by Dale Sellers
I don’t need to tell you what a difficult season of leadership we’re in. You are obviously experiencing it on a daily basis. Personally, I don’t remember a time when leading in the church was any more difficult than now. The pressure cooker of ministry is taking a heavy toll on pastors and church leaders throughout America and around the world. A great majority of us are trying to figure out what to do when we don’t know what to do.
One of the factors that weighs upon us is that leading through a pandemic was not a part of our formal training. So far, I haven’t met one leader who has shared with me the great value they received from the “How To Lead Your Church Through A Pandemic” class. Therefore, it often feels as if you’re making it up as you go. When this happens, it is natural for you to rely upon your normal default when faced with a situation that is out of your control.
One of the factors that weighs upon us is that leading through a pandemic was not a part of our formal training. So far, I haven’t met one leader who has shared with me the great value they received from the “How To Lead Your Church Through A Pandemic” class.
Two Key Words To Remember Moving Forward
1 – Default.
As is so often the case, the natural tendency when faced with a new paradigm of unfamiliarity is to simply do what you’ve always done. However, it is strategically important to understand that this approach will not work for you moving forward. The world has changed and how you minister must change with it.
Three reasons for relying on your normal default:
1 – The default is safe.
2 – The default is predictable.
3 – The default provides security.
Here is an important question that you must embrace as a leader, “Are you really connecting with your audience?” Another way of saying it is, “Are you engaging those you lead?” Your default may feel comfortable, but if it’s not connecting with your congregation, you need to shift your default position to one that’s more engaging.
2 – Engagement.
A second pandemic-related reality is we now have data to back up the importance of engagement. As we progress towards whatever the “new normal” will be, we have seen firsthand the reality of whether our ministry efforts are meeting people “where” they are.
In other words, how are we engaging them?
Like it or not, it has become possible for people to simply push a button to log off of anything that doesn’t capture and keep their attention.. It is equally true that our in person experience has been affected by the engagement dynamic too. Therefore, a lot of our pre-pandemic attenders simply haven’t returned.
How Are You Handling This Current Situation?
The good news is, the ground has never been more level than it is today for church leaders. All ministries around the world are facing new challenges as our paradigm of ministry has shifted. One of the most alarming issues which has developed out of these challenges is the sheer number of leaders who are quitting and walking away. Research continues to reveal the thousands of pastors who’ve made the difficult decision to leave their ministry position for work outside the church. I continue to be amazed, and a little bit surprised, by this.
Don’t misunderstand me, I get it! Remember, I’m the guy who wrote STALLED: Hope & Help For Pastors Who Thought They’d Be There By Now. I know the effects that ministry pressure can have on your leadership confidence, not to mention your emotions and health. There is so much wisdom in seeking help if you’ve finally “hit the wall.”
(There is actually more wisdom in seeking help BEFORE you hit the wall!)
However, taking an extended sabbatical, going on a two week vacation, or even taking a year off to get yourself back on track is much different than quitting and leaving ministry altogether.
Pastor, let me ask you to take a moment and to reflect on why you entered the ministry in the first place? The answer to that question coupled with the answer to this one will reveal a lot about how you handle the pressure, “Did you experience the Divine Calling to enter the ministry or did you pick ministry for some other reason?”
It can’t be overstated to say that our Divine Calling is what anchors us when experiencing the storms of ministry. Remember the words of Jeremiah 20:9 when he was going through a rough patch,
Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and could not.
My concern for the pastor with the Divine Calling who chooses to leave ministry during this season is the weariness that will accompany that choice.
A powerful epiphany happened to me as a young leader in the fall of 1986. Our music ministry was really struggling to survive. During one of my lowest moments, I reached out to my mentor Roger Breland. Roger had such a powerful impact on my life as well as the lives of thousands of other future leaders.
I called him to ask this question: “How do you know when it’s time to quit the ministry?”
Without hesitation, Roger spoke wisdom to me that has guided me ever since. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: How do you know when it’s time to quit?
Roger: Did Jesus call you into the ministry?
Me: Yes sir.
Roger: Did Jesus tell you to quit?
Me: No sir.
Roger: Do you want to honor Him with your life and ministry?
Me: Yes sir.
Roger: Well, then, Dale, if Jesus called you to do it. And He didn’t tell you to quit. And you want to honor Him with your life and ministry then it sounds to me like you’re going to have to keep at it. Because if you quit, there will be a day when you’ll have to start back in order to find peace. However, you’ll be much further behind where you are today.
I can’t fully explain the impact that this simple conversation had in my life as a young leader. In so many ways, Mr. Breland’s advice has a lot to do with where I am today in ministry. His wisdom was priceless!
Don’t Lose Your Effectiveness
In closing, I thought it would be helpful to highlight some of the things that lead us to eventually quit along with some principles that will help you successfully navigate these current challenges. One of my favorite Scripture verses that I hold onto during difficult times is found in Hebrews 6:10 – 12. It says,
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
There’s the “p word” again. Patience. AAUGH! My Nemesis! I hate to admit how much I’ve wrestled with being patient over the last 40 years of ministry. I’m always wanting to run ahead of the Lord when He gives me a directive. However, as I’ve gotten older, one of the great revelations that I have realized is that time moves so differently to Him. I am beginning to not just “endure” having to be patient. I’m actually learning to “value” it.
If you struggle with being patient in the midst of difficulties then you may come to a place where you give up or quit. When I allow myself to consider quitting prematurely, I always think about Daniel fasting and praying for the answer he needed for 21 days. (See Daniel 10.) He most likely would not have received the answer he was seeking if he gave up on day 20 or before.
Allow me to share with you a few reasons we quit before the answer comes.
What Leads Us To Quit?
1 – Losing Your Confidence.
This may sound strange to you, but it is unlikely that those you lead will have confidence in your leadership if you don’t. A lack of confidence always produces leadership that is unsure and unstable which, in turn, causes folks to question your leadership ability.
2 – Uncertainty About Your Calling.
Remember when Satan was tempting Adam and Eve? He was able to eventually trick them into disobedience by asking them what God had actually said to them. Their inability to remember God’s clear directive created room for them to question God. You will experience this same confusion if you haven’t “nailed down” your calling into the ministry.
3 – The Consequences of Ignoring Your Emotional and Physical Health.
I’ve tried for years now to address this issue head on. I remember attending conferences over the years where the speaker would present a powerful message on discipline and how much the little things mattered. However, I also noticed that many of these speakers ignored their physical health. As time has moved along, we are also seeing the consequences of a lot of well-known leaders ignoring their emotional health.
Pastor, as your friend, I must share with you that the bill always comes due! You will not be able to sustain a life-long ministry that ends successfully if you continue to ignore this part of your life.
4 – Your Congregation Views You as a Hireling Instead of the Leader.
It is my observation that the majority of small and midsize congregations throughout America experience stunted growth simply because their form of church government isn’t Biblical. The amount of broken pastors who’ve experienced the wrath of an unbiblical church board is hard to quantify. If you are in a situation like this then you may need to leave this particular church.
However, leaving a church that views you as a hireling doesn’t mean you are one. There are numerous congregations praying today for a Godly leader to help them accomplish their mission and vision. You can leave a specific church without leaving the ministry.
Truth’s To Lean Into As You Navigate:
My list of What Leads Us To Quit obviously doesn’t include every reason for quitting. There are many more that I didn’t address. Yet, I really want to conclude my thoughts on a high note by giving you a few next steps with some truths to help you navigate hard times. Here are they are:
1 – Realize that our Current Situation Didn’t Catch Jesus by Surprise.
Have you ever thought about the fact that you are alive and in the ministry at this particular moment??? Since we know that God is sovereignly in control of everything, that means He has enough confidence in you to bring you into the world to do ministry from Him in this season. Nothing you’re going through or dealing with ever catches Him by surprise. Oh, and by the way, He always has the right answer to help guide you if you just ask Him.
2 – Develop an Unwavering Trust in the Holy Spirit’s Guidance.
For me, I honestly could not have made it these past 40 years of ministry without the comfort, guidance, and encouragement of the Holy Spirit. There have been seasons in my life where I would make my plans and ask the Lord to bless them. (By the way, this never worked out well!) But growing in my relationship with the Holy Spirit has allowed me to hear His plan. Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to lead you in the right direction.
3 – Rely on Your Leadership Intuition.
I believe that the Lord places within every leader He calls some level of leadership intuition. You will discover that you will trust your intuition the more you grow in your ability to hear the Holy Spirit. Learn to value and trust this internal guidance gift that He has given you.
4 – Take an Honest Inventory of Your Gifts.
Every leader needs to learn to own your strengths and staff your weaknesses. It is simply impossible for a leader to have every gift. However, many of us act as though that is the Lord’s expectation for us. This fact is one of the foundational truths for all great leaders.
Learn to recognize where your greatest strengths are and develop them even more. And also recognize and be honest with yourself about where you are deficient as a leader. Surround yourself with the best leaders you can find within your organization. Truthfully, most of us exhaust ourselves trying to become better at things we aren’t gifted to do. Do this long enough and you’ll soon discover that your ministry has stalled.
5 – Reach Out for Help from Proven Leaders.
It’s not enough to simply read and learn from someone who has the hottest new trend. It is certainly okay to be aware of what is happening in the culture. But make sure that you feed your leadership by listening to those who have actually walked out what they are teaching. The difficult days we are in now require much more of us than untested speculation. Learn from those who have “been there and done that” throughout past history.
Every leader who has ever led anything has times where they need to know what to do when they don’t know what to do. You and I aren’t the exception to this truth.
These two lists are certainly not exhaustive. But hopefully they will help you to gain some leadership clarity. It would be helpful for you to get away for a day and work through each principle. Be honest with yourself. Also, ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind other principles that may pertain to you that are not included on this list.
Every leader who has ever led anything has times where they need to know what to do when they don’t know what to do. You and I aren’t the exception to this truth. I truly believe that you were created by God “for such a time as this” just like Queen Esther. But you can’t get there by ignoring the current situation.
May Jesus fill you with the same Spirit that led a young future leader named David when he faced a giant. His confidence in God’s ability allowed him to experience an improbable victory.
I believe you are about to experience this as well in your ministry!
Check out the From STALLED To Freedom Video series if you would like to dive deeper into understanding how you may have become STALLED and what to do to get moving forward again.
95Network has also planned a one-day conference featuring Bob Hamp and myself in Greenville, SC on Thursday/November 4. I hope you will make plans now to join us for the From STALLED To Freedom National Conference. You can view all of the details including hotel arrangements by clicking this link: National Conference Details.