Thomas Rainer passionately declared that “the vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It is a trend I have not seen in my lifetime.”1 Rainer then shares the top six different reasons why they felt as they did.2
I could resonate. A few persistent questions and a few disappointing days had turned into several months of discouragement. Something was squeezing my pastoral ministry air hose. Feeling disconnected, I began to think of other career options, and that turned into actually looking for other job possibilities.
With some ministry travel looming in the future, my immediate goal was just to get through those trips and then take a couple of days to look at possible next steps in education or employment. Then came the appointment above Chicago.
My returning flight having pushed back from the gate, I was comfortably seated, a book out, ready to pass the time. After a short time, with no further movement of the plane, the cockpit announced that we would need to return to the gate for repairs. It eventually led to deplaning and being assigned a different gate and aircraft. Because of the change in size of the aircraft and some passengers being reassigned, I found myself upgraded to business class and seated in a bit of a cubicle, 2A.
Sitting there, reading John Peckham’s Theodicy of Love, I began to reflect on what I encountered. The complexity and simplicity of the gospel and the love of God all began colliding in my mind and heart. It temporarily distracted me from the decision I would soon have to make. Hours later, as the captain announced the beginning of our descent, came the burden that someone(s) must lead our churches in knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3) and compel them to go out to the world. Regardless of my personal feelings and struggles, I knew someone must do it. Tears came to my eyes as I sensed God speaking. In an instant, I found myself as Peter on the rough and stormy seas of ministry and (I don’t like to admit it) staring at the boat full of other pastors, leaders, church difficulties, and committees. And I had a lot to look back at.
It was as if, while descending over sprawling Chicagoland, I was sinking. Right then, I felt compelled by the Unseen to act. Out of my mouth came the cry: “Jesus, please help me know how to do it.” Then, right on cue, and as if the pilots were participating in my moment with Jesus, the plane tilted, and the sun spilled its warmth and light into my dark, stormy cubicle.
As with Peter when he walked on the water,3 Jesus immediately reached out His hands to me. In Spanish, one would call such an experience al momento—“to that very moment.” It did not make the future easy, but that moment made the future possible.
Reflecting back, it seems that an angel pulled the plug of a sensor on the aircraft for my original flight, confusing the mechanics so much that the airline had to substitute another plane. Then, God opened up a spot for me that was free of distractions. While I thought I was just on a plane headed home, God had set it up as an appointment with Him out on the troubled sea.
The miracle of eyes only on Jesus (we all want the walking part, but it was the eyes forward on the Master that brought it all about) did not make Peter’s future ministry easy, but it did render it possible. Peter still had daunting challenges with sharing the gospel, faced struggles and misunderstandings in the church, and finally suffered a martyr’s sacrifice. But the lesson he learned on the lake is foundational for all gospel ministry: The boat may have a lot to look at, but it will all sink. Instead, fix your gaze on Jesus.
After the plane touched down on the runway, I grabbed my phone and emailed myself the following: “God needs his leaders, under-shepherds, those willing to lead with their eyes fixed on Jesus while the storms shake the world. I will pastor or preach and care for as many as possible until Jesus comes. I do not know what to do or how to do it the best—but I will work on it until or unless Jesus tells me to do otherwise.”
Jesus needs you. Our world, including our churches, still demands Peters, who, despite the storms, fix their eyes on Jesus and are willing to give their lives for the cause of heaven. Noted writer and pastor John Killinger maintains that “the fall of Peter in the story of walking on water is transhistorical.”4 By that he means it can—or will—happen to us. “As part of the developmental cycle of the minister’s life, it is most likely to happen during the difficult transition period from early to later middle age, when the minister is smack in the middle of reassessing his or her pilgrimage and deciding where it is likely to lead in the years that are left.”5
Was I alone? Maybe then, but not now. Daniel, Esther, and Joseph—all in foreign and difficult contexts—found their very lives at risk but dared to stand alone, trusting that God could use for good what was intended for evil. They concluded that God had put them where they were for such a time. The storms raged on, but they stayed. Their experiences represent some of the most incredible stories of sacred and secular history, impacting generations because their difficulties did not shake them from their post.
As it did with Peter, the face of Jesus fixed them in their place. Jesus, unwilling that Peter “be lost forever beneath the waves, reached out and helped him back into the boat.”6 Jesus still helps pastors back into the boat. He has called you, and He made it clear when He did. Yours is a sacred work that cannot be accomplished by ordinary effort. Keep your eyes fixed on the Master, who summoned you “to stand at the post of duty when others may fail, . . . not for the purpose of applause, not for policy, but for the sake of the Master, who has given you a work to be done with unwavering fidelity.”7
- Thomas Rainer, “Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit,” Church Answers, August 31, 2020, https://churchanswers.com/blog/six-reasons-your-pastor-is-about-to-quit/?fbclid=IwAR3RPtEep8kkC2xWmRY4ccW-60EUOwqNzQfr5JYPg-4Kmt1bOQ65V-A_kEE.
- Thomas Rainer’s top six reasons why pastors are leaving ministry: “1. Pastors are weary from the pandemic.” “2. Pastors are greatly discouraged about the fighting taking place among the church members about the post-quarantine church.” “3. Pastors are discouraged about losing members and attendance.” “4. Pastors don’t know if their churches will be able to support ministries financially in the future.” “5. Criticisms against pastors have increased significantly.” “6. The workload for pastors has multiplied greatly.”
- Matthew 14:30, 31.
- John Killinger, Christ in the Seasons of Ministry (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1981), 63.
- Christ in the Seasons of Ministry, 64.
- Christ in the Seasons of Ministry, 63, 64.
- Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press., 1948), 4:521.
- Joseph Kidder, The Big Four (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2011), 29.
- Ray Johnston, The Hope Quotient (Nashville: W Publishing, 2014), 5, 6.
- Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press., 1911), 146.