“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”Proverbs 16:9
The church in the woods of North Idaho was filled with an air of expectancy as we waited to hear the last guest speaker that evening. Missions conferences were popular events in the 70's and our church was growing with enthusiastic new converts eager to hear how God was working in the world. A revival was sweeping across the country in those days and three years earlier the Lord had snatched me out of the counter culture.
Reports from foreign missionaries had captivated us all week as the silver haired gentleman from the Africa Inland Mission wrapped things up. My husband and I were just sure he was looking at us when he pointed at the congregation and thundered, “If not you, who? If not now, when?” We were ready to grab the baby and head for Africa but our pastor explained that it didn’t work that way. Robert had just two years of undergraduate art courses but would need to get training at a Bible college. So six months later we moved to Spokane and started classes at Moody Bible Institute.
While my husband worked ridiculously long hours plodding through four more years of college, I took care of babies and learned to squeeze a nickel till it bled. And it was a joy to do so because we were striving for something with eternal value.
But in the long run, things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. Twenty years and three senior pastorates later my heart broke as I watched my beloved hit the wall and make the toughest decision he has ever made. He left the ministry feeling totally defeated.
We didn’t realize it then, but he was not alone. According to FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development). researcher Dr. Richard J. Krejcir:
Research shows a laundry list of reasons why pastors throw in the towel: Unreasonable expectations of the pastor and his family, conflict with leadership or parishioners, doctrinal disputes, inadequate training, marriage problems, and sometimes moral failure.“Over 70% of [evangelical and Reformed] pastors are so stressed out and burned out that they regularly consider leaving the ministry and thirty-five to forty percent of pastors actually do leave the ministry, most after only five years.” 1
Another prominent factor is financial hardship.
Much attention has been focused on the extravagant lifestyles of some mega church pastors, but they account for a small percentage of churches. The National Congregations Study reported:“The National Association of Church Business Administration reported that as of 2012… the average U.S. pastor makes about $28.000 per year… If we look at most pastors, about 80% of them work full time in the ministry and they draw roughly $28,000 to $42,000 per year.” 2
Further studies indicate 59% of churches have between 7-99 attendees. 3“Despite the recent proliferation of very large Protestant churches we call megachurches….the average congregation had just 75 regular participants.”
Low pay and understaffed churches often mean a pastor must work two jobs besides multi-tasking at church. This creates an unsustainable workload leading to burn-out. Such conditions can make it unbearable when added stressors such as disagreements over doctrine or other issues arise.
These are the reasons why it ended for us in 1996, the year our eldest child was married. My husband was getting older and was too exhausted to continue working two jobs while dealing with all the pressures of full time ministry. We have done much soul searching over the years and agree that we would have done some things differently. Even so, we doubt the outcome would have been much different given the circumstances.
Offers came to serve elsewhere but we were emotionally worn out and chose not to uproot our family again. The adjustment period was difficult but God’s grace is sufficient and here we are 19 years later.
Leaving full-time ministry did not throw a wrench in the eternal works of Heaven. God is sovereign over all our affairs and getting a grip on this fact is truly the most comforting pillow we can rest our heads upon at night.
If you’ve experienced these things may I offer a few suggestions?
- Your husband will be glad to be relieved of all the stress, but he may never fully recover from the loss. He committed his life to serving God’s people but it also happened to be his vocation. He worked hard to prepare for the ministry and probably never anticipated changing careers. Support, encourage, and pray for him. God is not through with him yet!
- If you have children, nurture the spiritual life in your home because the negativity involved in these situations can have a lasting impact on our kids. It’s important for our children to see we have not abandoned the faith or the church.
- If your husband was wronged by someone try to let it go and move on. Some things will have to wait until the next life to be made right. If you allow bitterness to take hold it will poison you and those around you.
Simply put, we need to dust ourselves off and get back in the saddle—even if the horse is headed down a slightly different path.
- Don’t think your labors were in vain. I received a delightful email from a woman whom I had no recollection of, thanking us for sharing the Gospel with her 40 years ago. She became a Christian and she and her husband served as foreign missionaries. Our witness to her had always been part of her testimony and she wanted to let us know.
- You may feel as low as a toad but you must keep your eyes on the Lord. Don’t even think about dropping out of church! Find someone you can talk to who will encourage you. How we need loving mature believers to come alongside us in times like these!
- You will need time to recover and refresh but don’t rest on your laurels for too long. Look for new opportunities to serve the Lord. God will provide them when we’re willing. My husband serves as an elder now and his wisdom and gifts are a blessing to our church. His past experiences are certainly being put to good use.