I’ll never forget it as long as I live. I can’t believe that I had started a church and was ready to give it up so soon.
One Sunday, in early October, during the early days of our church plant, I walked into the hotel ballroom we were meeting in just as service started and realized there was just ONE person in the seats. One. And I didn’t even know who she was.
I blacked out at that point. Honestly. I don’t remember what I preached that day and I’m so glad we didn’t podcast back then.
I went home and straight to bed. I was mortified. I was ready to quit.
The Monday after, I had hoped this sinking feeling would go away.
It did not.
It only became worse. After pulling myself out of bed at 11am, I wrote my coach and mentor an email telling him it was fun, but it was over. Thankfully, later that week, he didn’t let me and here I am still going strong 10 years later.
I would like to say that is the only time I felt like quitting, but then I would be lying. If you’ve been in ministry any length of time, you have felt the same. And for some, this is where you are today; ready to write your resignation letter.
As I have worked with and coached pastors all across the world, one thing I often hear is, “I feel like quitting every Monday.”
And I get it. Ministry is hard. It’s by far one the hardest things I’ve done. So it’s not a matter of IF you feel like quitting, it’s going to be WHEN you feel like quitting.
I don’t feel like quitting every Monday now. But there are still those days it creeps in like a thick, morning fog.
Over the years, there are a few things I have learned to do that have helped me navigate those seasons of dryness and the overwhelming feeling of giving up.
#1 – Talk To Someone
With a 10 year investment and study, the Lily Endowment found that the key to pastoral ministry longevity was meaningful relationships with peers.
One of the greatest blessings I have had in ministry are great friends who are pastors at other churches. They understand the demands of pastoring and leading people. Pastors get pastors. So when I am in a low spot, I often will get in touch with one of them.
Having someone in your corner, a friend or other pastor that you can talk with is critical to making it in ministry long-term.
For those who burnout, quit, or disqualify from ministry, pastors often say; “I wish I had invested in a community where I could be honest about what I was feeling and going through.” Solitude is essential, but isolation will lead to destruction.
The writer of Hebrews says in 3:13, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Isolation can and will have impact on you mentally, physically and even spiritually.
Find a pastor at church near you that you can become friends with. They need a friend too. Or talk with someone in our Facebook Group. Hook up with a pastor from your denomination or church network.
Better yet, if you don’t know who you can talk to, talk to me. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll chat.
#2 – Make A Stop List
What are you doing that drains you? If you don’t know, make a list of things that drain you and find a way to stop doing them.
There will no doubt be things on your list that you feel like only you can do. But I bet most of those things you feel like only you can do, are really things that someone else can do, but you feel like they will not do as good.
A mentor of mine says often, “if it’s 80% as good, it’s good enough.”
After you make the list, have an honest conversation with your staff, key volunteer leaders, or spouse about what is on your list that is draining you and ask them to help you delegate them to someone else or to stop doing them all together.
Remember that every opportunity is not an obligation.
Just because it’s on your to-do list doesn’t mean it’s something that has to be done.
For 8 years I operated a blog that wrote articles for 2-4 times a week. About half-way through year 7, I was burning out. It had become time consuming and draining to write. But I felt like I couldn’t quit. Then I realized it was an opportunity and not an obligation.
So I killed the blog.
Understand that sometimes we have to stop good things to get to the greater things.
#3 – Pray and Worship
A few years ago with the advice of a mentor, I began to work something into my schedule that has absolutely changed my ministry and personal health as a pastor. It’s called a half-day of prayer and worship.
I put on my calendar, about every 6 to 8 weeks, a half-day where my calendar is blocked off and I get out of my normal routine to escape for prayer and worship.
It’s very simple really. I take a notebook, a pen, and maybe a book and escape to a place that is not in my normal routine of places. It may be a coffee shop in another town, a place by the lake or in my hammock in the mountains. And sometimes, on those cold or rainy days, it’s spent driving in my truck around town.
I take this time to do just what it says, to pray and to worship. It’s my business meeting with the Father. I talk a little and listen A LOT. I write. I worship. I read. I pray.
One friend of mine talks often about how he goes away to camp one night a month for his business meeting. Another who is bi-vocational talks about sitting on his back deck early Saturday mornings for his.
The key to making this happen is to put it on your calendar in advance and block it out. Don’t take calls, don’t schedule meetings, and don’t work on your sermon. In fact, don’t even take your phone or at the very least, put it on Airplane mode. Just pray, write and worship.
Don’t forget that Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). First in all languages, means FIRST.
#4 – Get a Lay-Up
Lecrae wrote a song about it. We all love to watch them.
If you aren’t familiar with basketball, a lay-up is an easy shot or a quick win.
On the other side of your stop list (drainers), make a GAINERS list. What fills you up? What’s a win for you?
Is it date nights with your spouse? Something fun with your family? A sport you like to play or hobby you enjoy doing?
Whatever is on that list, pick one and do it as soon as possible. Need to take off a half-day to go fishing? Do it. Need to get a sitter for a date night? Do it. Need a weekend away? Do it.
Quick wins will do a lot for your physical, spiritual and mental health. Put a few of those together as soon as you can.
#5 – Rest
In the famous words of Bob Goff…
“Rest is holy. Go get some.”
You need rest; mental, physical and spiritual rest.
Don’t underestimate things like sleep, exercise, and a healthier diet that are key to good rest for the body and soul. Pastor Joby Martin says, “Rest is preparation.”
Another way to get rest is to take time off of preaching. A goal to work toward is to preach 40 times a year. They don’t need to hear from you every week to hear from God.
Find someone on your staff, another pastor, or even show a video so that you can get a week off. Call me or Michael here at Church Fuel and we can work out something to fill in for you possibly.
And when it comes to mental and spiritual rest, you have to ask yourself this important question; Am I trying to do my job AND God’s job?
Are you doing what only you can do and trusting God for what only He can do?
Too often as pastors we put so much on ourselves that God never said we were designed to carry.
Another pastor once told me that as pastors, “we will either rest, or we will rest.” Meaning that if don’t make rest and sabbath a priority, not resting will put on the sidelines for permanent rest.
Never forget Jesus said He is head of the church, not you (Ephesians 4:15-16). So yes, even you can take days off.
We need to work like it depends on us but we pray like it depends on God. Because it does.
#6 – Get A Coach
It is of my personal opinion, that every pastor needs a coach. Maybe even two. Every pastor, again in my opinion, needs a heart coach and a hands coach.
A heart coach is a mentor or pastor that can coach you on the heart level, who will ask you the tough questions and know if you’re telling the truth. So when he asks, “how are you really doing,” he will know if you’re being honest.
A hands coach is the one that will coach you on the how-tos of ministry. How to grow your small groups, when to go to two services, etc. This coach can help with you the hands on things of ministry.
If you listen to some of the best players in sports history, every one of them will credit a coach at some level to having something to do with their superstar success.
Having a coach is not admitting that you can’t do it on your own. Having a coach is admitting that you want to do it better than you could on your own.
Don’t Give Up
Often times in scripture and in life, we see that our greatest breakthroughs are just on the other side of some of our toughest seasons. Don’t give up.
And never forget this: Jesus said that HE would build HIS Church (Matthew 16:18). Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” We as pastors are but one of the instruments God chooses to use to build His church. The results of Church growth are not up to us.
Be good stewards of the season God has you in. Do all that you can do and trust God for what only He can do.
I love resources like our Church Fuel members-only Facebook group. It's not just another Facebook group, but it's a group of pastors that provide encouragement, advice, and help when you start to feel like this. There's something about being a pastor that only other pastors understand.
It’s cliche’, but I believe that if God has called you to it, He will see you through it.
If you feel like you’re on the verge of quitting, take a minute to breath. Remember these steps. And get in touch with us here at Church Fuel. We want to walk with you.
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