The following is a book excerpt from my friend, Bo Lane’s new book Why Pastors Quit. Read on…
As we were driving home the other day, my wife, Melissa, made a passing comment that caused me to reflect on my time as a pastor. She said, “God called you to be a pastor.” Before I thought twice, I blurted out a response: “But did He really?”
Melissa leaned back, as if God was about to strike our car with lightening and send me down to a fiery pit of eternal damnation. I smiled.
“Maybe God make a mistake,” I said, “or maybe I was just listening to all the wrong voices.”
Growing up, I was a typical church kid. I said all the right things. I listened to all the sermons. I went to all the classes and volunteered wherever I was needed most. I joined the worship team at the age of twelve and was highly active in our small, but dedicated, youth group.
But on the inside, regardless of my involvement, nothing much was happening – nothing was really connecting deep within me so, I faked it. For quite some time, actually. And I was pretty good at faking it too. Or so I thought.
I wanted people to think that I was a good kid who had a good relationship with Jesus. But that wasn’t the case at all. I was a self-centered young man who cared more about what people thought of me than what God thought of me. I cared more about disappointing others than I cared about disappointing God.
But eventually (and thankfully) there came a time when the inner me and the external me collided. I was faced with a question: “Who are you living for?”
At the age of seventeen, sitting on the edge of my bed, I made the decision to follow Jesus and devote the entirety of my life to him. I made the decision to drop the hoax and start my own journey toward Jesus. From that moment on, I was like the Cookie Monster, trying to devour as much as I could as fast as I could.
And, for the first time in my life, I cared about Jesus.
Around that same time, I found myself in a unique situation. Within the course of two months, four different people approached me, at completely random times, with these words: “I feel God is calling you to be a pastor.”
One of those times in particular came when a guest – a pastor of a church in Wyoming – was visiting our church. During the middle of his message, he stopped, turned to where I was sitting, looked directly at me and echoed those same words: “Son, God is calling you to be a pastor.”
Right in the middle of his sermon. In a room full of people. He stopped and turned and looked at me and called me out. And that was it.
I became a pastor.
Long story short, my journey as a pastor had quite a few ups and downs. I was employed as an associate pastor for a number of years, working in churches throughout Oregon, Iowa, and California. Although there were many aspects of serving in full-time ministry that I loved, there were more things that happened along the way that made a negative impact on both myself and my family. After I resigned from the pastorate, it took several years of forgiving and getting plugged in to a healthy church before I really began to heal from the hurt.
A few years later I found myself working in the IT department at a local medical clinic. I remember a co- worker coming to me and asking if I wouldn’t mind talking and praying for her friend who was going through a challenging time. I was far from the pulpit, again I’d left full-time ministry a few years prior to this, and far from giving this lady the advice I thought she deserved.
Or so I felt.
As I talked and prayed with this lady, I couldn’t stop thinking about the whys behind leaving the ministry. The whys – not just for me but for the countless pastors who resign or are handed their pink slips – are quite shocking.
It’s true that some pastors fall into temptation and yet others simply feel it’s their time to call it quits. But often it goes much deeper than that.
And the surveys, one I found particularly interesting, reveal some stunning stats:
Most pastors are overworked.
Ninety percent of pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week and 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
And 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Most pastors feel unprepared.
Ninety percent feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands and 90% of pastors said the ministry was completely different than what they thought it would be like before they began.
Many pastors struggle with depression and discouragement.
Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
Wait, this is huge. Let’s pause here for a moment.
This means that half of the 1,700 or so pastors who leave the ministry each month have no other way of making a living. Their education and experience is wrapped up solely in the work of the ministry.
So, not only do pastors struggle with their choice to leave ministry, they have to worry about how they are going to feed their families.
Speaking of families, most pastor’s families are negatively impacted.
Eighty percent believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Equally, eighty percent of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under- appreciated by church members.
Many pastors are lonely.
Seventy percent do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
And then there is this:
Fifty percent of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. One out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.
Unfortunately, the statistics speak for themselves.
Working in ministry, whether you’re a full-time pastor or a lay minister balancing a job and a church, can be challenging and overwhelming. Families suffer and discouragement and depression – amongst a gamut of other things – runs like a river in the lives of those who sacrifice their own life to the cause of the church.
After I left the pastorate I was lonely and frustrated. I had given many years of my life to something I felt abandoned me. I questioned for many years the call of God on my life. Even today, some seven years after resigning I still have many questions that have gone unanswered. Maybe I was never actually called to be a pastor. Maybe God had a different plan for my life. Maybe God got it wrong. Or maybe I got it wrong.
Maybe we’ve all got it wrong.
Maybe it’s just our way of responding to an emotional connection we’ve made with Jesus along the way. Maybe it’s an obligation. Maybe it’s our response to what others have felt for us.
Maybe God calls us to be disciples and then calls us to holiness. Maybe that’s it. Maybe He doesn’t call us at all. Maybe He’s just waiting for us to decide.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
I’m not sure this sort of death, sacrificing our lives for the sake of the pastorate, is what he was referring to.