Why Church Leaders drop out of the race

crashIt goes something like this:

Divine Call/Education → Conflict/Badgering → Disillusionment/Burnout → Eventual Dropout

Many serious ministers have stepped out of their lane and quit running God’s race for their life because of this pattern.

A divine calling to church ministry gets responded to via enrollment in some form of Bible College, seminary, or ministerial training venue. That divine calling and subsequent education fuels the conviction that God is empowering the leader and that their ministry will change the world (or at least a city or a neighborhood).

However, almost immediately after embarking on a new ministry endeavor the minister encounters conflict and badgering. Some of it comes from direct and outright spiritual warfare, while much of it comes from spiritual warfare hidden inside human misunderstandings, failures, hurt feelings, hard-heartedness, and offense.

If the conflict and badgering continues unabated for too long, the once-eager minister will lose the wonder of their ministry calling and will eventually burnout. Prolonged states of burnout inevitably lead to a dropping out of the race.

Some of the burned out dropouts make a recovery and return to Christian service, but others of them never do. The scars of the pattern just go too deep.

Rather than following this pattern and hoping for the best, what are some steps to ensure that we sidestep burnout, hold onto our wonder, and finish our Christian race well?

Here are two (taken from a clergy gathering with Pastor Jack Hayford):

  1. Walk softly before God, like a barefoot Moses in Sinai.
  2. Engage in life-long, continuing education.

Leaders who survive for the long haul engage in the twin pursuits of cultivating deep interior lives and robust intellectual lives. Humble, adoring devotion to God, and intentional life-long education and training are keys to developing leadership that lasts.

Our hour of history calls for humble leaders, devoted followers of Jesus Christ, who get the help they need so they can make it for the long haul. Let’s heal those leaders and be those leaders!


Preaching among lions (for pastors and ministry leaders)

lionsDo you preachers and ministry leaders remember the obscure, 2 Kings 17 story about the priest who was recruited to preach among lions?

The story goes like this. The Israelites had been defeated in war and subsequently deported to Assyria; however, when the Assyrians moved into Israel to replace them, they were attacked and mauled by marauding lions. Their post-mauling conclusion was that they were being victimized since they “did not know the custom of the god of the land” (verse 26).

To counter this, they recalled a deported priest who could teach them the customs of the God of Israel in the middle of their lion-infested cities.

It’s an interesting story…and it just might sound like the context of your ministry.

Every preacher and ministry leader must do his or her preaching and teaching among lions.

  • There are lions that attack our people, threatening to overwhelm and discourage their faith.
  • There are lions of busyness, stress, and general disinterest in our message.
  • There are lions of conflicting worldviews that are blatantly hostile to the Gospel story.
  • And there are lions of spiritual warfare that descend on us in waves of discouragement, apprehension, and intimidation.

The thing to remember about lions though is that they’re the perfect backdrops for God’s power.

Hebrews 11:33-34 gloriously reminds us that through faith there were those who “shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle.”

Let’s not lose heart. Let’s keep a vision of God’s power in front of us. It’s really quite an honor to preach and teach among lions.

Mr. Clean

mr.cleanNo, this isn’t a self-portrait (although I’d love to have his biceps and he does rock the bald head). It’s a portrait of what I hope we are all aspiring to be.

There is nothing like knowing that we are clean.

I worked with a pastor once who was urging me to be Mr. Clean in my ministry and he said, “I’ve slept soundly with a clear conscience every night of my life.” That’s a pretty awesome testimony. And whether we can make that boast today or not, we can start living that way now so it can become our testimony tomorrow.

God has made a way for us to be clean.

The first step to being clean is to get clean.

  • We need to open the door of our inner lives to God, exposing our sin and asking for His total and complete forgiveness.
  • We need to accept His forgiveness by faith and then reject our affiliation with those sins by closing every open door that entices us to return to them.
  • We need to find a wing-man/girl to help us live in our new, cleansed identity.
  • And then we can shave our head, wear a gold hoop and buy a skin-tight T-shirt…sorry.

“Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you” (Jesus to His disciples in John 15:3).

“To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (from the Doxology of Jude 1:24)

The Blues Brothers

blues brothersDid I please God? Did I preach well? Was I thorough enough without being too deep, and fun enough without being too shallow? Did I make a difference? Did I strengthen anyone’s faith? Did hell shudder? Or did I just facilitate a colossal waste of everyone’s time?

I’m not sure what kind of thoughts stir in you after a significant effort in your job, but these types of questions frequently plague us pastors in the aftermath of weekend church services. If we’re not careful, these questions will overwhelm us until we sink into states of excessive self-evaluation, skewed perspectives, exaggerated feelings of failure or inadequacy, and an overall case of the blues.

In these moments pastors need to remember several things:

  1. Their bodies are recovering from an adrenaline spike and crash
  2. Their hearts are recovering from being worn on their sleeves in front of potentially mixed responses
  3. Their souls are experiencing spiritual warfare in the form of aerial discouragement assaults
  4. And God is calling them deeper

Beneath the highs, lows, successes, and failures of church ministry, God is beckoning His servant-leaders to stay connected to what really matters. He is calling His ministers to remember that God is not limited to either our strengths or our weaknesses. The church, the people, and the world are HIS responsibility—ours is to faithfully love and serve them. Spirit-led, Spirit-powered ministry will produce “fruit that remains” if we don’t give up.

Just as pastors need to identify the anatomy of their discouragement patterns, so you might need to make some assessments too. What triggers your discouragement? What are its messages? What happens to you if you indulge in it? And what is God’s deeper message to you?

If you need to sleep, sleep. If you need therapy, get it. But at the end of the day, climb back in the saddle and remember Paul’s faith-filled words to Titus on the island of Crete: “For this reason I left you in Crete that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city…” (Titus 1:5).

There is a purpose in our current assignment—whether inside or outside of the church—and our calling is to carry on until that purpose is a reality (and elders can be found on every street corner).

Keep your head up (encouragement for pastors)

butterfly stroke“Keep your head up!”

That’s what the dad kept yelling last week at the pool while his son kicked and flailed and struggled to swim across the deep end of the water.

“Son, if you keep your head up you’ll be fine, but if you let it drop you’re sunk.”

As I listened in on their father-son bonding moment, I realized that God was saying the same thing to me (and He’s probably saying it to you and every other pastor too).

“Child, keep your head up. We’re going places and it’s way too soon to drop your head and sink.”

Don’t get me wrong—church work gives us plenty of opportunities to feel like we’re floundering. However, if we obey the famous Hebrews 12:2 admonition to “fix our eyes on Jesus” we’ll quickly remember that Jesus ascended up to the heavens, and our renewed heavenly perspective will restore the vigor and vitality that we need to carry on in the good work that He has called us to.

If you’ve been plowing for a long time, like a yoked and focused ox, then you might need to take some time to re-ascend to an eagle’s perspective. You might need to remember how Nehemiah responded when his enemies assaulted him with fear. He said, “I am carrying on a great project and I cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3)

Pastor, you’re a Nehemiah in our generation and we need you to keep your head up.

Keep swimming and please know that you are powerfully and eternally loved!

(Note: if you are NOT a pastor, would you consider forwarding this essay to your pastor or church leaders to encourage them?)

A barefoot Moses in Sinai

Moses before the Burning Bush
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve discovered the answer for how to succeed in life, relationships, leadership, and ministry.

However, before you write me off as either delusional or presumptuous, let me quickly say that I didn’t originate the answer—I just heard it and wrote it down. I was in a pastors’ training seminar with Pastor Jack Hayford (an esteemed author, teacher, and pastor to pastors) when I heard it. Jack was coaching a roomful of pastors on how to succeed in life and ministry, when he made a statement that has forever lodged in my heart. He said, “Leadership that succeeds walks softly, like a barefoot Moses in Sinai.”

I loved that statement!  And it resonated with me on multiple levels. As a student of the Bible, I’ve always loved the imagery of Moses slipping off his sandals and kneeling on holy ground, and it’s always inspired me to pursue my own moments of barefooted worship and surrender. As a church leader, that statement reminded me that the safest place in the world is the place of reverential devotion and the fear of the Lord.

I think Pastor Jack nailed the essence of successful leadership. Leaders who succeed for the long haul never lose their dependence on the power and presence of God. They never walk in self-sufficient arrogance, and they are quick to discern when common ground turns holy.

A barefoot Moses in Sinai—I hope that’s descriptive of you and me. And I hope it always continues to be.

How the mighty have fallen

"Death of King Saul", 1848 by Elie M...
Image via Wikipedia

“How the mighty have fallen, how the mighty have fallen, how the mighty have fallen.” David repeats this mournful phrase three times in 2 Samuel 1 after learning of the deaths of King Saul and his son, Jonathan. He laments, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights…for there the shield of the mighty was defiled.”

It’s a tragic passage, and it becomes even more so when we think of the people we personally know who have “fallen” in to shame, regret, or disgrace. I’m always heartbroken and deeply sobered when I hear of ministers or church leaders who have lost their ministries because of poor choices. No one sets out to do that. No one would willfully choose a few minutes of pleasure (in any area) over his or her character and reputation—it sneaks up on people. Doors that should stay shut get peeked through, activities that should be banned get dabbled in, and wisdom eventually gives way to deception.

Let’s pray for ALL of God’s followers in the world today (we all need to cross the finish line of our lives well), but let’s take time this week to especially pray for the ones who have unusually high levels of visibility and notoriety. The church needs them to make it. So let’s pray that David’s lament would never be sung about them.