Some days I can act like low attendance doesn’t affect me. This past Sunday wasn’t one of those days.
It was beautiful outside and the seats were empty.
After third service I went back to this little electrical closet in the back of the auditorium – one that I re-made into a sermon and prayer room by squeezing a tiny table and chair into it – and just sat there silently and stared at the wall. For probably 20 minutes. Maybe 25.
My co-worker Dan Reischel came back and asked, “You okay?”
That’s probably not the kind of thing you want to hear from someone who coaches other Senior Pastors, but I think this is why guys open up to me. I tell it like it is.
Some days being a pastor sucks. Knowing that even your most committed people will just simply check out for the day is disheartening. It makes me feel alone.
The problem is some of you have been feeling this way for a long time. I know because in my role I am so fortunate to be invited behind closed doors to hear the real frustrations of people like you and me in the trenches.
One of the biggest questions I’m asked is, “Should I quit the ministry?”
Usually three things give rise to this question:
Inwardly-Focused Churches And Governing Boards
Some Senior Pastors want to quit because they’re sick of being in churches that don’t want to do anything. They’re sick of the battles. They’re sick of serving under governing boards who say they want to fulfill the Great Commission, but instead bicker and fight over stupid stuff. They feel like those responsible for guiding them into ministry pulled a bait and switch on them.
Limited Skill (and consequently, limited passion)
Some Senior Pastors want to quit because they feel like they aren’t very good at it. And as anyone knows, if you’re not very good at something, you’re not going to feel passion for doing whatever that is over the long haul. Some Senior Pastors feel like they’re simply not gifted to do what needs to be done to help their churches grow to reach their full redemptive potential. They feel like they’re wasting their lives and should do something else while there is still time.
The High Personal Cost Of Ministry
Some Senior Pastors want to quit because of the high personal cost they’ve had to pay to stay in ministry. Low pay, long hours, every creepy dysfunctional person in the community thinking they have a right to show up at your services and critique what you’re doing, simply because the church is the only place in town that will put up with them. Or, as I alluded to, the ebbs and flows of church attendance take their toll after a while. Myriads of issues shrink a Senior Pastor’s soul over time.
If you’re thinking about quitting, I want you to know that I completely understand why you would want to. But you shouldn’t.
I have seriously considered quitting the ministry twice. Both times my wife talked me out of it. And while I was seriously ticked off at her for not encouraging me to give in during the hard times, I’m glad she didn’t budge.
Here are 10 reasons why you shouldn’t quit:
- Every Senior Pastor I’ve ever talked to that has quit, later regretted it. Every. Single. One. You will too. If you are feeling called TO something (like a job or field that has been burning inside you for a long time), then I’d be open to leaving the ministry. But if you just want to get out because it is hard, chances are you’ll really regret it. The only thing worse than being in ministry when it is tough is being in a secular job and wishing you were back in ministry.
- You’re not the only one with a hard, discouraging job. Go talk to the small business owners in your church that made it through the 2008 stock market crash, and are still in business.
- You have a unique skill set that no one else has. If you quit, the kingdom will miss the unique viewpoint and curiosity that only you bring. That’s not a line of garbage. I mean that. If I looked back over your time in ministry, I guarantee I’ll see a long line of changed lives that otherwise wouldn’t have been .
- Don’t confuse ministerial suck and all of its friends with genuine depression. When I went to counseling at the start of my last sabbatical I’ll never forget the first and last words my counselor said to me. The first were, “Why are you here?” To which I said, “I have no idea.” Her last words at our final session were, “You know you were seriously depressed, don’t you?” To which I replied, “Honestly, I had no idea. I’ve been feeling this way for so long I thought this was normal.” Listen: go get some meds. I did, twice. You don’t suck, you have low serotonin levels brought about, in part, by the unrelenting onslaught of really difficult and stressful stuff. Why you would think it is okay to get a steroid pack for inflammation, but not go on Zoloft or Celexa for a brief season, just until you get your footing, is mind boggling. Do yourself a favor and read Perry Noble’s story.
- I believe every Senior Pastor has to re-plant the congregation they lead every 5 years.
I mean completely re-envisioning who they are as a leader, who they are as a church, and re-developing a fresh strategy for their congregation. In my experience many Senior Pastors are simply trying to “feel alive” without doing the hard work of creating a new wineskin. Do the work.
- You are lonely. You need to pray for God to bring mutually enriching people into your life who don’t need anything from you, and don’t need to be fixed. Both are like ticking time bombs for pastoral couple friendships.
- Go try a new church. I would much rather have you seek out a new venture than bail on ministry altogether. Call the people at The Slingshot Group and let them know you’re interested. They’ll privately share your information with trusted, healthy churches seeking a qualified person like yourself.
- Take a demotion. One of the coolest things I see in ministry today is Senior Pastors being willing to take a cut in pay and a demotion in job responsibilities to go be a part of a staff team in a dynamic church. Try that. I love when I see that happen. Ray “Cotton” Jones, my former boss at First Christian Church in Clearwater, Florida, used to tell me that the best staff members he’s ever had were former Senior Pastors, because they’ve been in his shoes before.
- Hire a coach. This isn’t just a plug for me. There are plenty of good ones out there. Go find someone who will come alongside you and help you notice things you’re blind to. The camaraderie will be as enriching as the learning. In my experience most guys want to quit because they’ve spent too much time in isolation. I’ll start coaching some Senior Pastors and honestly, they remind me of Tom Hanks talking to the volleyball he named Wilson. They have no genuine ministry partnerships. No real friends to speak of. None of the fun, collegial give and take that exists elsewhere. It’s sad that they waited so long. You owe it to yourself to partner with someone who will help you feel alive and passionate again. Here’s my coaching page. Ministry Advantage does a great job, as does Nelson Searcy. Just Google “Senior Pastor Coach” and look at the options available to you.
- Finally, you do get to quit. It’s called retirement, and it will be here sooner than you think. When that happens you will miss what you’re going through right now. Don’t believe me? Go talk to people like you who have recently retired. They’ll tell you.
So rather than quitting, let’s address what has you stuck and get you passionate gain.
If you are interested in learning more about the types of coaching I offer, you can do that here.