~Goodbye Ministry~

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“I do not consecrate myself to be a missionary or a preacher. I consecrate myself to God to do His will where I am, be it in school, office, or kitchen, or wherever He may, in His wisdom, send me.”
Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life

As I sit here, I see the irony of my situation. I’m supposed to be writing about how it can be difficult for us to control our thoughts, but my mind is distracted and unwilling to cooperate. I just had breakfast, and the act of digesting carbs is contributing to a foggy mind. And if I’m honest, I’m probably a little anxious about doing a good job, so that emotion is lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, regularly threatening to jump to the forefront. A group of coworkers is chatting down the hall, so I put on my headphones and turn up the volume of the rhythmic background music. Then—oh, hey, look, I just got an email…

Managing our concentration can be challenging, not only on the task level but on a spiritual level as well. It can be difficult to maintain our focus on God and His Word when there are so many other people and circumstances vying for our attention.

You might expect that, as Christians, our default setting would be tuned to “Jesus.” But it’s not that simple. Life shows up and our thoughts get cloudy from all the clamoring from the outside world. “Some were called and some were sent, and some just got up and went!” A hard-nosed, angry woman, a member of a local congregation whose long-term pastor had run off the tracks and was forcibly removed from ordained ministry, used those old lines to spout her opinion.

“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” John 21:15a (NIV) 

Do you ever wish God would appear in the flesh and tell you exactly what He wants you to do in a situation? I do.

Sometimes I wish He’d hand me a piece of paper with clear, step-by-step instructions written out and personalized for my specific circumstance. And then He’d stay for a little Q&A session where He’d tenderly answer all my questions with deep reassurances.

I guess some people would say that demonstrates my lack of faith. And maybe it does. Or maybe my heart just feels incredibly vulnerable with some decisions I have to make, and I desperately want to get it right.

I love the Lord so much.

I want to honor Him with my life.

But sometimes I feel Him stirring me to do something that’s terrifyingly opposite of what I want to do. Left to my own choosing, I want to take the safe, certain and comfortable route. And then Scriptures march right up to my limited perspective and challenge me to walk a path I’d never choose on my own.

This question forces my eyes to glance toward that path: More than anything else, do you want to follow God and live His message?

Or even more deeply: Do you love Jesus and want Him more than anything else?

It’s this question the resurrected Jesus asked Peter at a crucial crossroads in Peter’s life. And gracious, do I ever relate to Peter.

He’d been following Jesus for years.

Then things got hard, just like Jesus told the disciples they would. Jesus gave them the clear hope to hold onto:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33, NIV).

But isn’t it hard when what you see with your physical eyes seems contrary to what you believe in your heart?

Problems beg us to forget God’s promises.

Peter denied Jesus because he feared the cost of following Him.

Then circumstances got really hard. Jesus was crucified and Peter took his eyes off that hard path of continuing in ministry. He went back to what felt safe, certain and comfortable … fishing.

Then Peter got one of those visits from Jesus I wish I could have. Resurrected Jesus appeared in the flesh and could not have made it any clearer what He wanted Peter to ponder. With one question, He ruined Peter’s justifications to stay safe.

“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” (John 21:15).

Do you love me more than these?

We’ve all got our own “these.”

They are anything that makes us look away from the less chosen path of following God with everything we’ve got.

So, back to my decision.

Today, I am quitting ministry because of the difficulties I have encountered within the many bodies I have tried to gain alignment with. The lack of urgency I have viewed from those who are titled, LEADERS. The lack of buy-in from the people who desire to control you as a vessel because they see your financial needs as it relates to ministry and life. The attitude I witness when it comes to growth of God’s kingdom versus the desire for the individual agenda’s to grow no matter how many people have to suffer. I can’t perform ministry under this type of leadership. Suddenly I feel enormous pressure that I am not smart enough, capable enough or resourced enough to lead this ministry nor pursue my vision to be the hands of re-entry in Riverside County.

Everything seems bigger, which made me feel like everything was scarier.

The staffing needs.

The budget.

The worries.

The attitudes.

The actors.

The one foot in one foot out mask.

Gathering up my fears, I presented a strong case to the Lord to give this assignment to someone else and let me quietly slip away. I set my sights on what felt more comfortable and safe and certain.

But Jesus’ question ruined all my quitting plans: “Do you love me more than these … more than your fears … more than your desire to do something easier and less scary?”

So, here I stand, a man with trembling hands wearing boots dusty from that uncommon path. I stand and proclaim, “Yes, Jesus, I love You more than these. I will live out the charge presented in Your Holy Word to, “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2,). I am going to take a lengthily sabbatical to get in touch with my inner man and to get clear directions from God on how to finish what He began in me 3.5 years ago with this ministry called Second Chance Alliance and the church. While in this posture, I will be looking at these issues as well.

What lies are you tempted to believe in ministry?”

Over the past several months, I’ve asked this question to dozens of pastors and Christian leaders. It’s a question that often goes unasked in religious leadership circles, but the resulting conversations have been honest, vulnerable, and revealing. Here are some of the common answers:

I have a small church, which makes me a bad and ineffective pastor.

My addiction has no effect on my congregation.

More speaking opportunities at ministry conferences mean I’m a legitimate pastor.

The size of our buildings, budget, and attendance are the only viable way ministry success can be measured.

If I pastor better, God will love me more.

I can please everyone and be faithful to my calling.

If I preach better, my church will grow.

My physical health and well-being are not spiritual matters.

I don’t need help.

I don’t have time to rest.

God’s grace is big, but it’s not big enough to cover what I’ve done.

My personal identity is directly related to my ministry performance.

These answers reveal the dark crawlspaces of the psyche of a pastor. They’re not surprising to me, though — in almost a dozen years of vocational ministry, I’ve been tempted to believe these things, too.

Why do we believe them? Because in our time, the definition of ministry “success” has been professionalized to the point that it mirrors mainstream American culture’s definition of success. We celebrate and perpetuate metrics of success borrowed from the pages of business management textbooks. And these metrics of success are chewing up and spitting out pastors at an alarming rate.

The pastoral vocation today is a sea of dead bodies. Consider these stats, which I’ve pulled from various surveys:

1,500 pastors leave the ministry for good each month, citing burnout or contention in their churches.

80 percent of pastors (and 84 percent of pastors’ spouses) are discouraged in their roles.

Almost half of all pastors have seriously considered leaving ministry for good in the past three months.

For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry.

50 percent of pastors say they are unable to meet the demands of their job and are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.

When I share these statistics with pastors, they slowly, knowingly nod their heads.

Yet when I share these statistics with non-clergy, they are shocked: “How can this be? I had no idea!” A widespread Super Pastor mentality has led us to believe that pastors never struggle, never doubt, never get discouraged, and never wrestle with feelings of failure — just because they’re pastors.

But pastors are people, too. Ministry is a significant calling and it involves broken, sinful, and scandalously ordinary people God calls and uses to shepherd souls. These broken ordinaries are called pastors. Live well My Beloved and pray for my strength to return and pray for me to be very intimate and sensitive to His voice in this time of seeking His plans for my life. Thanks for the time you took to read anything on this website……

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