As a young leader of a small church, I’m considering tendering my resignation and moving on—maybe even away from ministry altogether. I’ve found that serving in the church is incredibly tough, and I’m not sure I’m called to do this anymore.
This scenario is all too common today. We often hear or read the staggering number of pastors leaving the ministry every month (1500-1800). I honestly don’t know where those numbers originated. I worked at Focus on the Family as the Senior Director of Pastoral Ministries for years, and those numbers were often incorrectly attributed to our research. Nevertheless, if the amount of pastors leaving the ministry each month were half that, it would still be cause for great concern!
While the reasons vary for those pastors leaving the ministry, there are many who leave because they’re wrestling with their calling. And many question their call because ministry is difficult. Who of us hasn’t experienced this? Perhaps you’re at a place where you’re questioning your own calling as a pastor in light of the difficulties. If so, it might be helpful to engage in four activities that’ll hopefully give you a renewed sense of focus for what God has called you to do:
- Read Colossians 1 again. Really. It’s there that we find a clear description of what God has called us to do. This is especially true of verses 24-29. But consider initially verses 24-25 alone:Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, his church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known… (Col. 1:24-25, ESV).Isn’t it interesting that the very first activity Paul highlights in being a minister is that of suffering? Suffering that deeply penetrates the heart. The suffering of dealing with difficult people. The suffering of being criticized. The suffering of betrayal. The suffering of being overlooked for your contributions. The suffering of ____________________________. If you’re called to pastor, you’re called to suffer.
So, if you’re questioning your call to continue in ministry because it’s tough, is that a good reason to quit?
- Revisit a moment you sensed God called you. Was there a specific verse or passage God used in your life to stir something in your heart about vocational ministry? Where were you? What was the context? Years ago, a colleague of mine, struggling with his own calling, traveled thousands of miles overseas to the very place he believed God called him many years ago to be a pastor. That journey of retracing had a profound impact on his life. In fact, he’d say God used this in his life to renew his calling.
- Reengage with some of those who affirmed your calling early on. These conversations are not about feeding your ego; they’re about regaining clarity. Ministry can become very ambiguous. Over time, our focus and our passions become diluted in the midst of all that needs to be accomplished. Thus, it helps to gain some perspective from some trusted friends. What did they initially see in you that led them to affirm his calling in you? Do they still see God’s calling on your life to pastor? To minister? To preach?
- Retreat. Maybe you need a sabbatical type of get-a-way for 2-3 months. When was the last time you had one of those? Perhaps you just need a few days away. Whichever the case, it would be foolish to simply walk away without taking some time to rest, pray, fast, read scripture, journal and even recreate.
It’s my prayer for you that these activities will be life giving to you. Maybe you’re assignment will change. Maybe it won’t. Maybe the difficulties will be less in the days ahead. Maybe there’ll be more. Regardless, my hope is that your resolve to continue will be greater than it’s ever been.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Phil. 1:6