either been completed or their effectiveness has come to an end. In the words of Paul, writing about one of his colleagues in ministry, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3.6). Paul's ministry in Corinth seems to have been short-lived. When his ministry task was completed, he moved on and Apollos came to continue working in the church. So it is today. I know ministers who are especially gifted in capital building programs. They help a congregation build a new sanctuary, fellowship hall, or educational wing, and when that task is finished, they move on to help another church. Other ministers serve congregations in transition. They help a congregation deal with a myriad of issues after the former pastor has retired or resigned, and they may help them find a new, long-term pastor. These ministers who help during this transition time are often specially trained and called "interim pastors."
There are of course other reasons ministers leave their parish-retirement, God's direct calling into other ministries, and so on. But unfortunately by far the most common reason for pastors to leave their churches is because of conflict. Most serious conflicts revolve around power issues-the question of who's will is to be done. In the past several decades many (perhaps most) churches have abandoned the New Testament model of leadership in favor of a more consumer and corporate based structure. What this means is that most churches are no longer led by the pastor, but by a board (or the elders or the deacons or the session). Pastors end up serving as CEOs at best, and common employees at worst. Instead of direction by scripture or the vision of God, the pastor is directed by men and women who are often more interested in maintaining tradition and the status quo than in fulfilling the great commission of Jesus to make disciples above all else.
The problem is, most pastors have been called by God and trained to be leaders of congregations. This sets up power struggles with people who are invested in fulfilling their own interests within the church. Scripture teaches that a pastor's duty is to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4.12), not to do the whims of a committee, board, nor even to meet the expectations of the patriarch, matriarch, powerful, or wealthy members. But when a minister chooses to do what God has called them to do rather than what is "popular," power struggles erupt and often the minister ends up being an unintentional interim pastor, that is, a short term employee instead of the long-term pastor most of the church had hoped for.
If your church is experiencing high pastoral turnover, begin by first examining the compensation being offered. If the package is truly in line with the needs of the typical family of the pastor's educational level, then I suggest a study group of concerned and caring individuals read G. Lloyd Rediger's Clergy Killers (Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota: Logos Productions, 1997) for guidance-because probably there's more than meets the eye to your pastor's resignation.