Just talking with a friend of mine (Hey Trey) concerning the phenomenon of pastors leaving churches after they finish a big project. The conversation started by him asking how I was feeling after finishing my D.Min. I told him I somewhat felt like I was struggling with what I was supposed to do next.
Pam will tell you that when I was in my undergraduate and graduate degrees I was no fun to be around after finals. Not unfun in the sense of being a grump, just extremely somber. Before my finals I always knew what I was doing with my free time. I had to study. I had a purpose for every second and usually didn’t have enough seconds in a day for that purpose. When I would finish finals I no longer had that purpose for every second and it would leaving me floundering about a little bit. That was what finishing my project report/dissertation was like. Now I find myself wondering what I am supposed to do next. I’ve joked with Pam about starting a Ph.D. but that is really just a joke (at least until the boys are finished with their undergraduate degrees).
Anyhow Trey asked how I was doing and that led to us discussing a phenomenon that seems pretty common in Evangelical churches – pastors leaving churches after a building is complete. This is all anecdotal but it seems to be a pretty common in both of our experiences. When a church builds a new building the pastor often leaves soon after it is completed. I’ve know of a minister who announced the week after the opening of the new building and only did that because he didn’t want to ruin the church’s first Sunday in the new building. I’ve heard people discuss this issue and heard many reasons offered for why it happens. The reasons usually focus on how draining a building project is ministerially, relationally, and personally.
While Trey and I were talking about pastors leaving after a building project we both mentioned that it seems from our experiences that pastors also quite often leave a church after they finish a degree. Don’t worry “threads” I’m not leaving and not evening thinking about it (unless of course you wish that I would leave – then you should worry because you are stuck with me). In our brief conversation we reached the point we we thought that often pastors leave just because they were trying to figure out what to do next. A new church is an easy answer to “what’s next.” Anyhow I think that’s a pretty lousy reason to leave a church and one that is correctable.
I wonder if someone like Ed Stetzer has ever done any statistical research on this phenomenon? I think there might be a correlation between finishing a big project and pastors leaving. Possibly the ministerial equivalent postpartum depression. Let’s call it “post-project depression.” If there is such a thing it is something that I believe could be addressed pretty easily with some education on the subject. Something like…
Hey pastor when you finish that big project there is a chance you will be down in the dumps for a little while and consider jumping to something new. Just wait for awhile and you’ll get over it. Then you’ll discover that you don’t need to leave the spot where you just did such good work.