If you’re a minister and your church forgot Pastor Appreciation Month, you might feel frustrated and discouraged. When the work you do goes unacknowledged for long enough, you might wonder if you’re even making a difference. After a while, many pastors slip into a sense of worthlessness and depression. They might even think of resigning.
In a previous article, “Pastors are Quiet Quitting the Church,” I discussed the factors that lead to pastors either resigning from their pulpits or continuing in ministry in a resigned kind of way. Here’s a short list of some of the stresses that cause pastures to quiet quit the church:
- Lack of vacation time
- Feeling unsupported by church leadership
- Feeling unsupported by the advocacy of denominational leaders and structures
- Too many demands for the pastor to be a Jack/Jill of all trades
- Church life overshadowing home life
- Living in the fishbowl
- The church is not interested in outreach
- The church is not interested in social justice or evangelism (depending on your emphasis)
- Insufficient pay and benefits
Consider Your Call
It seems every place of employment has seen quiet quitting in some form. The church is no different. If you’re a pastor, you might resonate with many of the factors in the list above. But quiet quitting is never a great solution. If you feel your ministry is ineffective, it will be even more so if you quiet quit. Plus, as author Victoria Wells puts it, “the quiet quitters are getting quiet fired.” So, since quiet quitting isn’t the most desirable attitude, what is a better approach?
Instead of quiet quitting, it’s better to ask yourself a few questions. Consider the call you once felt toward ministry, and reconsider whether God is continuing to call you today. Ask yourself:
- When I began ministry, did I feel it was a career move, or that God called me to it?
- What were the hopes and dreams I had when I began ministry? Are they still valid?
- If they are still valid, have they remained the same, yet changed direction?
- If they aren’t still valid, what has replaced them?
- Do I believe God wants me to remain in church ministry?
- If so, do I believe that ministry needs to remain in the same church, yet take a different direction?
- If so, do I believe that God wants me to remain in my current ministry location, or go to another church?
- If not, do I believe God calls people to the ministry for a lifetime, or for a season?
- If not, do I believe God may be calling me to a different kind of ministry?
If It’s Time to Leave…
Sometimes, there is a time to leave the ministry. If you’re wondering if that time has come, click here to read my article, “Pastors, Should You Hang Up Your Robes?” Maybe you’ve determined that your ministerial call was for a season and not a lifetime. Or, perhaps you’ve come to believe that you have another calling, just as valid—and that you can still be a minister in an unconventional setting. We must understand that God blesses those who faithfully come to the conclusion of a ministry. Even at a young age, you may decide that you’re “retiring” from a career in ministry, the same as an athlete or soldier can retire at a young age. There’s no shame in that. Thank you for your service. Nunc Dimittis.
If It’s Time to Stay…
If you consider your call and realize it’s time to stay, then please realize that ministry goes to your very soul. Being a pastor isn’t just a job, it’s an identity. It’s likely that God called you as a pastor because you have certain personality characteristics that suit you to the task. Perhaps you can look back at your childhood and see how you were headed in the direction of ministry for a very long time before you ever saw it. Maybe you can remember quoting the scripture to others, saying, “God has called you for such a time as this.” If you still believe that God has called you to pastor your current church, then you’ve got to quit quiet quitting.
Pastors—Quit Quiet Quitting the Church!
If you’re determined to stay, you can’t give up and give in. Here are some suggestions for ways you can renew your ministry.
- Focus on your mental health. Find a therapist. See them regularly, not just for a few sessions. Deal with your mental health diagnoses with medication, if necessary. Understand how you bring your own emotional baggage into your ministry. Learn how to quit transferring your stuff onto your church members.
- Set boundaries for your church’s expectations of your family. Don’t let your parishioners pressure you to force your family to be there every time the church doors are open. They hired you, not your spouse or kids.
- Set boundaries on your work hours. Full-time quiet quitters clock out at forty hours. I’m not saying you should do that. But if you work fifty hours one week, work thirty hours the next. Flex your time. You can’t serve the church by burning yourself out.
- Develop friendships with other pastors and support each other. Nobody knows a pastor’s struggles like another pastor. One of the best things I did in ministry was to get involved in local clergy groups. Ministry friends can support you like nobody else can.
- Listen to your spouse and your children. If they tell you that you’re a workaholic (or any other kind of -holic), you probably are. Give them the same attention you would give to a church member. Or better yet—give them more! Really hear them when they tell you what they need.
- Stand up for yourself and insist on adequate pay, holidays, benefits, and vacation. Sure, some churches have limited resources. But many other churches will cheap out on you if you let them. If you need to, enlist denominational leaders to support you in this.
- Create a culture where the church accepts the ministry of elders and/or deacons. First, you have to understand that you can’t do it alone. Then, you have to teach the church the same thing. Consider preaching sermons on Exodus 18:17-23; Acts 6:1-7. You can’t be expected to do all the work. A burned-out pastor doesn’t do anyone any good.
- Read the Bible—Not just for sermons. I know pastors who have told me that the only time they read their Bible is when they are preparing sermons and Bible studies. This is not a good way to grow close to God on a heart level. Try the practice of Lectio Divina and see if you can hear God speaking to you through the Bible once again.
- Try contemplative prayer. When most of your prayers are either on behalf of church members or about troublesome church members, it’s easy to lose the joy of simply basking in God’s presence. Try the practice of contemplative prayer and see if your spirituality begins to open like a flower to the morning sun.
- Read fiction. Get your head out of your Bible commentaries and theology textbooks. Too much study can make you go crazy. Try supplementing your reading with great works of fiction to get your mind away from the church and theology. A little escapism is good for your mental health. If you feel you just don’t have the time, I know you have a lot of behind-the-wheel time between appointments. Try an Audible account or your library’s audiobook collection. You’ll be able to read fiction, and it won’t take any time away from anyone who needs you.
- Get a hobby. You can’t spend your entire life taking care of your church, your family, and your community. Sometimes you’ve got to take care of yourself. Take up fly fishing or needlepoint, gardening, or gourmet cooking. You will find that when you spend some time focusing on yourself, you have more energy for the needs of others.
- Experience nature. There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air to settle your soul. Go on a hike or a camping trip. Rent a kayak at your local park. Share a picnic with your family. Reconnecting with nature will reconnect you to God.
- Indulge in comedy. Whether it’s slapstick or stand-up, comedy changes your mindset so that you don’t take things so seriously. Sometimes pastors handle so many crises that we pick up vicarious trauma. Comedy is good for the soul. Not to mention that if you learn how to craft good comedy yourself, it just might help your sermon delivery.
- Embrace your detractors as your greatest teachers. Nobody wants to be criticized, but if you are in ministry, criticism will come. Instead of getting defensive, ask yourself what your detractors have to teach you. Maybe you have blind spots that they are showing you by their criticism. Instead of rolling your eyes when their name comes up on your caller ID, thank God for the opportunity to learn.
- Engage in spiritual retreat/direction. I’m not suggesting that you take your men’s group on a retreat. I’m suggesting that you get away to a retreat center where they offer spiritual direction and enough quiet time to renew your soul. Consider a spiritual director—a counselor who focuses on spiritual formation. Or, find a hermitage where you can get away by yourself to seek God in silence. We fill our calendars with too much activity. Jesus said to his disciples, “Come away with me to a quiet place and rest a while (Mark 6:31).” Maybe he is saying the same thing to you. PS: Try to arrange it so that your church doesn’t count this against your vacation time. Let them know it is for spiritual renewal and vision seeking.
Choose Your Source of Satisfaction
Remember—while the church can be disappointing, you can still choose your source of satisfaction. In one small church, I served, I could have quiet quit. Instead, even though I was the only pastor, I decided to focus on being a youth pastor. In another congregation that wasn’t interested in outreach, I decided to have my own outreach and volunteered as a local associate hospital chaplain. In another community, I started an ecumenical contemplative gathering. These things helped me to focus on the things that were working, rather than the things that weren’t.
Setting Boundaries is Different from Quiet Quitting
Quiet quitting is remaining where you are, but tucking your tail, keeping your head down, and giving in. Alternatively, setting boundaries involves a healthy evaluation of the unhealthy patterns of your life. It means drawing clear lines for the church and explaining to them how you and your family matter. Boundary-setting means differentiating between their reasonable expectations of their pastor, and their unreasonable demands.
If You are Deconstructing but Your Congregation Is Not
Pastoring a church can be difficult enough, but deconstructing your faith makes it especially problematic. You walk the line between challenging your parishioners with your new insights and offending them with your new theology. You can feel like you’re not allowed to express all the things you’re thinking, and that makes you feel stifled. But it’s true that “discretion is the better part of valor.” Like it or not, you do need to be careful about sharing your doubts and expressing your new beliefs. Not everybody is ready to hear them. Try them out on trustworthy clergy friends (from other denominations) before you put them into a sermon. Don’t risk your job over a new idea you might just be trying on for size. If the new beliefs stick with you, and you feel that you can no longer pastor a congregation that you disagree with on fundamental points, you may need to consider another job or ministry field. If you feel you should stay, consider how you can eat that elephant one bite at a time.
The Serenity Prayer
Years ago, after a conference to encourage pastors who were considering leaving their ministries, I found a ring with the Serenity Prayer engraved on it. While the short version is nice, I prefer the longer version, by Reinhold Neibuhr:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference, living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; taking this world as it is and not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
I bought that ring and wore it on Sundays because I thought the Serenity Prayer was a good philosophy for ministry. There are so many things you cannot change about the church you serve. For these things, you need serenity. But there are many more things that you can change. For that, you need courage. And you also need the wisdom to know the difference. Because if you continue trying to change things you can’t change, you’re just going to tear yourself apart. Instead, it’s best to take one day (and sometimes one moment) at a time. It’s best to take your church, not as you would have it, but as it is. Trust that God (not you) will make all things right if you surrender to God’s will. And trust, too, that you’ll be able to be reasonably happy in your church and supremely happy with God. Maybe you need a ring—or a philosophy—like that, too.