Should [you] Leave the Ministry? [Part 1]

I’ll never forget a quote I heard at a leadership forum from a local DFW metroplex pastor–who, incidentally, has decades of ministry experience under his belt. He made the statement, “I don’t hire a person in ministry until they’ve been disillusioned in ministry.” I was dumbfounded, but I understood what he meant. His point was simple: ministry is challenging, and one whose life is invested in such an endeavor has to possess a maturity forged in seasons of highs and lows, ups and downs, disappointments and breakthroughs, triumphs and tragedies, etc.

And so, what I’m learning is that the life of a follower of Christ who is in ministry (whether paid or not) is produced, not intrinsically possessed. In other words, the person in ministry doesn’t arrive nor is born a minister, but is progressively changed into becoming a minister.

Why would this be the case?

Two reasons:

(1) Life and people are too complex.

(2) Every person is broken and in need.

However, it’s important to make a distinction here for those who are in full-time paid ministry. While I do agree that all followers of Christ are called to a life of ministry within their spheres of influence (whether a farmer, plumber, electrician, engineer, coach, or stay-at-home mom, etc.) there is nevertheless a different pursuit and distinction to be made regarding the one who is paid to engage in a life of ministry. The person in a “paid” ministry pursuit has simply moved from a position of not being paid to being paid for exercising their God-given bents and gifts in a local church, para-church, mission organization, etc. in a more pronounced way. The one paid in full-time ministry simply has more time to devote their life to exercising their faculties and giftings in ministry. It sounds too simple, and it is.

What does that look like?

The person in full-time “paid” ministry is dedicated to a life of the underneath. The focus of their time is to…serve the body of Christ…call lost sheep to the body of Christ…build up the body of Christ…equip the body of Christ…disciple the body of Christ…teach the body of Christ…counsel the body of Christ…laugh with the body of Christ…weep with the body of Christ…live in fellowship with the body of Christ…pray with the body of Christ. They are simply the underneath…the under-girders…the under-rowers…the one’s whose mission is to bring a biblical perspective to the complexities of life. They serve the meat of God’s Word–not just milk–and they pray for life change…beginning with them.

But, if it was that easy, then…

Why do people leave the full-time “paid” ministry?

There are many reasons, but three that I want to focus on that I believe contribute to a person leaving the ministry. They are listed below along with mitigating factors.

(1) Culture shock… when a person comes from a business background (like I did), another church, or straight from college or seminary they are faced with culture shock front and center. This adjustment is hard, but it is possible to make. How?

Time. Have you ever driven to the mountains of Colorado from Texas or from another lower elevation state? How do you keep from getting altitude sickness? Time to acclimate–and plenty of water. Your body needs to adjust to the change in pressure, oxygen deprivation, etc. that the higher elevation presents. It’s possible to make this change, but it takes time.

(2) Ought-not-be’s… these are the things that a person sees behind the curtains of a ministry, a church, a missions organization, etc. that simply shouldn’t be there. Let’s call it what it is…sin. When a person is on the outside of an organization it’s easy to look at that organization with rose-colored glasses. It’s a charismatic speaker, or a well-oiled and seemingly efficient institution that creates this sugar-coated perspective. This aspect of ministry is very hard to deal with, but it becomes easier when a person considers how sinful and in need of grace they are as well. So, what mitigates this challenge?

Time and information. This just takes time (seasoned by grace), but it is also helped by information from primary sources. Too many side conversations contribute to making this problem worse. With humility, a person should consider going to the primary source of a problem or situation and find out the information from them as they process the challenge they witness or are struggling with. A posture of humility is of utmost importance here, and a way to practically approach a person might be by simply introducing the conversation with, “Please help me understand why _______.” This posture takes away the sting of the conversation and allows you to process unfiltered information (without too much information) to adequately work through this challenge. I’ve had to do this multiple times in my ministry experience, and I’ve left each meeting with a peace and perspective that helped me process each situation that I was struggling with armed with all the information instead of just some of the information. ***It’s important here to say that you are not seeking to know “too much information, i.e. dirt on others”, but seeking clarity on issues and circumstances that you are praying through. Sourcing primary data is not a license to further the ought-not-be’s, but to give you information surrounding a situation or situations that would adequately address your previous perhaps partial-perspective on a situation or circumstance. Additionally, you are not looking for information on the basis of one-off issues, but rather after patterns of observation in order to determine if this is in fact a situational sin issue or a systemic sin issue. In the case of a systemic sin issue (i.e. a corporate decision to deviate from orthodox doctrine), the decision to leave after considerable thought, prayer, counsel, and the Word may be necessary.***

(3) Fit… this sucks the life out of a person. God has fearfully and wonderfully made each individual, and when they are not operating within their God-given design they die a very slow and grinding death, so to speak. What mitigates this challenge?

Change. This aspect is one that you will never overcome. You may be able to grind out and for some time put up with an out-of-fit ministry post, but you will die a slow death. Moreover, the ministry you are serving will not be built up, and you will be unhappy. The key here is to seek to change your current ministry activities or step away to a different pursuit. It’s important to point out also, that the “perfect” fit does not exist. Therefore, this change should be done with informed counsel and with much prayer. You’re looking for others to affirm what you are experiencing. You’re trying to cut through the first two problems above and just deal with this issue. At this point, after counsel, time, prayer, and considering how God’s Word speaks to your fit in ministry, you make the change or you leave all together to pursue another ministry endeavor.

How does this apply to us today?

(1) If you are not in full-time paid ministry, pray for those who are to specifically walk in their fit for ministry. Pray that they won’t let the first two challenges give them cause to leave or change. Pray that they will leave for fit or for adjustment within a ministry to best accommodate their fit for ministry after ample time, prayer, counsel, and the Word.

(2) If you are in full-time paid ministry, don’t leave over the first two challenges (except possibly in extreme systemic sin situations determined through prayer, observing patterns, counsel, and the Word). Let your leaving ministry be for the third challenge only after time, prayer, the Word, and counsel have been sought.

Every follower of Christ is called to ministry, whether paid or not. And it’s important for us all to remember that God does not need a person to be His minister. Remember, your investment in ministry is a privilege, and you are replaceable.

Stay tuned for the next installment on this series...
— September 1, 2017