“I JUST CAN’T DO THIS! I QUIT! “Have you ever felt this way? Has that sentence almost popped out of your mouth recently?
On my first Sunday at a new children’s pastorate, I walked down the hallway toward the children’s auditorium, just as a teacher came charging out the side door with a child wrapped around her left leg. The child bit a hole in the teacher’s pant leg and howled, “I don’t like you!” The teacher glared at me and growled, “I’m so glad you are finally here so I can quit!” I’ll admit, at that moment, I had thoughts like: “What did I just sign on for?” Thankfully, a good children’s pastor friend of mine called me during that week to tell me, “Trish, don’t give up yet. You have to be there awhile to effect any real change.” He was definitely right. That day was the start of some of the best seven years of my life! I’m really glad I stuck it out. But it took a few miracles, a lot of hard work and quite a bit of time to see that happen.
But just how important is time to success in ministry? According to the recent study by Lifeway Research, the average stay of a pastor is just 3.6 years. And we have all seen youth or children’s leaders quit long before that. Since that’s an average, that means half left before 3.6 years. In the study, though, it was those ministers who STAYED in one place for several years or longer who had a higher chance of growth and success.
So, a good question is: If the key to success in ministry involves staying power, why are many leaders leaving so soon, perhaps right on the threshold of amazing breakthroughs? And how many congregations are living with hurt and distrust, due to one too many leaders leaving? There’s a lot of damage done to the kingdom of God, the church and to the ministers themselves, by too much turnover. Have you ever wondered how that could happen? How could someone go into a new ministry position bursting with excitement, creative ideas and bright dreams, just to turn and walk away months later? It’s not like you wake up one morning and suddenly exclaim, “Oh wait! I forgot I hate ministering to kids. I’ll go be a plumber.” There must be other factors at play here, and the most popular guess is that ministry doesn’t pay enough. Well, if you came into ministry for the amazing salary, you definitely had the wrong guidance counselor. For various reasons (other than money), many ministry leaders will be sorely tempted to walk away this year (perhaps even you). Here are four key ways that may help you thrive in ministry for the long haul!
- Become a Ninja at conflict management.
I believe the real number one reason leaders leave is the fallout of poorly handled conflicts. The church should be a safe place that does not tolerate grudges, pouting, gossip, hate, disunity and the like. But all too often, these bad behaviors are still happening among Christians, even in ministry. We must teach and model biblical conflict resolution as outlined in Matthew 18. What should you do when conflicts arise in your ministry?
- Face them head on; don’t avoid them. I really wish that I had learned this
early on. Conflict ignored is only conflict postponed.
- Don’t ever enter a confrontation when you are emotional or physically
impaired. Wait until you can respond at your best.
- Never ever respond to conflict over email, text, or voicemail. When
confrontations need to happen, do it face to face only.
- Don’t make their emergency your Do not let someone else’s
emotions or opinions determine the course of the ministry. You can listen
and empathize without being controlled.
- Do not allow your own hurt to distract you from what God has planned for
- Toss those rose-colored glasses. Too many leaders are leaving ministry completely disheartened due to unmet expectations. These unrealistic expectations include, but are not limited to:
- “I will only speak to adults.” REALITY: Your communication skills with adults, parents, teachers and staff will make or break your ministry. You must be “bilingual”, meaning able to speak effectively to adults and children.
- “It’s a church, so there won’t be any conflict.” REALITY: No area of ministry in the church is more prone to conflict explosions than children’s ministry. Whenever people’s kids are involved, it is bound to get emotional.
- “In kids’ ministry, everyone will love me and appreciate what I’m doing and want to join in.” REALITY: You will spend a lot of time vision casting and recruiting. You won’t always have enough help. Not everyone is going to like you or the changes that you will have to make.
- “I will fix all the problems right away. If I do everything another leader did, I’ll get those results right away.” REALITY: Some things will not change until you’ve put in a lot of work and time. You may do what someone else did and not get the same result. It takes wisdom to know the timing of change and the priority of changes; too much too fast and your team and families won’t be with you.
Build your winning team. You may be tempted to quit if you don’t have enough support structure in place. Ministry is a huge job that is going to take the power of God and a team. Your ministry will rise or fall on the strength of that team. Your lead pastor has a board. Moses had Aaron and Hur. Elijah had Elisha. Who are the people right now in your ministry who are “holding up your arms”, and holding you accountable? Want to survive over the long haul in ministry? You need family, friends, great kids’ ministry connections, and a life outside the church. No, that was not a joke. No matter what an awesome rock star leader you are, we’re all still learning, and we need each other. Burnout itself is not the core issue; burnout is just one byproduct of a lack of support structure. Doing what you love should recharge you. If you’re feeling burned out, it’s likely because you’re mainly doing what drains you, instead of relying on your team. Let go of that need to control, and instead spend your time investing in a team who will take on this great work with you.
- Blow up your escape pod. Your escape pod includes all the plans and dreams
you’re constructing in your head, “in case this ministry thing gets too tough.” Ministry can and will get that tough. And if you have an escape plan, you will use it. Could your diet work if you said, “I’ll just keep chips and ice cream stocked in the house, just in case this gets difficult?” That would be setting yourself up for failure! If you really want to eat healthy long term, you will have to get rid of your junk foods. The disciples didn’t say, “Well, if this Jesus thing doesn’t work out, we’ll just go back to fishing.” They were all in. And your church and your ministry desperately needs you to be all in.
Let’s face it: Longevity matters. Long term relationships matter. Yes, sometimes God does call us to leave, but make sure it’s really His time, and don’t ever be quick to run. You’re not alone. We all have those moments when we’re tempted to throw in the towel, but the greatest payoffs and sweetest rewards come to those who put in the hard work over time. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. The same God Who called you will equip you, not just for today, but for tomorrow and for all the many days ahead.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and … run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“Therefore we do not lose heart … For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”
Trisha Peach is author of Your Children’s Ministry From Scratch, staff children’s pastor of 16 years, and a sushi enthusiast. facebook.com/pastortrisha