Today, more than ever before, pastors are leaving the ministry. (Taken from The Barnabas Project: What Pastors Face Today, and Statistics and Trends Concerning Pastors & Reflections from Tony Cooke)
Astonishing isn’t it? As I say in my church plant coaching, “if you can do anything else- do it” (referring to pastoring a church).
They were having more and more dinners without me. Their dad who loved them was becoming more and more consumed by the pressures of the people than submitting to being a good and Godly example.
I didn’t leave for burn-out reasons. I didn’t leave for un-fulfilled expectations. I didn’t quit because there were setbacks, problems with the building or the people. I left pastoring behind to consider my wife and kids–over the church.
Let’s face it, when we begin the pastorate vocation we have dreams and a vision from The Lord. We have a sense of duty and there is an “all for one, one for all” mentality. We pull up our sleeves and work towards accomplishing the goal of winning souls for Christ, discipling, baptizing, empowering not yet believers, and encouraging the downtrodden. When challenges come we “keep calm and pray on.” The battle anthem is Onward Christian Soldier. The mission: to fill the church for the sake of the Gospel. Ain’t nobody got time for nothing else!
But somewhere in all of this, people get tired, weary, and don’t pay attention to the ones they belong to first, and begin to be tricked into making decisions rooted out of personal pursuit rather than “what would Jesus do.” May I introduce to you, exhibit A –my family.
“Men and women of the jury,” (I would say to my made up courtroom of justification). “I have to go to this meeting. I need to give Brother Jones a ride to the next town. I have to study for the Bible Study that I said I would do in addition to the 3 I already do. I have to counsel this couple who came in to my office late in the evening.” And the list goes on and on. What I didn’t realize was while I was doing all those noble things, my wife and kids were getting pushed away.
They were having more and more dinners without me. Their dad who loved them was becoming more and more consumed by the pressures of the people than submitting to being a good and Godly example. My quiet times were quick. My sermons were dry. I was making steps to a failed marriage, misplaced values in parenting, and over all –jumping from “Lord, without you I must fail” to “I have so much to do, I have to stay late every night to make it work.” My motto became “in the name of Christ I will be busy.”
I can’t find that anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere. I looked several times. It was depressing.
When it became time to do an evaluation of the church, not only was I failing in my relationships with the closest people near me, I was falling further away from the very mission of my call. That’s when my wife said the words that I never wish to hear again: “I don’t want to go to church.” And she meant it. So I quit.
2 Corinthians 12:9 sets me free from listening to the cries of my old ways. Jesus says to us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Don’t feel as if I have shamed you. Those of you who might be in the trenches of pastoring a church and trying to balance a family life, I would offer 5 simple principles as you proceed through the gates of your calling:
Talk. Talk. Talk! More than anything else going on between you and your spouse, there needs to be a line of open communication. You can do a lot without talking to one another but you can only accomplish the right things, the right ways, for the right reasons when you express an open heart within each other. Set up time for this. Make it non-negotiable to miss. Create a date night of talking about all things.
Give each other space. Perhaps a missing ingredient in your marriage is the ability to allow feelings of grief, suffering, and challenge without trying to fix them. Support each other with openness, a no mind-games attitude, and without shame or unrealistic expectations. Demanding, being critical, and having unreasonable expectations will only lead to misaligned trust.
Pray together (and alone in your closet). Praying together with your spouse sets an unprecedented call to worship. I have always encouraged couples to pray together –especially when it’s challenging and there is friction. It’s in these times on our knees, crying out before the Lord, causing us to be united with Christ that sets a tone for the rest of the adventure. Don’t neglect your own quiet times of devotion and prayer as well. God has things to share with you when it’s just you and Him.
Seek out accountability and counsel. In each one of my assignments from God I have purposely inserted 2-4 Godly people to guide me and prod me along the ways of discipleship, a closer walk with Christ –in order for my life to be the kind of vessel God can use. These people have speaking rights. They have the ability to say hard things. They are in the trenches with me. They will give their right arm for me. And they will take me out for pizza.
Take a sabbatical. There once was a pastor who needed a break. His friends encouraged him to take a sabbatical. He didn’t want to because he was afraid of the church falling apart without him. He was concerned about a lot of things. He told the leaders with the help of his friends that he needed a break to recalibrate with the Lord. The leaders embraced the notion and blessed him and his family. He returned refreshed, revitalized, and restored. Moral of the story: you might be a candidate for a sabbatical. Pray, seek wise counsel and pray again. Go for it!
I am an ex-pastor. I am taking a break from the role of pastor to a congregation. I am learning about submission, forgiveness, and being faithful to those first on my list.
My story did end well. I did resign. The church received its next pastor. My wife and I are in a place of receiving healing and restoration. And I sense God leading in new directions and adventures.
What’s next for me? Taking my oldest son out for ice cream at our favorite place before he goes back to his college homework.