“I want to quit ministry.”
As we sat in a beautiful seaside cafe I told my wife, Dianne, I was tired, discouraged and over it.
My resignation letter was written.
It was skillfully crafted and I was ready to show it to Di and tell her my well-founded reasons for wanting to quit ministry.
Then I showed her the letter. She read it and then put it in her pocket. I never saw it again.
Dianne told me that she wasn’t going anywhere and that there had to be another way.
Thankfully we found another way and I didn’t quit.
There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit ministry and walk away from being a pastor.
There are various reasons why pastors give up. Here are my genuine reasons.
1. My wife, Dianne, stopped me when I wanted to quit ministry
Dianne has been the steady as a rock person in my life for over 45 years.
She’s unflappable and approaches all crises with a calm spirit, resolutely persevering in Christ to see us through to the other side.
When I’ve been ready to chuck it in she’s quietly told me she has a call of God and isn’t going anywhere.
Dianne has prayed me through many storms, pounding on the gates of heaven until the light has broken through the deep darkness.
She’s stood alongside me over the decades as we aimed to grow a healthy church.
Our combined sense of call has helped us
The ministry takes its toll on not only pastors but also the one they married. Fortunately, Dianne knew about my ministry aspirations before we got married and I discovered that she had similar aspirations in serving Christ.
This combined sense of call has served us well.
I’ve known other couples where a wife has resented her husband’s pastoral role and struggled to partner with him in their endeavours. This produces immense tension in a marriage and can cause it to even break down.
Di and I have found ways to talk things over and agree on the way forward. We’ve discovered that consistent and vulnerable communication of each other’s needs has helped us diffuse tensions in our ministry marriage. No plaudits in ministry can ever match a successful marriage.
Ministry impacts families
Lifeway research reveals the impact ministry life has on a pastor’s spouse.
While 90% of pastors’ spouses think ministry has had a positive effect on their family, 59% believe that church commitments limit family time and 49% say they feel they live in a fishbowl.
Dianne helped me walk through cancer
I would’ve quit ministry earlier if not for Dianne’s perseverance.
Dianne helped me walk through one of the darkest seasons of my ministry life when I had cancer..
The day I was told “you’ve got cancer” was darker than the other side of the moon.
Ministry life had been skipping along as usual. However, my annual blood test regime showed my PSA reading was trending high, a possible sign of prostate cancer.
My Doctor arranged a biopsy and my new year equilibrium was shattered by my dark side of the moon day.
After getting a second opinion I decide to proceed with invasive surgery and have my prostate removed. Surgery presented genuine risks.
Severe incontinence and sexual dysfunction were possibilities and countenancing these dreaded outcomes took an emotional toll. Thankfully I came through the procedure without those dreaded side effects and 15 years later I remain cancer-free.
Dianne’s support through my year of wrestling with cancer made all the difference.
One habit I developed 30 years ago was an intentional reflection time and it helped me stay true to my calling.
Every quarter I take time out to reflect on various aspects of my life.
I ask myself a series of questions and ponder the various elements of my marriage, family, integrity and ministry.
It’s been a habit that has helped me consolidate my vision and values. It has helped guide me when our church stopped growing.
My Reflection Toolkit guides you through a simple process and keeps you aligned with your purpose in life.
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I’ve been a man of prayer for all of my 50 years as a believer.
I have found prayer to be an exceptional antidote to wanting to quit ministry. In prayer, I’ve been able to cast my cares, woes and anxieties onto the Lord and trust him for my future.
I tend to be a future focussed person which is helpful when it comes to leadership.
However, the downside is that I tend to worry about the future as I contemplate various scenarios.
This tendency to anxiety has at times led me to become disheartened and I want to quit rather than persevere.
It’s in the place of prayer that my anxious heart has found rest.
The truth of Isaiah 30:15 has been fulfilled through my prayer life, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.
Prayer has helped me process my disappointments, setbacks and failures. I don’t think I would have lasted over 4 decades if I was trying to carry those weights by myself.
Prayer fortified me through depression
One of the more traumatic seasons of my life was a relational breakdown with a key mentor that led to 15 months of dark depression during which I suffered suicidal thoughts.
One thing I never stopped doing through this season was prayer.
My prayer life was weaker than a newborn babe however I refused to give up my place of prayer.
I regularly sat with the Lord, often speaking just a few words.
It was during one such prayer time that I had a vision in my mind.
I saw a hand reaching down from heaven holding me by the collar as my hands and legs dangled in the air like a rag doll. The Holy Spirit spoke and said, “Even if you let go, I never will”
Personal, private prayer has helped me avoid being crushed by the relentless toll of ministry.
I got saved at 19. I was a broken, washed-up hippie with shattered dreams and no hope. Jesus found me in this state of despair, picked me up and embedded hope in my newly redeemed heart.
Life-changing encounters of this nature shape your thinking and direction for years.
I know Christ is real and I know that the call I have to ministry is just as real. And given all that he’s done for me I believe His love requires my obedience.
Also, I don’t want to face the Lord in eternity and explain to Him why I gave up, and why I quit ministry and ran from the call He gave me. That would not be a happy day.
Raw obedience to Jesus’ call has, at times, been the only thing that has kept me in the race.
5. The Pastoral Life
One of the major reasons I have never quit ministry is I love being a pastor.
It is an innovative and creative vocation. There’s variety, challenge and scope to grow.
While a pastor’s lifestyle is stressful it is also liberating. You get to choose the rhythms that suit you and plan your life around those rhythms.
Another superb element of the pastor’s life is the collegiate nature of ministry friendships.
Pastors get each other. We understand each other’s woes and joys and thus engage readily with each other.
My pastoral connections have dragged me out of many a dark hole.
As a pastor, I get to enjoy the privilege of helping people find their place in life and in church. Developing leaders has been a lifelong passion and added immensely to the pleasure of my pastoral life.
6. A Purposeful Life
Purpose is in my DNA.
I would find it impossible to live a steady as she-goes, meandering type of life. I need to feel that I am making a significant difference and that my contribution matters.
I don’t expect everyone to relate to this aspect of my ministry life because we are all wired in different ways.
But for me I couldn’t do a 9 to 5 job for decades, retire and quietly see out my days. For some people, that’s a dream. For me, it’d be a nightmare.
Pastoring has given me the opportunity to live on purpose and leave my mark on the world. While the downside of that desire is drivenness the upside more than outweighs any negatives.
I thrive best when I am ‘on purpose’
When walking through dark times I have often latched onto a purpose, an objective that has given me the fuel to keep travelling down the road.
In the year I was fighting cancer I decided to put a considerable focus on our annual men’s conference.
It was bumping along with 100-150 guys attending and was fun, but I knew it had another gear or two.
In that year I had coffee with over 50 pastors and gave them a personal invitation to attend the Real Men conference with the guys from their church.
It had an immediate impact with our next conference attracting 500 men.
Two questions I consistently ask leaders
What should you stop?
What should you start?
These are coaching questions par excellence and help leaders prune withered branches of purpose and launch new quests.
These questions help leaders get back on purpose which enables them to move out of quagmires and onto solid ground.
One of the heartfelt joys of ministry is the friends you make both within your church and amongst other pastors.
Hanging out with other pastors helps you talk through the major pressure points of ministry. Things like working within the church budget, pastoral care concerns, church health and so on.
Friendships impact our lives in a variety of ways. They help us keep dark times in perspective and give us a place to share the good times.
My friendships have more than once prevented me from being a quitter.
My friends carried me through my dark year of depression, supported me through cancer, celebrated my transition from pastoring to consulting and much more.
Frankly, friends are a key reason I have lasted the difference.
True friends lend us their eyes so we can see the other side.
8. Getting older
As you get older you see things differently, including crises and problematic people.
You watch people make wrong choices and learn from their mistakes.
You reflect long and hard (or should at least :-)) on your previous decisions and the outcomes that flowed from those decisions.
You watch people make godly choices and see the blessing that flows into their lives and families.
You ask successful people probing questions and gain wisdom from their fruitful lives.
You see bad things happen to good people and vice-versa and you ponder the unfathomable mysteries of life and things become less black and white.
You develop a forgiving heart rather than a crusty bitter one and you realise you are all the better for it.
In other words, you grow up.
Growing up for me has caused me to slow down impetuous decision making which made me less prone to radical shifts of direction. Over the years I have become better at surviving crises due to my gradually evolving maturity.
9. Collateral damage
Another primary reason that I haven’t quit ministry is collateral damage.
At various times I’ve thought long and hard about the impact that quitting ministry would have on others.
This has weighed heavily on me as I’ve stayed the course over the years.
I’ve worried about discouraging younger pastors.
I’ve worried about discouraging long-term members in our church.
I’ve worried about bringing disrepute to my vocation.
10. Sense of call
LifeWay research on why pastors were quitting ministry indicates calling is a significant factor in assessing your future.
Conflict is a source of pressure on pastors. You dread awkward conversations with cantankerous members or disappointed leaders. It causes pastors to quit.
Lifeway discovered 40% of pastors left their pastorate because of a change in their calling.
My calling and even more significantly Dianne’s sense of calling kept us in our church on more than one occasion.
I knew Jesus had called me to pastor and more specifically to pastor our church.
When I got so despondent that I wanted to quit, Dianne would tell me “Well I’ve been called here, and the Lord has not called me anywhere else, so I am not leaving ministry.”
What do you say to your wife when she emphatically states that truth?
I believe the calling of the Lord is an anchor that helps us stay when we should stay but also enables us to move on when we should move on.
When Di and I came to the realisation that our time pastoring our church was coming to an end we both knew that the calling was finishing and a fresh call to a different ministry was developing in us.
The apostle Peter puts it like this, make every effort to confirm your calling 2 Peter 1:10.
Work on your calling, establish it in prayer and do the hard work of reflection.
11. Leverage my talent
OK this is going to get slightly weird and appear boastful.
I have a good skill set.
I’ve been an above-average student.
I was an above-average sportsman back in the day.
I can lead large groups of people through impossible situations.
I have a proven capacity to get along with people.
I have the perfect mix of skills, aptitude, personality and experience (I warned you this would get weird) to consult with various churches and pastors.
So, what am I saying here? What is all this boasting about John?
I have a healthy (I think it’s healthy) appreciation of who I am and what I can achieve.
Plus, I have a healthy awareness of what I don’t do well but I’ll leave the task of compiling that list to my family and friends.
I know my strengths, my weaknesses, my upside, and my downside.
Therefore, in my thinking, I
should MUST leverage my talents to the max if I am going to fulfil the call of God. And for me, that is ministry, not a business and not gardening. Yes, my daydreams during the odd crisis have taken me to the pruning of roses and planting of daffodils.
I carry a sense of destiny and am assured that Jesus has called me and know He doesn’t want me to quit ministry.