Twenty-something months into pastoring through this pandemic on a Thursday afternoon I had to reckon with the thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I don’t want to be a pastor anymore. In 18 years of vocational ministry and nearly 8 years as pastor here, there have been times of burnout and leading from a place of emptiness. But this was different. This had been a season where every decision feels like a bad one and the Church seems divided on every issue imaginable. I wanted out. If “bearing with one another in love” met “seventy times seven,” I felt like I had reached the tipping point. I was done. It wasn’t one thing in particular. It’s the endless drip, drip, drip that had finally worn me down.
I hadn’t been sleeping well. I began to be short with my kids and distant from my wife. And I couldn’t see an end in sight. With the Fall approaching and everyone getting back into their routine after Summer, this should be the time when we are ramping things up. But I was drowning and I simply didn’t think I had it in me. And I didn’t need anybody’s Jesus jukes or platitudes.
So, I talked to a friend. Then my wife (I know… I should’ve talked to her first. But it’s that kind of constant criticism that led me to this place) Jenny & I went for a walk. I vented. She lovingly listened. We got home. Talked some more. I cried. A lot. I didn’t know what to do. I love my church and I love what God lets me do, but I knew I just couldn’t keep doing what I’ve been doing.
Then came the gracious ultimatum from my wife: “Either you can talk to the elders or I will.” So… I reached out to these faithful brothers that I get to shepherd alongside, told them I was struggling, and asked them to pray for me. They did, and I am so grateful for them. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for God’s grace shown to me through these brothers.
Over the next few days I met with a few of these brothers individually then we met together as a group like we do every Tuesday at 6:15am. I was honest. They let me vent. They offered encouragement & correction where it was needed. And we prayed.
Sometimes it’s in difficult days like those that God reminds me of His Faithfulness. Here’s a few lessons I learned:
- There’s still work to do in my heart.
My nagging, Narcissistic Messiah Complex still needs to be put to death (among many other besetting sins). Colossians 3:5a reminds us to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” By God’s grace, I’ve come a long way with this, but the Spirit reminded me He has yet to complete the good work He has started in me (Phil. 1:6). And the know-it-all, please everyone, fix everything because it all depends on my nature that shows up sometimes still has a ways to go! But I’m confident, The Spirit will complete that work as well!
- My wife is a gracious gift that I often overlook.
In Andrew Peterson’s song “My One Safe Place” he writes about his wife, “And I know that you’re broken too, but you are a sacrament God has spoken through. He has spoken through you.” This certainly wasn’t the first time God has spoken through Jenny. I know it won’t be the last. But I thank God for the grace He has shown me through my wife over the last 17 years. She really is my safe place.
- A Grace-filled Church Culture shines even on the dark days.
In a meeting several years ago that was tumultuous, to say the least, our worship pastor, Josh Hilliker said something that has defined us in many ways since that day. In the midst of some tough times, he said, “The Gospel frees us to have hard conversations.” Man, has that stuck with me! And I thank God that though our Church isn’t perfect, He has shaped us into a people that are free to be transparent. To be honest. To have hard conversations. When I was struggling with whether or not I had it in me to continue on I didn’t run from our elders, I ran toward them (with my wife’s nudging, of course). But even that is a gift. My wife, while I was in despair, loved me and then said without hesitation, call the elders! I’ve been in Churches where that wouldn’t have been the case. But not here. Even though we have a long way to go as a Church, God has created a culture where brokenness, transparency, and honesty are welcomed, not shunned. That has been a salve for my weary soul!
Dear Pastor, you are not alone! A lot of us are struggling. Some of us have thought seriously about quitting. But don’t give up. The God that began this good work in you is going to complete it! So breathe. It’s all gonna be alright.
And if you’re not a pastor but you are a Christian, check on your pastor. There’s a good chance he’s struggling. He probably needs a little encouragement. Or a lot. Just let him know you love him and appreciate him. It’ll mean the world to him.
I’ll talk to Jenny first next time.