At least once a week, I consider dropping out of ministry.
I’ve heard Mark Driscoll refer to this kind of weekly day-dreaming as “bread truck Mondays”–every Monday he wakes up and thinks about quitting his job and driving a bread truck. Why? Because driving a bread truck gives you just enough distraction to be stimulating, without requiring you to really think at all.
I cam sympathize.
For me, there is a myriad of reasons why I consider quitting ministry on a weekly basis. Some days I’m burned out, some days I feel overwhelmed, and some days I feel unappreciated. And then there are the days when someone blesses me out and calls me everything short of the anti-Christ–those are the days when my friends and family have had to actively stop me from running away and never coming back.
But the MAIN reason that I often consider quitting the ministry, the one reason that I would ever seriously give heed to, is this: my motives for doing ministry are wrong.
There is a misconception that Christians get into ministry to resist the rat race of the secular business world. It’s well known that ministry doesn’t pay well, plus ministry is all about helping people, so it would seem to attract those individuals who are denying the temptations of the American dream. To go into ministry, we must be intentionally forsaking the idols that so many Christians chase after in the secular realm.
This is false.
For many, ministry is merely a Christian version of the worldly ladder of success. While that is not the primary reason that most ministers pursue their vocation, there comes a point at which the lines become blurry. You DO want to reach the lost and you DO want to love the world for the glory of God, but you also want to do it BETTER than everyone else. You want to be great. You want to be remembered as having done something truly remarkable in your generation.
Some ministers veil this desire with language about “doing something great for the Kingdom of God.” They don’t want to look back on their lives and regret their mediocre life’s work. They want to know that they left a mark on the world.
And while I don’t doubt that many of these ministers’ motives are pure, I must admit that mine often are not. I have that exact same passion–I want to do something truly great for God–but I am frequently measuring “greatness” according to the world’s standards, not God’s.
In doing so, I make the strenuous climb up the Christian ladder of success–I put pressure on myself to have a booming ministry, to be a great speaker and a writer, and to compare myself with those who do it better. And when I fail at these things, I feel like an inadequate minister. It doesn’t matter that I spent the whole week meeting one-on-one with students and teaching them to love Jesus more. That sort of ministry isn’t impressive. That sort of minister doesn’t get articles and books written about them.
If all you’re doing is meeting with students and your ministry is small, then you would seem like a pretty mediocre minister. You have the kind of ministry that many pastors would “despair at the thought” of spending their lives leading.
So it is on these days when I feel the pressure to out-perform my teammates, to be the best, the most successful, and the most original minister, writer, speaker and thinker–those are the days when I consider quitting. I think about leaving ministry behind and working at Subway, not because ministry is too hard, but because my call has gotten so thoroughly mangled. I think about quitting the ministry to intentionally take a job in which there is no ladder of success, and purge myself of the desire to serve God for any other reason than my sheer love for Him.
And maybe one day I will. For now, I am learning to be ok with mediocrity–not laziness, not complacency, or apathy–but mediocrity according to the world’s standards. Maybe I won’t have a ministry that the world judges to be a tremendous success. Maybe I won’t be able to tally up thousands of people who prayed the sinner’s prayer because of me. Maybe no one will remember me when I’m gone.
But those standards are not to be found in God’s economy. Sure, God wants all people to experience salvation–you see mass conversions all the time in Acts. But not everyone is a Paul, and God only asks that we do the best we can with the gifts we have. We are to love others radically, we are to speak boldly about Jesus, and we are to live a life that testifies daily to the Gospel. Nothing less, but also nothing more.
So even if you are mediocre according to this world, such a label does not matter as long as you are a good and faithful servant to God. This is hard for me to remember as I stand in the shadow of so many successful pastors and writers, but it is in those moments that I am reminded that worldly success, even when it’s achieved in a Christian context, will all be burned away. The big church buildings, the millions of books–they will all pass away come eternity. Those things can certainly be effective tools for God’s Kingdom, but they do not distinguish the sheep from the goats.
When I joined a mission organization 21 years ago, a good part of my motivation was the sheer adventure: this mission offered the possibility of living in the jungle far from civilization, facing interesting challenges in an exotic setting. The mission’s primary task was one that would draw on my technical and intellectual ability. I didn’t have all that strong a “passion for souls”, and still don’t. I wish I did. But I’ve never felt bad about my other motivations because I figure that God wired me with them.
At this point in my life, I’m no longer a missionary, and my life often seems like a pointless drudgery of work, TV, eat, sleep. But I don’t sense a conviction from God to be doing something else right now except to develop faithfulness and intimacy with God in this context (which would no doubt include less TV).
Thanks for your post. My heart harmonizes with your words and find it them a convicting reminder. The Competitive spirit that is more pride than a passion for His glory is one reason why I left seminary. I saw jealousy undermine friendships and contention ruin many, making them more like politicians than ministers. Also, I found myself slowly becoming externally focused; thinking “looking like you have it all together” was of ultimate value. Now, I’m not some super-saint or even able to point a finger, but the example of my dad has helped me see how freely taking what providence gives you is better than carving a ministry out for yourself. He has His Dr in theology, great speaker and writer (wrote a commentary on the old testament just for fun), all the things I want to be. The catch is he spent 40 years ministering to little country churches in south and central Ga. His example has helped me see the truth and keep my eye on the prize. As Dad has always told me, “ministry is a slow death in gratitude for the eternal life freely given us, and it is in our faithfulness that we feel God’s life in our daily dieing for other”
– thanks again, your words helped me be at peace where I am in God’s plan.
Wow, awesome post. I’ve been thinking the same thing for a long time.
Great post, Sharon! If you were to ever write a book, this would be a great chapter. Your honesty and vulnerability here are a breath of fresh air to professional ministers and lay ministers alike. Great job.
Great reminder Sharon! Thanks. Some days I hate being A-Type because, being driven is often code for idolizing self.