If you are in a ministry role, you don’t need anyone to tell you that the past two years have been more challenging than ever. Quite frankly, it’s taken a toll on the church, especially those in leadership. Based on new research, there’s is a pastoral crisis right now. Don’t believe these 5 lives!
Barna’s latest study shows that 38% of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year. 46% of those are under the age of 45. 51% of mainline denomination pastors have considered leaving in the last year. Additionally, their research shows that only 35% of America’s pastors rated themselves healthy in their overall well-being.
Pastors lead churches, and if pastors are collectively exhausted, burnt out, tired, and ready to throw in the towel, we need to take a good, hard, and deep look into what this means for the church. So for March, I’ll be organizing a 4-part blog series addressed to help us understand the pastoral crisis we are in right now. Here’s what you can expect:
- March 3: Today, in this crisis, I want to expose five lies that the enemy is shouting at pastors.
- March 10: I’ll share five predictions on the church’s future if a high percentage of pastors truly did quit.
- March 17: Guest blogger, Rev. Dr. Mark Zehnder, director of Always Forward Ministries, will share with us five keys to healthy pastoral succession.
- March 24: Guest blogger, Rev. Dr. Tim Ahlman, director of Unite Leadership Collective, will give us three reasons why pastors don’t naturally develop other pastors.
I hope that these blogs are helpful through this pastoral crisis.
Contrary to what some in our churches may believe, the devil works overtime on those in church leadership. He is the father of lies, and he’s had a busy couple of years. I believe much of the problems exist in this world because people listen far more to the enemy’s lies than the truth of the Gospel. Unfortunately, pastors are not immune to this.
It’s easy to hear the lies because the enemy is shouting at us. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the truth because God often whispers to us. God can shout, but He chooses to whisper to remind us that He’s close. The enemy shouts because he’s not interested in a relationship. He wants to destroy you quickly and move on to the next person.
Pastor, the truth is, God has never left you. He is with you right now. Lean into His voice.
Here is my attempt to combat five lies that I know I’ve experienced personally or that I’ve heard from other pastors.
Lie Number 1: This isn’t what I signed up for.
Yes, it is!
Those who follow after God are not invited into an easy, convenient, and comfortable life throughout Scripture. Instead, they are invited into a life filled with burdens, hardship, and high cost. Don’t believe me? Read through Paul’s incredibly long, painful, brutal, and impressive list of sufferings because He followed after Jesus well.
Why are we surprised that the disruption in this world has disrupted our churches and our profession? Ministry is changing and has been changing since the church began. While God’s truth never changes, the way we “do” church can and should change. Just because today’s church is operating differently from when you began your ministry doesn’t mean that God is done with you. It can be exhausting to try new things, innovate, and change plans often.
Being a church leader or pastor requires sacrifice. Yet, you have been called into it by the grace of God. It’s not an easy calling, but it’s a fulfilling life. It isn’t easy, but it is so rewarding. And what you do matters.
And the church needs you, pastor.
Lie Number 2: I don’t have what it takes.
Maybe you don’t believe you have what it takes to lead in a time like this. But you do. Just because the world has changed and methods may need adjustment, large or small, does not mean that you are not the person to do it. I get it. With the push to online church, and video content, you may not consider yourself a movie star, and technology may not be your strong suit, but your people need you to be strong. They are sheep, and they need a shepherd.
And while the methods may have changed and are still being figured out, gifts you have inside of you like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are gifts needed now more than ever.
If you are concerned about your own gifts and how they can be utilized in such a time, do yourself a favor and double down on the gifts God has put inside of you. Those gifts will never go out of style.
Remember, God has chosen to spread His kingdom through ordinary, unqualified, imperfect people. You are one of those people. When we are weak, then our God is strong. So many times, in the Bible, God often chooses not the most talented and successful but instead the weaker vessels to ultimately bring about His glory.
If you feel overwhelmed, unqualified, and uncertain of what to do and how to lead, you could be in the perfect place for God to break through! Learn to trust more in His power and less in your talent.
Which leads me to this lie:
Lie Number 3: My church depends on my success.
I know you wouldn’t say this out loud, but many pastors think this, or we act this out in the way we work. I know this because I’ve thought it, and I’ve believed it.
As much as pastors have preached to others about not finding their identity in their work and career, we need this message for ourselves. So many of us find our identity in our job. And when church attendance is a shadow of what it was, when finances are moving in the wrong direction, and when more and more of our “devoted” families are choosing sports, restaurants, and vacations over the church, it makes us feel like we are not good pastors. And if your primary identity is in being a pastor, these past couple of years would have crushed you.
But before you are a pastor, you are a child of God. Before you are a shepherd, you are a sheep. Your identity hasn’t changed.
Pastor, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to lead and run God’s church.
Remember the promise of Jesus: “I will build my church.”
You are so important to God and His church, but remember, it is not your church. It is God’s church. He has a history of using broken, messy, unqualified people and turning them into something beautiful.
You are one of those broken, messy, unqualified people.
When I begin to feel myself getting too proud or stressed about my performance as a pastor, I remember an axiom that I’ve gone back to so many times: “God can do more in one second than I can do with an entire lifetime of my best efforts.” That axiom helps give me perspective.
In the end, the church will prevail. How it accomplishes victory and what exactly it looks like is continually changing, but we trust in God’s church.
Lie Number 4: My church will go back to the way it was.
No, it won’t. And that’s okay.
Collectively, what the church in America had become was a broken-down, mediocre, shadow-at-best representation of Jesus. Statistically speaking, despite what you have heard, we are not a post-Christian nation. 65% of Americans self-identify as Christian. And yet, as high as that number is, our numbers, relevance, and influence have been on the decline for decades now.
I, for one, am happy that we are not going back to what was.
To be fair, there have been some great individual and collective witnesses of Jesus in the past. But our overall collective actions are driven by what we have decided. And what American Christians have chosen in the past, no matter what pastoral leadership has taught, is they want to follow both Jesus and the American Dream. But unfortunately, these two ideas lead to different places, which has led to a very flawed and confusing representation of Jesus.
Collectively, we’ve done a poor job of showing how Jesus is relevant to our everyday lives. Since crisis is an accelerator, we are now seeing the results from resting on the status quo or accepting a slow death for the church.
Depending on which study you read, most churches are hovering between 30-70% of their 2019 attendance.
Thinking that everyone will just come back and the church will return to what it was is not helpful or correct thinking. But the great news we see throughout the Bible is that God does great work when the odds are stacked against Him:
- He can move a mountain with a mustard seed.
- He can turn five loaves and two fish into food for thousands.
- He can save the world through a little baby boy born in a manger in a stable in a little unknown town like Bethlehem.
Though we may be smaller, through the power of God, we can be mightier!
As we move forward, I urge you to do your best ministry now and not delay any longer. The days of hoping to get to _ _ _ date or waiting for things to return to normalcy are a lie from the enemy. The devil wants to keep you delayed and down. So pray, strategize, and talk about how to bring Christ in the middle of a crisis to a community, nation, and world that so desperately needs Jesus.
To use the old preacher slogan: “What if all we’ve experienced is the setback we needed to set up our comeback?”
Lie Number 5: Nobody knows what I’m going through.
The devil will attempt to isolate you and make it feel like you are alone in this fight. But you are not.
If anything is encouraging in these statistics, what you are experiencing right now is SO incredibly normal. What you are feeling is not strange. And don’t believe that because you’ve had thoughts of quitting that you a spiritual wimp, a quitter, or possess a weak faith.
Not only can you talk to God about what you are experiencing, but there are pastors worldwide and even in your community that understand what you are going through. So perhaps the best thing you could do would be to open up, confess your heart, and hear God’s words of absolution and restoration over your soul.
My favorite story of restoration happens in John 21. After failing Jesus, the apostle Peter goes back fishing. And yet, as he’s fishing, Jesus shows up on the shore. He cooks breakfast. He has a charcoal fire conversation. He forgives Peter. And three times, He points Peter forward, reminding him that his position as the early church leader is still intact. Even more encouragement comes when we get to see a transformed and restored Peter lead the early church in incredible ways.
God loves you so much. God is so proud of you. God still chooses you. God still calls you. God understands how tough this season of ministry has been for you.
This isn’t the time to keep plowing forward on your own strength. This is the time to lean into Christ and lean into a brother or sister in Christ and talk about all that you are experiencing. It is hard for pastors to admit weakness because we live in a world that expects perfection out of the pastoral office. But you are not perfect. And you need help. Help comes through God and community.
Talk to God. Talk to another pastor. Open up.
I’m cheering for you. You are so valuable and so loved.