Kevin McDonald is lead pastor of Shady Grove Wesleyan Church, Colfax, North Carolina, United States

Serving in pastoral ministry is hard. Psychologist Richard Blackmon states, “Pastors are the single most occupationally frustrated group in America.”1 This article is not about those thinking about transitioning to another congregation but rather for those thinking about walking away from pastoral ministry altogether.

Fact versus fiction

Every month hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors resign their positions. For most of them, ministry was not what they expected. Contemporary media fuels expectations that you will automatically be a successful pastor, preaching to thousands every week. The truth, however, is quite different. When our expectations of what ministry should be do not pan out, we feel defeated. A youth pastor once told me that he graduated with 25 other students in youth pastor training. Within five years, 24 of them had left the ministry.

We learn that ministry is not all glamour and lights. I know many pastors who spend their day preparing for board meetings, dealing with constant complaints, and trying to please every person who walks through their doors. This quickly leads to exhaustion. I was once a part of a district with more than 70 churches. One year, more than 30 of them did not report a single conversion or baptism. That was heartbreaking. Many pastors, consumed with things that really do not matter, find themselves unfulfilled in serving and just want to escape.

Often, we look at other pastors and get caught up in comparing ourselves to them. Viewing their posts on social media, we realize that our ministry does not measure up to theirs. Naturally, we can then feel defeated.

Most pastors struggle

When we get caught up in false expectations, overwhelming exhaustion, and falling into the trap of comparing ourselves with others, it makes us want to quit. Let me first give you some good news. Most, if not all, pastors struggle. Solomon talks about life’s different seasons. The same is true for pastors. We all have seasons of encouragement and winning and ones of discouragement and losing. Let me remind you that you are not alone. Many pastors wrestle with the same things you do.

Tools for reconsideration

If you are feeling discouraged and on the verge of quitting ministry, let me give you four action steps you can take immediately to reconsider walking away.

1. Reset the bar with faithfulness. Redefine the standard and the expectation for what God seeks from you in ministry. Your first and foremost calling is to be faithful, not just successful. When we think of success we tend to focus on numbers, and if they do not reach the bar we have set for ourselves, then we feel like failures. Disappointed and frustrated, we want to run away. However, the bar just needs to be set at us being and remaining faithful to God. As you read the book of Acts and explore the life of Paul, you will notice that he constantly struggled with persecution, criticism, and problems with the churches that he planted. But I love the fact that Paul just kept being faithful! He could not escape the constant stream of troubles that seemed to follow him. But Paul just stayed faithful. We, too, must do the same.

But we must be faithful in the right ways. We need to be faithful in reaching new people for Christ, discipleship, and biblical preaching. Maybe we should repent of being faithful in the wrong areas and start being faithful in the right ones. I know many pastors who are faithful in showing up and putting in their office hours, but I wonder how faithful they are in real kingdom matters. Above everything else, we must be faithful in the right areas of ministry.

Your first and foremost calling is
to be faithful, not just successful.

Maybe you are on the verge of quitting because you are not as successful as you thought you should be. Or you want to quit because you have not reached the goals you set for yourself. But stop for a moment and just ask yourself if you are being faithful. Let this be your new standard for being effective in ministry. Seek to be faithful in the right things.

2. Invest in your gifts and passion for ministry. I love to preach and win people to Christ. My passion lies in these two areas. When I am not doing well at them, I begin to feel like a failure. As I look back on my ministry, I realize that I have spent much of my time preparing for meetings, working on a building project, or resolving conflict with fighting church members, leading me to neglect my true passion. This leaves me drained. While we should not ignore our duties as people serving in ministry, we must continually work within the gifting and passion that God has given us.

Perhaps your gift is teaching. Consumed with everything else, you have quit investing in your passion. Teaching may have driven you into ministry. Invest more in your gifts and passions. I am not saying this is easy, but you have to be intentional about it. Spend the majority of your days preparing and praying for your gifts. Learn to delegate other tasks and focus on your passions and gifts.

Whatever your God-given gifts, be intentional about investing yourself in them. When you do this, you will find yourself refueled! Ephesians 4 says that we all have specific gifts! Spend the most time on yours. Do not waste your time in areas that drain you.

3. Check your spiritual devotions. We can easily hide behind our titles in ministry, pretending that we have everything together. We can even play the “super pastor card.” But let’s stop acting and address some serious questions. How is your prayer life? How is your secret life? How much time are you spending in the Word?

Ministry can consume us so much that we often neglect the most important areas of our life. Examine your life and see what you are neglecting. I firmly believe that it is a strong devotional life that provides the spiritual backbone necessary for us to stay in ministry and not quit. When we neglect this, we are bound to be tempted with the constant desire to walk away from ministry. Get back on track and do the things you know you are supposed to be doing.

4. Grow from your failures, do not run from them. All of us have had failures in ministry. When that happens, we often want to quit. Do not do this. Just look back and ask yourself, “What has this experience taught me and how can I prevent it from happening again?”

I want to challenge you to examine your failures and, instead of fleeing from them, learn from them. Remember, experienced soldiers make better soldiers. If you have some wounds from ministry and have learned from them, then you are the ideal leader for people to follow.

Please do not quit—apply these four steps today.

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