So many leaders have lost confidence in themselves over the last year or two.

Sound familiar?

It’s deeply understandable.

Things are changing so quickly and remain so unpredictable that almost everything that used to be effective isn’t, and just when you think you might get it figured out, things change again.

Add to that the fact that the next decade isn’t looking very predictable either.

So how bad is it?

According to data David Kinnaman shared on the Church Pulse Weekly podcast, not only are leaders discouraged, but 29% of pastors have given serious consideration to quitting full-time ministry in the last year.

Not just changing churches, but packing it in and doing something entirely different.

That’s a lot of pastors thinking about throwing in the towel.

There were a few times in my ministry where I was ready to give up, and looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t.

Eventually, I did transition out of full-time vocational ministry, not because I quit, but because we put together a well-thought-through succession plan.

Quitting when you feel defeated sets you and your church up for defeat.

So how do you keep going when you’ve lost confidence in yourself? Here are three things that have helped me.

1. Look To the Confidence of Others When You’ve Lost Confidence in Yourself

I’ve thought about quitting more than once.

I remember one particular board meeting over a decade ago where I started the meeting by offering my resignation. I didn’t think I could do it anymore and felt like I had come to the end of my ability to lead.

Our church was stuck underneath a big growth barrier. We’d had a significant staff member leave. I was tired. I was frustrated, mostly with myself.

So I went into the board meeting and told the elders I thought I was done…they needed a better leader.

I’ll never forget what they said.

“We have confidence in you. We believe you have it in you. You’re going to get through this. You have our full confidence.”

At that moment, I had to look to their confidence in me to make up for my own lack of confidence in myself.

The point? Somebody still believes in you. Find them, and let them tell you what you’re good at instead of dwelling all day on your failings.

Since that moment, I’ve kept a handful of people close to me who get to speak truthful feedback into my life. Not just cheerleaders who say what they think I want to hear. But people who see things accurately who can call me out when I need calling out, but who can also build me up when I need building up.

Find those people and hang on to them.

Every leader needs someone who believes in them when they’ve stopped believing in themselves. That’s what community is for.

2. Know that the Greener Grass You Imagine is Spray Painted

You know that green grass you see when you think about what you’ll do next? It’s spray painted.

The moment you get into that perfect job/career you’ll discover that it’s got a whole host of problems you didn’t anticipate.

And you’ll soon realize you brought another problem with you—you brought yourself into the new situation.

I did switch assignments a few years ago to build into leaders full-time (see point 3 as to good conditions for that). But guess what? I soon realized all the lids I was facing at the church came with me into my new venture.

If you’re the leader, you’re the lid.

You bring you with you everywhere you go. And when you don’t resolve the issues that made this difficult, you just import them into the next season of your life.

You bring you everywhere you go and into everything you lead. And the biggest leadership challenge I have in my life is, well, me.

Solving your problems where you are rather than in the future does one or two things.

First, solving your problems now might be the very thing you need to be able to lead well through the next season where you are.

Second, even if your season is coming to a close, you’ll be in a much better position to in the future if you deal with your issues today.

Just know this: Leaders who run from their problems always find themselves with bigger problems.

3. Leave on a Good Day In a Better Season

It’s not that you can never leave…it’s just if you step back, do it after you’ve prayed, consulted with the wisest people you know, considered all the options carefully, prayerfully considered it some more, and developed a well-thought-through plan for yourself and your church.

That’s what I did a few years ago when I chose to step out of the lead pastor role of the church I founded to hand things off to the next generation.

The result? I left the church when it was the largest and healthiest it had ever been. My successor built on that to make it even stronger.

Obviously, we’re not in normal conditions right now. But even when things aren’t at their peak, never quit on a bad day.

Leave on a good day, or better yet, in a good season when you’ve had plenty of time to set the church up for a stronger future.

Finally, don’t make the decision in isolation, or, if you’re married, only with your spouse.

Find some wise people who love you, love the church, and want the best for both. Pray with them. Submit to their wisdom and make the decision when you’ve got a clear enough sense that you’re not doing anything rash, impulsive, foolish, or damaging to the people involved.

I’ve had to tell myself over and over again, never quit on a bad day.

And lately, leaders, there have been a lot of bad days.

The sun will rise again…hang in there.

What Keeps You Going? 

I hope this helps keep you encouraged or at least avoid any decisions you might regret later. I’m praying and cheering for you.

Before we jump to the comments, let me also say that I realize there was a widely circulated stat in the fall of 2020 that said 70% of pastors were thinking of quitting.

After some meaningful research and checking with original research sources, it seems that was an urban legend. There’s no actual data to back that up and the quote sources have denied ever issuing that number. Such is the internet.

But still, 29% (a verified number) is a seriously high number.

What keeps you encouraged when you feel like giving up? Scroll down and leave a comment!

29% of Pastors Want to Quit: How to Keep Going When You’ve Lost Confidence In Yourself.

35 Comments

  1. Bruce Hopler on April 6, 2021 at 11:38 am

    Thank you! I am doing a presentation to pastors soon and would like to quote this 29%. I have been trying to fine where Barna quoted this, could you please help me by posting a link? Also, I have been seeing a trend of seasoned Christians who have begun to reengage in most all areas of life EXCEPT church. Pastors follow up with them and the response is: “We are just taking a break”. Odd because they have already had a year break! My question is, do you know of any data where Christians who once had the ongoing habit of church going that are not inclined to come back?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 7, 2021 at 7:32 pm

      Bruce…the data isn’t published except for the recent episode David Kinnaman and I did with Tim Keller on the Church Pulse Weekly podcast. You can get it anywhere you get podcasts.

      As to “We are just taking a break”. I hear you. You’re not alone. That’s the sound of cultural Christianity disappearing and America becoming post-Christian and more anti-institutional. From what I’m hearing and seeing, it’s a trend.

  2. David Paroz on April 5, 2021 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks Carey; this is so true. I know I was tempted to leave through last year but it was a caring people that supported me through it and my sense of call to ministry that sustained me. I think the pandemic has just highlighted deficiencies that were already there; including in me as a leader. I can only change myself, and that is the best place to put a proportion of my energy into. Blessings to you. Dave from Australia.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 6, 2021 at 11:00 am

      Cheering for you Dave!

  3. Dave on April 5, 2021 at 1:36 pm

    What keeps me encouraged is thinking in “seasons” or “chapters”. As we move from winter to spring, I’m in a time frame of change. Despite the unknown, I look forward to what God has in store as He unfolds His will for my future. I’m seeking to walk closely with the Lord in each step I take. This in and of itself is encouraging to me.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 7, 2021 at 7:32 pm

      That’s a great framing Dave!

  4. Andrew K Wilson on April 5, 2021 at 1:06 pm

    I value this discourse and conversation. As leaders, pastors and shepherds, we need to remain vigilant in our personal relationship with our Heavenly Father. As we continue to know His heart, our heart will be aligned for the work of ministry.
    Sadly, in the area I am at, Covid revealed that 71% of the pastors probably should resign. Running the church as a transactional business is never good practice, and that is not a Biblical model that can sustained during the quarantine and lockdown measures. During, and still, in Covid seasons, when I see people run to every community but their church, I pray we humble ourselves and ask the hard questions necessary to advance the gospel and the Kingdom of God!

    Thanks for all the great content!

  5. Dan on April 5, 2021 at 12:55 pm

    What keeps me encouraged are the members of the church. All it takes is a quick phone call or even texting, and I’m reminded how fortunate I am to do what I do. Do we always see eye-to-eye? Absolutely not. But grace is plentiful where I serve and the connection with the people is like manna from Heaven. Oh, and your blog is always great encouragement, Carey – that goes without saying!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 6, 2021 at 11:01 am

      So glad to help!

  6. Trevor Potter on April 5, 2021 at 11:23 am

    In many parts of Canada, church buildings are still closed and we are not having in-person worship yet, especially urban churches (United Church of Canada). We had our 2nd Covid-19 Easter service online. This past year has been tiring – but before Covid-19 many churches in the United Church of Canada are having to face the reality that they are ‘club’ churches without a real mission. The mission has been to make club members happy, not connect the gospel to the community. So, as pastors – pre-Covid- it was already tiring trying to facilitate churches to really go through a paradigm shift (John 12:24) to serve others beyond their own churchianity needs. Covid-19 is just accelerating the downward spiral for many churches. I appreciate these words of wisdom and encouragement. It is so important to work on our own inner spiritual development as leaders so we can be more grounded in leadership. What keeps me going? Spiritual Director, spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, walking, gardening, and trying to know my limitations with humility.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:23 pm

      Great to hear from you Trevor. A lot of truth here. COVID accelerated a trends a lot of churches weren’t really coming to terms with. You’re so right that a strong spiritual core is the best place from which to lead.

  7. Scott Fairchild on April 5, 2021 at 10:48 am

    I am very curious as to the reasons why 29% pastors are thinking of leaving ministry altogether. This is not just a covid issue. What else is going on?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:24 pm

      It was just a question asked a year into COVID.

  8. Scott Fairchild on April 5, 2021 at 10:23 am

    I am very curious as to the reasons why 29% of pastors seriously consider leaving ministry. We can assume some thing because of COVID, but there are deeper issues. Is there any data on that?

  9. Rev. Karen on April 5, 2021 at 10:04 am

    I am returning to ministry after being on disability for nearly four years. I am still disabled, but God has put it in my heart to accept a call to a part time position. Like the vast majority of pastors, I serve a very small (35 in worship), financially struggling church. In all my years of ministry, I never once got a cost of living increase. During my disability it was necessary to use up my retirement funds to pay my medical and daily bills. I suspect that for many of those considering leaving ministry, it is less a crisis of confidence and more with a sad heart and the reality that we are one paycheck or illness away from being unable to care for our families (disabled child, aging parents). At least here in the US, there is almost no safety net left. I tried to be bivocational, but my illness limits the number of hours I can work. I know I am not alone in that. I did not go into ministry to make money, but as I age, the realities of poverty and being unable to afford help for my still suffering, now adult child are overwhelming.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:24 pm

      That’s a really tough struggle Karen. So sorry to hear that!

  10. Dean Deguara on April 5, 2021 at 9:25 am

    I know Easter Sunday was a huge encouragement for myself and other pastor friends of mine to see so many come back to church services. We still have a couple hundred watching online, but it was good to see so many in person who were back at church for the first time in over a year.

    Focusing on outreach and our influence outside the four walls the last year has been such an encouragement to me. Seeing the faithfulness of God’s people in generosity and just experiencing God’s faithfulness throughout the year. Personally, going to the driving range on Sunday afternoons has been a time when I don’t allow the ministry to consume me…it’s been a great outlet even thought it hasn’t helped my golf game much. 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:25 pm

      Nothing helps my golf game much either Dean! Encouraged to see churches across America open for in-person again yesterday!

  11. Rev. Bette-Jo Foster on April 5, 2021 at 9:20 am

    Tha pandemic has made leading a church more challenging and also very exciting to see what new thing God is doing through this to build God’s Church. On top of that, we had a major fire at our church last August which destroyed our sanctuary, offices and several classrooms and our Music Dir of 21 years decided to retire. Totally felt/feel inadequate to lead this older congregation through these major changes in the life of this church. In addition, there are the personal side of life, family and health issues, trying to sort out. I’m taking a 3 month Renewal Leave and going to a Spiritual Retreat Center. While there, I’ll work with a Spiritual Director. If we as clergy don’t take care of ourselves and learn to lead through all of these things, we are not being obedient to our calling. Now I’m excited to see a personal and church resurrection! After all, God is in the business of resurrection! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm

      That’s a lot of stuff to deal with in the last year…God is in the resurrection business. 🙂

  12. Chris Dowling on April 5, 2021 at 8:24 am

    It might be different in the UK but I’m honestly surprised that figure is not higher. This last year has been so hard & I suspect this coming year will be equally as hard. People have become so used to sitting at home & having church delivered to them in their homes by a very small team as that’s all we have been allowed. As we come out of this I fear people have forgotten how to serve or don’t see the need to as it’s all delivered to me on my couch… and that small team gets more & more pressure put on it till…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm

      With you Chris. It’s been a very tough year.

  13. Gideon Amowogbaje on April 5, 2021 at 4:08 am

    Thanks for this beautiful and useful information.
    I am not a Pastor, but I’m a unit leader in my Church and sometimes the administration of the work in combination with my private life makes me feel very incapable and sometimes I even feel I’m not prepared for everything going on in my life. Sometimes I just want to quit my relationship, and someone should one day announce that I’m not longer effective and therefore a new leader has been chosen. But these have not happen so I would just take the advice on this blog and be pushing on. I believe I’ll catch up to the standard I’ve set for myself if I don’t give up.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      Thanks for serving Gideon. So grateful for your leadership.

      • Gideon Amowogbaje on April 5, 2021 at 3:04 pm

        Thanks Sir

  14. Tom Sharpe on April 4, 2021 at 8:45 am

    I have hope in change. Before the pandemic I was a happy pastor feeling very blessed to have this career so thankful. However I was not able to fulfill my calling as I saw it to connect Jesus with the culture and see the church grow. Then the pandemic came and opened up possibly of growing through digital. It shifted the church. I just don’t want to go back. I want new and effective mission outreach.

    • Joe Barber on April 5, 2021 at 10:15 am

      First of all I remember that God is always true to His promises in His Word.

      Second, I have never felt God leading to me to “quit” even in the darkest of seasons…and I have had “2 seasons ” that were horrible. One lasted about 2 years, the other closer to 4. And I am so glad I didn’t quit! Over 35 years in ministry and I try to thank God often that by His grace I am still in the game. It is a blessing to be called to full time ministry…but it is seldom easy…but Jesus did tell us to expect as much.

      Third, in the tough times I remind myself that I don’t have to feel God’s presence for it to be there. The Bible has over 7000 promises and one of my favorites is that “He will never leave us or forsake us.”

      Ours is a faith and not a feeling, and in the “dark times” it is crucial we remember that, and daily live on the promises of God and His Word.

      • Rick Everts on April 5, 2021 at 11:34 am

        I find if I try to do to much work, it becomes a burden instead of blessing. I have to step back, hand all over to
        God, not just some, all. When I (really/finally) realized God’ is all powerful and I need to get out of His way and not interfere with the miracle(s), He will provide miracles if we hand things over to Him completely. Surrendering what I think must be done takes matters out of my feeble hands. God absolutely will get things done according to His purposes if we step aside and Trust in His ability not mine/our’s. I find belief without reservation breathes new life into our circumstances, we can know (regardless) God is at work if we just “get out of the way”. Stress happens when we are not being genuine before God about our limitations and our desire to “do His work”, we don’t, can’t do God’s work, God must. We are merely forever apprentices observing and learning from God and how He creates things out of nothing…..all of us must “rest” in His presence for His yoke is easy and His burden light….God will getter done when we get out of the way brothers and sister’s. Let it be so

        • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:28 pm

          Thanks Rick!

          • Femi Imevbore on April 6, 2021 at 12:09 am

            Hi Carey, as a Pastor in a small semi urban church in Nigeria the circumstances that stare us in the face are a bit different. Having said that many are pressured by financial considerations to look beyond the ministry. With the drastic drop in church earnings and the attendant impoverishment of members one sometimes feel like doing something different with one’s gifts and talents. However one keeps going based on the conviction that what we do as Pastors irrespective of the obvious impact has eternal value. More grace to you sir.



      • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:28 pm

        That’s a great reminder Joe. Thank you!

      • Jon Gerton on April 8, 2021 at 12:23 am

        Carey, I would love to hear your story of your 2 dark seasons. Where have you told/written it?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 5, 2021 at 12:27 pm

      Crisis brings new opportunities with it indeed.

      • Dianna Foltz on April 7, 2021 at 7:53 am

        Truthfully, I’ve prayed for change for a while, to quit the way of church and pastoring that was not working well anyway. In our case, the pandemic forced us to stop doing the things that were no longer meaningful and gave me/us (my church people) time to develop new ideas. And the new ideas are beautiful, drawing more people than this church has seen in a decade. For example, in a recent post about an upcoming event, the percentage of people who shared the post whose names I recognize is only about 5%. 95% of the shares and likes are coming from our community! So, now I am pastoring an old sinking ship (sit in a building and expect someone else to get you worshipped-up for the week) and a new build (networked ministries that reach and serve the community.) With great compassion for the sinking ship, what I really feel called to continue is the new build. But, the old ship is jealous for my time and energy… and some are withholding giving until I get back to doing what I’m supposed to do. Right now, our old ship may sink beneath the ability to continue our mortgage payment.
        The new build needs for the old ship to come along, but I do recognize that some will never be able to make that transition, for various reasons, including age-limited mental plasticity. I keep praying that God will make a way.
        In all, I want to quit because I think I may have to go back entirely to the old ship and the institutional way of pastoring. (There’s nothing wrong with that as long as it is discipling people, but in my area, it’s truly dying.) I truly dread it because it’s like crawling back into a grave for me. It’s funny, but I’d like to be free from pastoring so that I can lead a church.

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