Encountering frustration in ministry comes with the territory, but when is it time to really call it quits? Believers can have the misconception – like I did – that a ministry will be instantly successful if it’s a true calling from God, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s simply not the pattern scripture displays.
Most of the time ministry in the bible was hard. Cases in point: Nathan addressing David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12) and Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7:54-60). Sometimes there were wildly successful results from the start, but it often came at a cost. For example, when Peter and John preached in Acts 4, and their efforts led five thousand men to belief, the Sadducees threw them into jail! According to today’s popular way of thinking Peter and John should have been blessed by God in the form of higher statuses and popularity. It seems backwards that they would be jailed after having achieved such amazing results by preaching the gospel. Herein lies our faulty thinking.
We don’t create results; God creates results.
This is something we “know,” but do our actions legitimize our knowledge? Do we execute our callings by solely relying on the Lord’s guidance? When I look at the times I’ve struggled in ministry it was because selfish ambition blinded me from God’s vision. The desire to control, look good, and achieve status put me in the camp of the Pharisees. James 3:16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” And Paul said in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” When I evaluate the damage caused by my pride in ministry it becomes astoundingly apparent that God is gracious in withholding success and allowing me to be at my wit’s end because it draws me into immense repentance and a renewed fellowship with him.
But how we define success is also a culprit to our aggravations. If our idea of achievement is only based on numbers and growth then we set ourselves up for a rude awakening. If we work hard for our ministries to grow while neglecting those God has already placed under our mentorship then what’s the point? Recently my small Sunday school class of 5th and 6th graders sent me soaring in the Spirit because they answered eleven out of twelve review questions correctly during a game. Had I been more concerned with perfection – by human standards, of course – I would have missed the blessing of spiritual validation from the Lord through the handful of kids he gave me to teach. He gave me meaning in the moment. Were my past frustrations a result of focusing on earthly standards of success? Absolutely.
But our gracious, loving Father beckons us to each moment as evidences of his calling.
Our exasperations can be caused by forgetting to look for God in the seemingly ordinary moments. Expecting dramatic proof of his approval through the entirety of a ministry is not biblical. Sure, God gave the Apostle Paul’s ministry a plethora of achievements but he also endured countless imprisonments, abuses, and dangers (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). So a great way to keep frustrations from stealing our joy is by remembering we are in good company and certainly aren’t the first to struggle as ministers of Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t give up simply because struggle is present.
Another thing to remember is a ministry’s popularity and exponential growth doesn’t necessarily mean it is being blessed by God. It’s interesting to me in Ecclesiastes 7:8 that Solomon said, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride,” because he wasn’t exactly a great finisher in his life of faith. Sure, he started out well by asking God for wisdom and the Lord blessed him with wealth, status, and the privilege of building the temple. However, Solomon also accumulated a total of 1,000 wives and concubines who turned his heart away from God. The Lord told him in 1 Kings 11:11, “…Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees…I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” Later in the chapter we find that Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s paramount officials, was God’s next chosen King over Israel. Jeroboam fled to Egypt because Solomon tried to kill him! Consequently Solomon recognizes in Ecclesiastes that beginning well does not secure a blessed finish. We must acknowledge that the Lord’s approval of a ministry is not always seen through earthly terms, but rather through the patient, obedient service of his saints.
Nonetheless, there are spiritual reasons to stop serving within a ministry.
Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:14, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” Jesus gave these instructions not to excuse the disciples from ministerial duties, but to express that some people simply would not accept the truth of the gospel. The encouragement was to follow the movement of the Holy Spirit even when others refused the authenticity of the gospel message. It is certainly the same for us: We should not be a part of a ministry whose purpose strays from the saving message of Jesus Christ. The Lord never expects us to be loyal to a church or program that is not exemplifying him above all other things.
Another reason to surrender a ministerial position is when personal sin becomes a hindrance and wrongly represents our testimony in Christ. We all make mistakes, but sometimes one’s removal from a ministry is what God requires for his purposes to be fulfilled. 2 Samuel 7:15 recalls God’s removal of Saul as King of Israel and his dedicated love toward David. God promised that David’s throne would “be established forever,” so we can see how God’s purposes were carried out by first removing Saul because of his sin. Full repentance and restoration are always available before the Lord, but sinful actions can cause a God-willed exclusion from ministry.
Lastly, the Lord has full authority to simply call us into a different ministry or out of ministry all together. When we feel this calling it’s important to evaluate our motives by examining our current situation. Consider the following questions:
Do I feel like I need to “escape” from my current area(s) of service?
While all circumstances are certainly unique, the urge to escape from service (instead of allowing the Spirit to work through a situation) is typically a red flag of concern. James 1:12 tells us that persevering through trials proves our love for Christ and we will be rewarded with the “crown of life.”
Would I be leaving on good terms?
Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Our God of order delights in his saints’ harmony, not dissent, so it’s right to say we should do everything in our power to achieve reconciliation with other believers before leaving a ministry. Allowing pride to get in the way of peace gives sin an unresolved hold on our hearts that will seek to reinvent itself in other areas of our lives.
Is there someone to step in and fulfill my role?
I feel this question is rarely considered by those seeking to leave a ministry. 1 Corinthians 12:26-27 reminds us that our roles within the body of Christ directly affects others, so we should do our part to recruit, train, and equip other believers to fulfill God’s plan for the ministry. While it is true that God can “raise up” another leader without any effort from us, it’s simply indolent to ignore the reality all together. Deuteronomy 3:28 tells us that Moses commissioned Joshua to become the next leader of the Israelites after he had mentored Joshua for years. Therefore, our Lord is honored when we take steps to insure the continued growth of the body in our absence. If God has not revealed to us how the gap will be filled, then it’s very likely we are to continue serving until such a solution is provided. The Lord is not in the abandonment business, so neither are we.
Is it truly life circumstances (e.g. health, family, loss of job) or simply a negative attitude that is inhibiting me from faithful, dedicated service?
We believers can take on too much responsibility if we are not carefully heeding the Lord’s will. Ignoring the power of a lovingly honest “no” when our schedules are already full will lead to frustration. 2 Peter 1:10-11 recalls, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Confirming our callings requires a deliberate protection over the ministries God has already placed in our lives. However, unavoidable life circumstances can absolutely leave us hindered and unable to serve. The problem is we can blame non-debilitating life issues as reasons to leave a ministry instead of identifying our own selfish desire to please every request.
My ultimate resolution is that we dig deep and find the foundation of strength Christ has placed in our hearts for the challenges we face in ministry.
We should never make decisions in haste.
When we wait on the Lord and seek him with humble hearts and pure motives then he will equip us to either persevere in our callings or gracefully step down from specific areas of service. His ways are perfect, friends, so let’s choose to live joyfully within his will!