I didn’t start ministry with good habits. I didn’t start in a healthy and holistic ministry culture. I didn’t open ministry with little responsibility and grow into the calling God had for me. No, I was thrust into the fast-paced, dog-eat-dog culture of one of the “fastest growing” megachurches in America. I’d been a Christian less time than it would take to get an undergrad degree in ministry and I became the leader of a church that averaged over 800 people per Sunday.
I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t trained. I wasn’t prepared for what was coming my way. I didn’t even have a handle on what churches were really like. But I jumped in anyway.
Like a Chicken with It’s Head Cut Off
When people ask me about that time — why I did it and how I got through it — I usually just respond, “I was idealistic enough to think that it would be easy.” But how wrong I was.
I got through the first few years of ministry flying by the seat of my pants, making tons of mistakes, finding my hope in all the wrong things, and very nearly ending up like so many others — washing out and doing something else.
I was working way too many hours; my mind and time were totally occupied with church business even when I wasn’t there. I was neglecting my family, was physically unhealthy, and depressed. I finally went on a forced sabbatical. It was then I verbalized, “I don’t think I can do ministry like this anymore.”
Slow, Intentional Steps Toward Ministry Health
What followed was not some instantaneous change, but a prolonged and intentional effort to begin to learn a new way to do ministry. One which focused on my health and longevity so that I might be able to pastor and care for the flock God entrusted to me for the long term. Eventually, after seeing doctors, counselors, mental health professionals, leaning into a church network that prioritized ministry health, and getting some much-needed training, I found a place of health.
There Are Still Crises of Calling
But this last season of ministry found me in the same place I was before my fight for ministry health years ago. The last season of lockdown, restriction, tumultuous political and cultural interactions, people leaving the Church in droves, the burgeoning mental health crisis, and disunity and challenge in leading teams had me saying again, “I don’t think I can do ministry like this anymore.”
I suspect most of you feel the same way. If this is your first crisis of calling in ministry or your 15th, it’s a real struggle that will take some intentional work to emerge from rather than simply bowing out. A recent ministry statistic is that right now, in light of all that happened in 2020, 70% of pastors are looking for other work outside the local church. From conversations I have had with other pastors over the past few months, that number seems about right. Thousands of pastors and ministry leaders are saying: “I don’t think I can do ministry like this anymore,” and they are right.
Change Starts With Supporting One Another
We all probably can’t do another year like this last one. So, let’s help one another to have the space to decompress, rest, and meditate on the goodness of Jesus again. Reach out to ministers that the Lord has brought into your life and share an encouraging word. Let’s try to help one another by being generous with our time and our resources as we are able. Smaller church pastors are feeling this year acutely. Might those who pastor larger churches support them as we are able. If you have a larger church with a larger staff, find ways to get your leaders and staff some extended time off this year with allocations for care, counseling, and support. Whatever it looks like, we just need to affect a change so more of us can declare, “You know what, I think I can do ministry, despite the circumstances, for the long-term.”