“Therefore, we do not lose heart.” (II Corinthians 4:1,16)
From time to time I receive notes like this one:
“I resigned my church tonight. Just couldn’t take it any more. The bullying from a few strong men (or one family in particular) finally wore me out. So, I got good and fed up, and tonight I tossed in the towel and told them I was through. It feels good to walk away and leave all this stress behind. But now, I will be needing a place to move to, a way to support my family, and when the Lord is ready, a new church to pastor. Please keep me in mind if you know of a church in need of my services.”
Nothing about that feels right. I want to say to my friend, “You resigned in a fit of temper or in a moment of discouragement? You walked away from the place God sent you? You quit a well-paying job without knowing where you will move your family or how you will support them? Have you lost your ever-loving mind?!”
I guarantee you the pastor’s wife is thinking these thoughts, no matter how loyally she supports her man and aches to see him struggling under such a heavy load.
I would like to say to every minister I know that unless you are sure the Holy Spirit inside you is saying, “This is the time. Walk away now,” don’t do it. Do not resign abruptly or impulsively.
Here are 10 reasons not to quit and walk away even when to remain there is killing you….
1) God sent you. Stay until He says otherwise or until you are fired.
You may not be able to keep a church from firing you–some of the finest ministers on the planet have been terminated at one time or other–but if it’s up to you, stay until He tells you to leave.
So, pastor, you found the going to be tough, some of the leaders resistant, and a few members to be criminal in their behavior? You grew tired of fighting them and fed up with the way they treated you?
I have something to say to you, my friend.
No one said it was going to be easy, least of all the Lord who called you in the first place. Go back to Matthew 10 and read what He said to the early disciples, from verse 16 through the end of the chapter. Compare your situation with what they were facing, then apologize to Him for your belly-aching.
2) The church needs you to see them through this crisis.
There are good people in your congregation who need a shepherd. If you walk away, you are abandoning them to the bullies who have been making your life miserable and ruling that church with a heavy hand.
If the bullies remain in place, the church will continue to be sick and stunted in its growth and ministries. Read Acts 20:28ff and notice that from the very beginning of the Lord’s church, it has been this way. Your church is not unusual. It may be sick, but if so, it needs a physician and that’s why you were sent. Stay with the patient.
3) If you walk away, the bullies win, they are empowered, and they will try to control the next pastor.
The pastor who follows you will wish for all the world that you had cleaned out that nest of vipers before leaving. As it was, he will feel you took the easy way out, turned over the keys to the trouble-makers, and made sure the next preacher will have to deal with them all over again.
I know, I know–it doesn’t feel that way. You are at your wit’s end and feel you cannot take it any more. But you can. Stay with the assignment the Lord gave you. Love those bullies and minister to them as faithfully as you do the precious saints. Follow the blueprint of Luke 6:27-35. You will puzzle the troublemakers, frustrate the devil, and honor your Lord. Furthermore, you will strengthen your church and give your people a picture of a blessed servant of the Lord for all time.
4) You have a family to support.
As the head of your household, you are charged with providing for your own, a serious assignment from the Lord. To walk away from a steady paycheck because you “couldn’t take it any more” reflects poorly on you and puts your loved ones in a difficult situation.
Now, it’s possible to go too far in the other extreme. I’ve seen pastors cave in to the bullies and not challenge them on anything–“I go along to get along,” one called it–in order to keep their job. Do that and you soon lose the respect of everyone including those nearest and dearest to you, and you will become the lapdog of the church-rulers.
Each extreme is unwise–caving in or abruptly walking away.
Stay close to the Lord for His guidance, His wisdom and the kind of self-control only He gives.
5) If you walk away, your ministry will be changed forever–and possibly diminished.
What do you suppose a pastor search committee is going to think when they look at your resume? May I answer that for you?
–“If this guy is so good, why is he without a job now?”
–“If he could not get along with the strong leaders in his last church, he’d have trouble in our church, too.”
–“Let’s not take the chance. Let’s see who else is available without all this baggage.”
And you are history. Believe me, pastor, I have been on the receiving end of this stuff and have the scars to prove it.
You are seriously handicapping your future service to the Lord by quitting and walking away.
In the Southern Baptist Convention–always my frame of reference–if you walk away from your present church, it will take from six months to a year before you get another church and that one will be a third to one-half the size of the present one. You will regress in your ministry in a hundred ways if you walk away.
6) If you walk away and find yourself unemployed, you may lose confidence in yourself and possibly in the Lord.
Say what you like about the ministry being different from other jobs, but the simple fact is that in our culture most of us get our identity from our work. When you have no work to go to in the morning, you begin to wonder “who am I?” and then “am I a failure?”
I cannot count the heart-breaking emails I have received from unemployed pastors who wonder why God doesn’t hear their prayers, why search committees do not appreciate their resumes, and why friends do not recommend them to other churches or invite them to fill the pulpit in their absence.
You do not want to be in that position if you can help it, preacher.
7) God can use this testing time in your life, in your family, in your church, and even in the lives of the trouble-makers.
In the weight room, you build a muscle by putting stress on it. In God’s kingdom, He builds believers by allowing us to undergo trials and burdens and oppositions. If we walk away from the work before quitting time, we miss the blessings and often add to the problems of the very people we were sent to encourage and bless.
Did you enter the ministry idealistically? Were you expecting the churches to be filled with saints and every day to be sweeter than the day before? If so, it’s clear you have never read your Bible. Look at the ministry of God’s shepherds in the Old Testament (Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc) and in the New Testament (Paul, Peter, James, John, etc). They all had a tough time of it. Did you think you were better than they?
I don’t mean to be unkind here, but only to provoke you to be tough with yourself and not jump ship when the going gets rough.
8) Think of how you will feel about this a million years from now.
Which is to say, take the long view and not the short-term view.
9) The bullies need you to act courageously and faithfully. Whether they know it or not.
It will be good for the Diotrephes in your congregation (those who “love to have the pre-eminence”) to see someone acting like God truly is in this place, that the Lord really did send him here, and that he actually expects to have to stand before the Lord some day and give account for this flock (see Hebrews 13:17). It will be eye-opening for the bullies to see you able to take a licking, then get up and love them again in the power of the Holy Spirit.
You are going to win them by the power of humility, love and service, and not by playing the game the way they want it conducted (by sheer force, power plays, outsmarting them, or out-maneuvering them).
10) Your family needs to see you acting maturely, speaking firmly, and confidently dealing with this matter in quietness and strength.
Over the years, I have encountered adult children of ministers who stopped going to church years ago “after seeing how they treated my daddy.” They grew bitter at the church and marked them all off as unChristian and hypocritical. To the extent their preacher-fathers allowed them to be hurt, they did them no favors.
Protect your children, parents. As much as you can, pastor dad, shield your wife from the trouble. She’ll need to be in on some of it, but not all. But shield your children from as much of it as you possibly can. They are so vulnerable. They do not have the spiritual resources with which to deal with hateful members or cruel leaders. So, try to shield them.
The ministry can be the most rewarding life in the world. But it can also be the cruelest. In either case, it is the Lord Christ whom you serve. And let me assure you, He does not take lightly the wonderful service you render in His name nor the treatment you receive from those who would hinder you. (Hebrews 6:10 has your name all over it.)
Find out and then help your family to see what Scripture means in calling the Lord “our Shield and Defender.” It’s all good.
Now, get up off the ground and get back into the ring, preacher. The worst thing they can do is kill you and all that does is send you to Heaven.
I am saving this article so I can prayerfully consider the content later, but my initial response is…
As a pastor who has walked away from a church under similar circumstances described in the article (with the encouragement of my wife and family which the article fails to consider), have been fired from another church for holding them accountable to their own guiding documents (to which the article does allude), and has followed God’s call both from and to other churches under the clear leadership of the Holy Spirit, I initially find a tremendous lack of both insight and empathy in the article. Granted, I need to spend more time prayerfully meditating on the content, but I would encourage others to carefully and prayerfully consider the wisdom contain therein.
There is often much more involved in a pastor leaving a church when faced with opposition than what is represented in this oversimplification of circumstances impacting many pastors and their families.
Saying “grow up,” is absent of grace and love.
My initial response is that the author needs to be silent when speaking generally to a multitude experiencing a plethora of various circumstances.
Ignorance of the unique circumstances relative to individual ministry experiences is best responded to with silence.
We too often offer general solutions to circumstances out of ignorance which would be better served by approaching each with careful consideration of their specific circumstances.
Thank you for your response. Please see the other comment beside yours, the one from Rick Lawrenson.
2 of my first 3 churches (where I stayed no longer than 27 months) I abruptly resigned. I was young. After the last one I spent 4 years out of the ministry, mostly miserable. And my wife and children did without so much.
God used those 4 years to grow me up. I was unsure if I would ever pastor again. The God had a little dying church who wanted me.
After 30 years with them and a very God-blessed ministry, I retired last April. As another “old warrior” I applaud your post and all ten points. Been there, done than, and also have the scars. I also know much of God’s grace.