I read a shocking statistic many years ago that 7 out of every 10 Bible college and seminary graduates will be out of the pastoral ministry within three years of graduating. At the time, I thought it must be an overstatement. But experience and observation have proved otherwise. The pastorate has many casualties.
Chuck Swindoll tells the story of writing the names of all his fellow seminary graduates in the back of his Bible. As they dropped out of ministry he crossed their names off. In something like 20 years every name was crossed off but his and one other.
So pastor, if you haven’t quit – you’ve surely thought about it, are thinking about it, or have the resignation letter written and ready to turn in. You’re just waiting for the right Monday morning to do it.
Let me be honest. I’ve written those letters in the past. I’ve marked those days on the calendar 3 months out where I’ll quit if things haven’t improved (not recently by the way…lest anyone from my current church is reading this.). I am currently in a season where I see God’s hand of blessing. I love what I’m doing. But I know darker days will come.
Here are eight thoughts about why you should not quit and what keeps me going…
- The Call – Remember back to the day that you “knew” God was calling you to the pastoral ministry. The memory of mine is, as they say, “crystal.” I don’t believe God called me or you to pastor for 3 years, or 5 years, or until I got tired of it, or until I got the job offer from XYZ Christian Company, or until the church bully got the best of me, or __________________ (fill in your own reason). He called you and me to preach, lead, shepherd, pray, evangelize, and be used in building up the body of Jesus Christ. Did he revoke that call? Did he redirect that call? Maybe so, but remember your call.
- The Reward – Yes, I’ll admit it. The blessings of pastoring keep me in it. To see a life change, to see a person come to faith, to be a part of a great ministry event, to have someone tell you a message encouraged them. Those area all great things! Reflect on the rewards.
- This Too Shall Pass – Sigh. I hear you. No really, I do. Being a pastor can be tough, beyond tough. Those difficult personality clashes – those well intended but harsh emails you receive – the outright ungodliness shown by someone who doesn’t like a ministry change – the three families that leave because they “aren’t being fed.” These are temporary. Look to God, stay faithful in your devotions, get around some Barnabuses. Remember tough times and difficult people are temporary.
- The King’s Employ – This may sound trite, but you and I work for the King. Not a boss, not a board, not a body. We work for the King of the universe! Dwell on that. Meditate on it. If he employed you, he has the resources to get you through this difficult time. Remember the King.
- Eternal Fruit – What we do will last forever. I realize that every job and career can be used by the Lord (I worked in the secular world for about 8 years after college). But the “everyday” work you do has eternal impact. That message you are preparing, that visit to a new comer, that meeting over coffee to disciple a new believer, that call on a complete stranger new to your area. Those activities put a stamp on eternity. God uses you and your work.
- The Enemy – I don’t see demons and the Evil one lurking behind every bush; but we are in a spiritual battle. There is nothing that Evil would rather have you do than quit, or ruin your testimony, or become disqualified from the ministry. Don’t give him the satisfaction.
- The File – I keep a file marked “encouragement”. In it I put all the encouraging cards, emails, and notes I get from people. I read back over them when days get dark. This helps me remember that people really do appreciate me and that what I do makes a difference. Start a file and put all those encouraging pieces of communication in there for future reference.
- Persecution – Jesus endured it and forewarned us of it. In fact, he promised it. True persecution and opposition are normal in the Gospel work. We are in a battle. Paul’s words remind of this on so many occasions. So expect it, but don’t let it deter you – it probably means you’re actually doing something right.
So pastor – you want to quit; but don’t do it. Find a friend, beg for prayer, be honest with your leadership, ask for help, get counseling, ask for a sabbatical, remember the things above.
What if you’ve already quit? I understand. Let me suggest that you take some time to heal and rest. Ministry challenges can zap you emotionally and spiritually. I have a friend who pastored for 20 years and took a year off to get rejuvenated. He’s now been back in the pastorate about three years. So do what you need to take care of yourself and your family. Then ask the question, “Has the call been revoked?” Really answer that honestly. Maybe it has; but don’t let fear, bitterness, or bad experiences answer the question for you. That call is probably still on your life – get back in the Gospel saddle. Start small, a Bible study at work or with a neighbor. Then begin to pray for God’s leading for your next ministry.
What if you find yourself arguing with this article? You’re saying things like,
- “But, maybe God redirected me to another career.”
- “But, there’s this other non-pastoral ministry.”
- “But, my circumstances have changed.”
- “But, my family is falling apart.”
No doubt, there are times to resign. There are times to take a break. And there are other valid ministries in which to serve. But don’t let “difficult” times, people, or pressures be the thing that makes you resign. AND although there are other ministries in which to serve, you need to make sure they align with your calling. Don’t let a way out become a cop out. If God called you to pastor, you will not be satisfied doing anything else.
I truly love the ministry…most days. My work is God-ordained, has eternal results, and is beyond rewarding. But there are those days, and weeks, and even longer seasons of difficulty. The things above help me keep perspective and I hope they will encourage you as well.