PUSH TO RESTART (2)
The Day of Small Things
If you feel like walking away from pastoral ministry, you are not alone. Barna Research reported in March that 42% of pastors have considered quitting full-time ministry (up 13% from January 2021). These are tough times to be a leader in any organization, but especially in an organization like the church that is completely dependent upon the voluntary attendance of its members.
Barna points out three main drivers of the desire to resign: immense stress, loneliness and isolation and political divisions in the nation. Anecdotally, I would add the lethargy toward the church in the lives of post-pandemic Christians and the feral anger and dissatisfaction many are displaying coming out of the two-year lockdown.
Finding the way forward seems more difficult, if not improbable, for many pastors.
I have certainly felt these emotions as a pastor in the past few months and empathize with you if you think you could be happier and more fulfilled doing something other than ministry. But the Lord has reminded me each time I feel this way that I am a “bought” man (1 Corinthians 6:20). He is my Lord and I am His servant. The last person I would want to be is Jonah, thinking a Mediterranean cruise to another vocation just might be a valid option!
So, if He wants you and me to stay where we are and find His way forward, what might that look like?
In my first post in this series, I encouraged you to stop looking at your situation through your eyes and try to see the church through the eyes of the next pastor. He would come in with high optimism and start from there. When we are discouraged, we see the same people he would see, but with low pessimism and find it difficult to start anywhere.
Sit down with the Lord and write a list of what the next pastor might do if he did not know everything about the church you know. Ignore your cynicism and think with hope and faith again. You have to “push” yourself past your current mindset and “restart” your thinking with Bible-based confidence.
Once you have a list of five ideas or more, organize them by what can be done now and what can be done later. Pick one and start planning to make it happen!
One pastor, after reading my first post, felt like I might have dissuaded some pastors by citing our numbers at Fellowship. After all, when you have those kind of numbers, more options are available to you than if you have only a small number of people. The numbers help, but God is God whether you have a handful or a sanctuary full of people!
Pastor, if you have a perpetually small church, stop reading church growth books; you will only frustrate yourself. Focus on what you have rather than what you do not have! Ask God to show you how you can obey Him in your setting and, when He tells you, do it! That’s all He expects of you.
We need to be careful not to judge a church or its pastor because it remains “small.” Some statistics show Americans are migrating to smaller congregations and away from larger ones, because they are looking for closeness and being known. Blackwater (my current pastorate) has seen this occurring more since the lockdown. You might be seeing it, too. There is, according to Scripture, a “day of small things.” (Zechariah 4:10)
A wooden staff is not a large item; it is small. But, when placed in the hands of a man who knew God, it became indispensable to Moses. God used it to start plagues, split seas and rip open rocks. Yet, it remained small!
The ark of the covenant was not large. It never grew any larger than the dimensions God gave Moses, yet Jehovah’s power and presence resided in it, on it, above it and around it! God used it to defeat armies, part the Jordan and guide Israel through the desert.
David’s sling would fit in your pocket. When given the choice between the larger, unfamiliar armor of Saul or the smaller, familiar feel of the slingshot, David picked the latter. The history of Israel changed that day, because God used something small.
I am writing this section to you who pastor “small” congregations; ignore the “King Sauls” who think you must look like them to be used of God; that is simply not true. God chooses the weak things, the small things, to display His power and glory if we are fully surrendered to being obedient to what He tells us to do.
If you just cannot see what the next pastor would do, segregate some time in your life to get alone with the God Who called you to ministry. Remind Him that He called you; ask Him for directions and then be quiet and listen to what He has to say to you. Learn to have “ears that hear.” You will find the courage and fire and ideas you need there, in His intimate presence.
Pastor, we need you. We need your voice preaching the Gospel of Christ to this crazy generation. Don’t quit!
Dr. Donald Lynn Hardaway