The Epic Pastor’s Fail Conference – Post 2 – Reflecting on the Grief of Leaving Your Church

Yesterday’s post offered an introduction and a bit of an explanation of what the Epic Fail Pastors Conference was about. Today, I wanted to put down on digital paper what I reflected on while there and since.

Just a note, I do know all the names of the presenters I heard but from the blog posts I’ve seen, everyone has been kept anonymous. As I mentioned before, I was only there for one day so there may have been an announcement made to keep it that way, so contact me if you would like to follow up on some of these presenters’ worthy thoughts.

In any case, one of the speakers shared powerfully of the hurt that pastors experience in ministry. But he did not only share from personal experience, he has been researching this topic for many years now. One thing that struck us all was when you leave a ministry either by your own choice or forced resignation or sudden termination, you go through a grieving process similar to the loss of a loved one. He offered further, if you know someone that is going through this, don’t tell the person, “Don’t worry, that church didn’t deserve you, there are plenty of other churches out there.” Just like you would not say such ridiculous things to someone who lost a spouse and illustrated having this obviously awkward conversation at someone’s funeral.

This was a different type of failure than I thought we would be talking about.

This made a lot of sense to me and I connected with that but not exactly out of personal experience. I have seen my friends mourn their departures. I’ve spent hours listening and “grieving” alongside (and I’m grateful that others have done so for me).  I also remember several stories of people in my church forced to leave their jobs they faithfully served for 20-30 years.

My experience was a bit different. I am completing the fifth year at my second church and I left my first one after being there for 5 years. But what connected with me was that I had mourned for years the dysfunction that I was a part of and hoped to get out. Once my wife and I created our exit plan, we felt we were like thieves breaking in trying to steal back our souls. And once we left – we felt free. For us, the grief process happened before the resignation but the time of healing carried on for a long time after. So much more could be said but this being a public blog, I don’t find it appropriate but only to say, we’ve always missed our students and our friends and this is among the reasons I am grateful for Facebook. But I digress.

The speaker was on to something because he validated and encouraged this type of grief and the different types of failures these experiences conjure up within us. Obviously there are major differences from grieving the loss of a loved one but one aspect that I would like to point out – that when you love and serve the church, it’s not just a job because your entire world is (or very much should be) about people. And it’s when you fail or feel failed by that community of people that have claimed they love you (and you them), real hurt bursts through.

I wished I could have stayed for the next day of the event and wished I could have gotten there the night before but this alone was worth the drive. I finish this post by saying, if you can relate to this, it could be that your grieving process was interrupted somehow. Perhaps it’s time to ask the Lord for healing in this area. As pastors, we know how destructive it is to carry burdens that should have been given over long ago. May this among the burdens you lay at the foot of the cross this Holy Week.


  1. Khalaf Haddad says:

    Thanks for letting me attend vicariously. I wanted to attend when I first heard about it, but I couldn’t.

  2. Great thoughts Tim. I passed through a really rough grief process when Christianity and my church stopped making sense to me. I was an angry person sometimes because I didn’t understand why things didn’t make sense and some people scolded me for not getting with the program. It was a recipe for disaster, but thankfully I made it through that time. I think some people in my age-group are still a bit bitter about the ways the church let them down, and they need to go through the grief process you describe here.

  3. Khalaf, brother, hope you are doing well – I think about you all the time. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Thanks for sharing that Ed. I can relate with the anger. It still brings back strong emotions when I think of how damaging churches can be, especially to young people.

    I know that I am grateful that I never up on “Church” and grateful that I have not given up in serving the way I feel that I am called to. But like all worthy things, it can be tough.

    Regarding others in our age group, I think this is why so many are connecting with the emerging church, house church, missional church and other non-tradiational church movements.

    My hope is that people like me who are in traditional churches can minister to them too as I feel that I had similar wounds.

Speak Your Mind