To stay or not to stay: that is the autumn question. To the promise of spring (approximately ages 20–35) and the pressure of summer (approximately ages 35–50), also add the problems of autumn (approximately ages 50–65), when ministry reaches a tipping point.
Autumn means harvest, yet the expectation of fruit is sadly replaced by “nothing but leaves” (Matt. 21:19, AMP). Unresolved childhood issues are compounded by professional underachievement and managerial under-appreciation. We desperately want to make up lost ground—by any means necessary. Hence, we leave. In some places, autumn is called fall. Very apt. In the fall, the leaves are falling, and the fall means leaving.
Leaving in our professional lives
By now, I should be further than I am. I should have been recognized in the church, acknowledged in the academy, or promoted in the administration. Some leave ministry. Some leave church. Some leave life.1
Without judging motives, when appreciation or compensation has been in short supply, we look elsewhere for it. At such times, the cry “Fill my cup, Lord” must be accompanied by “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42, KJV). Decisions ought to be governed by His will, not my wants. It is not about feelings; it is about faith. It is not about the heart; it is about the head. It is not about passion; it is about principle. It is not about emotion; it is about devotion. It is not about contentment; it is about commitment. It is not about happiness; it is about holiness. It is not about Hollywood; it is about the Holy Word. Jeremiah also struggled:
Sometimes I think, “I will make no mention of his message.
I will not speak as his messenger anymore.”
But then his message becomes like a fire
locked up inside of me, burning in my heart and soul.
I grow weary of trying to hold it in;
I cannot contain it (Jer. 20:9, NET).
Base your decision-making on your calling, not your craving.
Leaving in our personal lives
As colleagues exit ministry, the words of Jesus echo in our heads: “Will you also go away?”
(John 6:67, AMPC). Someexperience mental burnout, others moral falls. “He went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter. . . . He did not know it would cost his life” (Prov. 7:22, 23, NKJV). Falls happen across the seasons. Noted writer and pastor John Killinger tells of a senior pastor: “He is known as the ‘bishop’ of his community. I asked him a few months ago to speak of the thoughts that run through his mind as he enters the last phase of his ministry. ‘Sex and love,’ he said. Sex and love. ‘I’ve had a devil of a time with sex these last few years,’ he said. ‘Wanta put my arm around every attractive woman I see. Put my arm around her—[hey,] I want to get into bed with her. I haven’t. But I’ve sure had the urge.’ ”2
Autumn pastor, do not be complacent. It has happened to others. It can happen to you. Be circumspect in your singleness and exemplary in your marriage. Here is the counsel:
Drink water from your own cistern [of a pure marriage relationship]
And fresh running water from your own well. . . .
Let your fountain (wife) be blessed [with the rewards of fidelity],
And rejoice in the wife of your youth
(Prov. 5:15–19, AMP).
To stay, or not to stay? For editor Harold Fey, Jeremiah convictions eclipse seasonal afflictions. “The more dedicated, intelligent and sensitive a minister is, the more he will be wearied by the tedium of the daily rounds, frustrated by his frequent inability to get things done, [and] harassed by the petulant, grumbling, meddlesome members of which every parish has its share. Every day he will die a little under the weight of his cross. He will be many times tempted to flee from such ordeals. But he remains on the job because he knows that the parish—not the bishopric, the professorship, the executive office or any other laudable ministerial post—is the arena where Christ’s battle for the world must be fought.”3
We who cried like Peter, “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30), and we who lied like Peter, “I will never disown you,” let us now try like Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You [alone] have the words of eternal life [you are our only hope]” (John 6:68, AMP). To stay or not to stay—have you settled it?
- Josiah Bates, “Megachurch Pastor and Mental Health Advocate Jarrid Wilson Dies by Suicide,” Time, September 11, 2019, https://time.com/5674636/megachurch-pastor-jarrid-wilson-dies-suicide/.
- John Killinger, Christ in the Seasons of Ministry (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1981), 66, 67.
- Harold E. Fey, “Ministers Are Not Quitters,” Christian Century, December 5, 1962, 1471. Quoted in Benjamin Schoun, Helping Pastors Cope: A PsychoSocial Support System for Pastors (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1981), 200.