The ministry is tough business. Every month, hundreds of men in my denomination resign their churches. Many have no place to go. Many are bruised, beaten up, or out of gas. Worn down by whiners and pulverized by Pharisees, they limp off the scene, sometimes never to return.
Many of them have wives who are brokenhearted and kids who are angry. Many kids who see churches put their dads through these kind of things leave the church. People who have been saved or influenced by that particular pastor sometimes quit going or live the rest of their lives disillusioned with church. I hate to say they are disillusioned with “God’s people” because I don’t really think they are God’s people.
How can I say that? Because they are never disciplined by God. They run off preacher after preacher and seem to be unscathed themselves. Their judgment is coming. One day they’ll sit side by side with the Prince of Darkness and wonder what happened, but it will be too late then. The damage will have been done to the kingdom.
Why do good, godly, sincere men leave the ministry? Why do they throw in the towel? What happens to the idealism of those early days? It is killed off, slowly but surely.
On the other hand, some men leave the ministry in shame. They lose their ministry because they lose their integrity. They weren’t faithful to their wives or they lacked integrity in dealing with church finances. Somewhere along the line, they forgot to be above reproach.
Let’s look at several reasons why men leave the ministry. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a call to all (me first) to make sure we’re in the ministry for the right reasons and that we don’t allow anything or anyone to steal our joy or calling.
The Pharisees can kill the spirit of a man. Pharisees have an unscriptural concept of church, ministry, and life. They live by rules and regulations. They have hearts of stone and tongues of fire. They can quote Scripture, but usually they twist it to say what they want it to say. Sometimes they add tradition to Scripture and teach their traditions as truth.
Pharisees have unrealistic expectations of a minister. They expect him to be sinless and perfect. Their ancestors met one who was sinless and perfect, and they didn’t like Him either. They decided the only solution was to see that He was nailed to a cross. Pharisees are quick to pull the trigger and short on grace (if they even know what grace is).
Pharisees are the pseudo-pious. They try to play God, but never look in their own mirror to see what plank might be in their eye. They listen to every sermon with a critical ear. They judge every decision as a business decision. God might rule the universe, but they run the church. They are the police of piety.
A man’s own preaching can be his downfall. If he sets himself on a pedestal, he’s in trouble. The only things that belong on a pedestal are flowers and the busts of dead men. We can’t believe what people say about our preaching. Howard Hendricks calls the preacher, standing at the backdoor of the church, “the glorification of the worm.” There’s great truth in that. We can’t believe those who flatter us or flatten us.
I meet preachers who walk around like they are God’s gift to humanity. When I see them, the idea of a humble servant of God never comes to mind. I know two preachers who are so obnoxious that a friend of mine calls them arrogant squared. When they are in the pulpit, they seem to be condescending just to talk to the common man.
THE SOUND OF MY OWN VOICE
Preaching is hard work. It is tempting to go to extremes. Just preaching our favorite books limits our personal growth and the spiritual growth of the congregation. Just preaching in the prophet mode can make people think you are filled with a ticked-off spirit. It is easy to get wrapped up in describing the condition of man with adjectival alacrity. Sin is on every corner, behind every stump. It’s not enough to point out the problems; we have to give people the solution. A preacher driven by what he’s against (it seems too often it’s people that Jesus went after) will soon find himself an angry man. Preach hard, hate sin, but love sinners.
Some preachers sound like they are writing the follow up to the “Power of Positive Thinking.” They don’t talk about hell because it sounds so mean. They don’t say Jesus is the only way because it sounds too narrow. They see roses without thorns, sunshine without rain, and grace without judgment. They may draw a crowd, but that crowd will be an inch deep and six miles wide. After a while, that kind of preaching is hollow, shallow, and does not stand when the bottom falls out.
Today, religious television is full of prosperity preaching. The health and wealth gospel sells big. Preachers are selling from both sides of the table. If it’s not “a miracle a day keeps the devil away,” it’s “take these vitamins and live forever.” Preachers who sell out to make it big lose their soul in the process. They may still preach, but they’ve long since lost the respect of those who are intimately acquainted with God. They tickle ears, and it breaks God’s heart. They may have a broad ministry, but they have no favor in heaven.
Every year I spend time attending conferences with my wife. We usually go to some place like The Cove in North Carolina. It’s a time to learn, relax, and refresh personally. Rarely do I see preachers there; it’s usually a lot of laymen. It seems we preachers have gotten in the habit of only going to a conference if (a) we are on the program, or (b) we can make some connections to help us in our ministry. We seldom go to “be still and know that He is God.”
Pastors, you need to get away. If you are too busy to leave your church, you are too busy or in the wrong church. If Jesus could establish a worldwide ministry in three years, your congregation can do without you for a few days.