Monday, January 19, 2004

Pastoral Stress ** When can we call it quits? **

When is it okay to quit the ministry?

When a pastor begins to think about quitting he is almost always going to be consumed with guilt. You can't help but feel like you are letting God and your church down by wanting out... and in some ways that may be true. There is always a sense of calling with ministry and to face the fact that you are miserable and generally feeling like a failure is heart breaking, embarrassing and humbling. It is irrelevant whether your church is 'successful' or not... if you are miserable you will still likely feel like a failure... if you are wanting out it doesn't matter how well things are going.

The callings of God are without repentance... we know this... but we rarely understand how to apply it. When I was pastoring in Fayetteville I reached a point of extreme depression. I was unhappy and wanted out of the ministry... at the time I was ready to give it up forever. My overwhelming sense was that quitting was the equivalent of rejecting God himself... if he called me and placed me then it wasn't possible that I could stop... as I watched my church dwindle down to just a handful I preached more and more on faithfulness in the hard times... Job became relevant... sacrifice seemed to be the rule. The truth was in hindsight that in my state of mind I was not doing anybody any favors by hanging on... but that wasn't the way it seemed at the time.

The people who I sought counsel from, men of God, many of them, were generally supportive of me but their instruction was always along the lines of "Endure to the end" type messages. The deeper I sank the less relevant these counselors became. Then, while on vacation, I was introduced to Randy Knutson, a church planting coordinator with the Vineyard, who listened while I unloaded my frustrations. He asked me a simple question... "Why do you think God would ask you to do something that made you miserable?" Before I could answer with my prepackaged rebuttal he continued, "Leaders in God's Kingdom are rare... YOU are more important to the Lord than your work or your church!"

Something in me broke that moment... For the first time I felt like I had permission to stop banging my head into the wall... and the freedom was tangible... overwhelming... and I cried like a baby. And my resignation the next day began an adventure that I wouldn't trade anything for. If I had stayed on in a misguided sense of duty I would have not grown and experienced the things I have the last few years... nor would that church have had any life in it... by stepping down it opened the door for God to place someone else there who had life to give to those people.

Randy used the term one time with me of "Holy Discontent"... this is a sense of coming change... a stirring in the spirit where we begin to feel unhappy or discontented with the place we are currently serving. In retrospect I guess I would have had a hard time leaving anywhere I've ever served had things just been perfect... its the discontentment that gets us to move... to seek God and find his next assignment.

This may not be the way it works for everybody else, but I know I have seen over and over tired and burned out pastors hanging on to a tired and burned out church or ministry that sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be better off if they just stopped the madness. For their and their family's sake as well as the church. Life is too short to spend it hating what you're doing. I can think of three such churches that I have visited within the last month or two, so this isn't a small obscure issue. And in each of those cases the people giving counsel are encouraging them to "Endure to the end"... and it makes me want to cry. I've been there and I know their cry is for someone to give them permission to quit...

We don't want to give that permission because, "What if it is God? What if he's trying to work faithfulness into this leader?" That's a good question... and I don't know the answer... but a pastor who loses his family or his sanity in the name of faithfulness is never going to learn anything... false duty is killing pastors. In an earlier posting I discussed the 1500 pastors a month leaving ministry... what if they had left earlier with a blessing? Could they have had a rest, recharged, changed venues and recovered to be even more effective than before? I think the answer is "OF COURSE"!

The keys to success in ministry include 1) The right person 2) in the right place 3) at the right time. And sometimes it takes quitting what you're doing so that God can place you in a new setting so that your effectiveness is increased.

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