My church gives me many reasons to quit. I don’t want to list them; it will just make me depressed and sound whiny. Just trust me; it does.
I have thought about quitting many times. Ask my wife, and she’s only heard a tiny fraction of them.
Many times the quitting-feeling is just self-pity. Things didn’t go as well as I wanted them too, that one person is doing “their thing” again, no one showed up again, another board member is acting weird again, and stuff like that. I get over these fairly quickly.
But there have been some dark times, times where all point and motivation were completely gone. I phoned it in for a while. No one noticed because no one was there, which didn’t help.
I once asked a pastor who makes a partial living telling other pastors how to be a pastor, when a pastor should admit defeat and move on.
“After five years is the standard principle,” was his answer. My mouth dropped.
“Five years? Wow, I could have quit my church four times!”
Five years is the standard answer. If a pastor wants to change things, or lead things, or feel like something is happening, the church has five years to shape up. That answer honestly stunned me.
This strikes me as an answer that is based entirely on externals. You didn’t get your program started, or they won’t do your building project, or they won’t do something or other that you’re measuring. There’s no way to know if you’re helping spiritually after five years. I’m still learning names after five years.
I don’t get the sense from the Bible that the pastoral calling is a five year experiment. It seems more like a lifelong commitment. Nothing hints at pastors flipping from one church to another. Everything seems to point toward a total dedication of life to a congregation.
I don’t think pastors leaving churches is the biblical ideal. Then again, neither is divorce, yet God allows that in cases. I’m sure there are exceptions. But man, shouldn’t we be shooting for the ideal, even if it costs us and we don’t get our way or our rate of preferred progress?
I’m pretty sure if I detailed all the issues my church has, the vast majority of pastoral counsel would tell me to quit. To move on. It’s over. Nice try. Go sell insurance, ya loser.
I’ve been here 20 years. Twenty years, if you do the math, is a lot longer than five years. Many would conclude I have no business being a pastor based on these issues being in my church. I’m well aware.
But here’s the thing: how do you know when I should quit? How are you the judge of my ministry or my church or me?
I mean, I get it, I judge me too. I do think I’m failing. Have you ever noticed the name I use?!
There’s only one reason why I’m still at my church: I can’t quit.
I don’t know why. Maybe it’s sunk cost. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe I’m lazy. Maybe I’m resigned to loserdom. All these could be true, but here’s the thing: I can’t quit.
I can’t, so I don’t. I want to, there are times I even think I need to. But I can’t. I just can’t. I don’t know how else to put it. My heart is here. I love these people. I wish they were here for them as much as I am here for them.
I see glimpses of progress. There’s always that handful of people that something is happening in. Then there are the ones where nothing is happening and nothing I’ve done stirs a thing in them. I hurt for them, but I can’t quit banging my head against their wall.
When should pastors quit? When they can. And I think that “can” should be awful hard to get to.