In light of the famously exaggerated statistics about pastoral attrition, you may be wondering why Lifeway’s pastor advocate would hope for even more to quit. We are all painfully aware that there are people in the ministry who never belonged there in the first place. While I prefer encouraging pastors to fulfill their call and finish strong, I am also a pastoral pragmatist who desires to speak the truth in love to those who are miserable in ministry, as are those around them.
I want to suggest four check-points to consider before quitting or continuing in ministry.
1. You Misunderstood God’s Call For Your Life
I just finished reading Jeremiah, who spoke very bluntly about the misguided minister. Jeremiah’s call was very clear, “I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (v. 1:5). It does not work that way for everyone.
It is not uncommon for me to connect with a minister who senses he or she is in the wrong profession. They seem to be well intentioned people who simply misunderstood their calling from God. This can be an awkward and embarrassing dilemma because of the public nature of our careers.
Please do not stay in the ministry to appease God, your church, or your conscience. You may be inadvertently serving in someone else’s shoes. Shortly after urging several prophets to quit, God reminds Judah,
“I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them” (Jeremiah 23:4).
2. You Finished What God Called You To Do
I watched my childhood pastor Paul Powell transition from 34 years of pastoring local churches to serving as president and CEO of Guidestone Financial Resources, then as the dean at Baylor’s seminary. Today at 80 years young, he is serving the Lord with gladness in various ways. Dr. Powell never left the ministry, he just changed roles and used his gifts in different settings.
Is your restlessness a sign that God may have a new and completely different assignment for you? I personally walked away from a perfectly healthy church, and 27 years of pastoring, to serve pastors through Lifeway. This was done after a prolonged season of fasting and prayer. It has become one of the best decisions of my life. Our calling is not based on a title or position on an org chart. Simply aspire to become a “yes man” under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. You Stink At What You Are Doing
Allow me to slip into Jeremiah mode for these last two check-points. Jeremiah had the dismal job of serving during the last days before Babylon rolled in and destroyed Jerusalem and deported its residents. His audience was unresponsive, in part because the false prophets gave them false assurance of peace and prosperity.
Motivated by a love for Yahweh and Judah, Jeremiah often spoke directly to those in ministry who did not belong there, and encouraged them to quit. They were ineffective because they lacked morality outside of church and integrity inside the church (false dreams; steal My words from each other, falsehoods, boasting, etc).
“It was not I who sent or commanded them, and they are of no benefit at all to these people – this is the LORD’S declaration” (v. 23:32).
4. You Don’t Love Your Church and/or Staff
Some pastors need to quit because they are wolves in shepherd’s clothing. They aren’t just misfits or malcontents, they are dangerous predators.
“ ‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!… You have scattered My flock, banished them, and have not attended to them. I will attend to you because of your evil acts’ ” (v. 23:1-2).
“My heart is broken within me…because both prophet and priest are ungodly” (vv. 23:9,11).
Perhaps you are that person who feels stuck in a ministry that God did not call you to or gift you for. Your integrity reveals an internal tension between abandoning your post and fulfilling your true calling. Every Christian is a minister and every vocation is an opportunity to serve and glorify God. Quitters can be winners if they are pursuing God’s unique call on their life.
“Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).